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Everchanging Process aka Finding Your Method

I rarely do the same thing, the same way, twice.

I think there's something in my DNA that prevents it. (That's the excuse I'm running with anyway.) This can pose a problem when you're a writer. I have yet to discover the formula that works 100% for me, but this has also allowed me to experiment. I have a binder full of print-outs on various ways to fast draft, one-pass revise, add depth and emotion, and...well you get the idea.

I love the *idea* of being organized enough to make one of these fantastic methods work for me, but it never quite ends up how I hope. For example, index cards. OMG index cards. Perfectly shaped, color coded cards that can be used to organize an entire book. I swooned when I brought home mine. I opened them, gazed lovingly at their blankness, made future plans, could see this would be a long and lasting relationship.

A week later they were at the bottom of my desk drawer, forgotten. I had decided that using the index card method took way too much time. I need/want something that is fast, that works, and that keeps me on track. This sadly, was not it.

BUT, in my attempts to figure out my own process and what works, I stumbled across a method that I wanted to share. Mainly because it does work so well for me!

I will use my book, Geo, as the example. It's almost done in draft form. It's the first book I actually outlined. I am a pantster, so outlining in itself was a huge benchmark. I am now a believer in outlines! Let me tell you why (Wait! Don't run away yet! This is good, I promise!) The beauty of outlining, and one that I had not found before, is that when you have a rough idea of where your going, you don't have to write the story in order!

I'll say that again, DON'T HAVE TO WRITE IN ORDER.

And here is where my dusty index cards come back into play. Basically, I wrote my book in unnumbered chapters because I had an outline. I knew the scenes needed so I could jump back and forth depending on my mood. When I was ready to organize it all, I printed it out and put each "chapter" together with a paperclip. (See exhibit A, aka the pic)

Then, I took one index card for each "chapter" and wrote down the main event driving that scene, how many pages it was, who was in it, and one important clue that is revealed. I did this for each chapter. Then I looked them over, rearranged into a more logical order, gave them chapter numbers, and could now see clearly where the gaps were. Here is the exciting part! I used my trusty index cards to add in the scenes I needed to tie things together. All I had to do was put the who, what, where and why on the card, insert it into the correct slot, give it the correct chapter number, and tada, no more plot hole!

It may sound like a confusing mess, but a light bulb went on when I saw my entire book spread out on my kitchen counter like that. When you write, it's hard to lose track of what came before or after the scene you are writing at that moment. With this method, I could see the story arch, who was in each scene, if my clues made logical sense (it's a mystery) what needed to be moved, or changed, or taken out.

I was then able to go back to the laptop and make the changes I'd marked out, and my confidence in this book skyrocketed, because I could go forward knowing that what I had written so far made sense. So I guess the moral of this blog post is to trust your own method. What works for one person may not work for another. I'm a visual person, I need to see everything in order to put it all together.

I hope that this post has inspired everyone to be comfortable in veering off on your own. There is nothing that says you can't take two, three, even four styles of plotting/drafting/revising and make it your own. We all need to find what works for us, and it will be different than what works for someone else.

Embrace it! Celebrate it! Writing is supposed to make our hearts and souls happy. Why not share something you've discovered that has made this process just a little bit easier for you? A light bulb moment? An "AHA" that made everything clear? Your idea might even inspire someone else!
Lee Bross

Lee lives her happily ever after on the coast of Maine where she has written Tangled Webs, her historical YA debut, and fantasy YA books Fates and Chaos under pen name Lanie Bross. She also writes contemporary books for New Adult under the name L.E. Bross, debuting with Right Where You Are.

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  1. I love outlining for that exact reason! I TRY to write in order, but sometimes I just can't. And when I don't, it's nice to have an outline where I can see, oh! That's where this fits. To know what I'm doing so I don't write extraneous, useless scenes (um, well, mostly...) I also like to experiment with different methods, because I feel like each book is different, and it's hard to use the EXACT same strategy for each one. But through experimenting, like you said, you do find the thing that works the best for you!

  2. I don't always write in order. I mean, if I have an ending I like early on, even just the bare bones of one, I type out what I'm thinking. It doesn't always stay the same, but I like having something to write toward. It makes the process of drafting feel more complete to me. Also, there are times when I don't know what NEEDS to happen in a scene, because I haven't written a later scene where something that happened in the earlier scene comes into play. Know what I mean?

    I've been trying to pants more than plot this new WiP, which has been working okay, but when I get stuck I have to go back and re-familiarize myself with the story and characters, which is another habit I've been trying to break. Sometimes I need to, though.

    It's been an important lesson, that though it's great to experiment, I shouldn't try to mess with what techniques work for me. ;)

    Great post!

  3. Thanks for sharing your methods. I love to see how other writers tackle it.

  4. I don't necessarily outline, but it's easy for me to at least have an idea on where the story is going. Before I begin writing the story, I usually brainstorm different plot ideas. Writing the back-cover-copy beforehand also helps me write in the "right direction".

    Great post =)


  5. Awesome post, Lee!

    You're so right about this type of method helping a visual learner. I swear, I nearly fainted with joy the first time I printed a manuscript. It changed how I revise completely. So, so bizarre how seeing the same exact thing on paper rather than screen makes such a huge difference!

  6. I don't outline (much) but I use a similar index card thing at my first revision.

  7. I have a sort of zen thing going on, I think. I always look at the complex and unusual methods of writing that other authors use with awe, because I just get an idea, make an outline, then sit down and write it, in chronological order (I'm leaving out a lot of groaning and hair pulling there, but you get the idea).

    Having said that, though, there seems to be endless variation within the zen simplicity of the basic method. First book took exactly a year to write, second took six months, third eighteen months. The first draft of that third book was written 90% on paper with a pencil and then written up and redrafted on computer. The book I'm working on now has been written 90% straight onto the computer, then printed and revised on paper. Sometimes I write 8,000 words in one day and nothing else for the rest of the week. Sometimes I write exactly 2,000 words every day for a week.

    I think Gene Wolfe said 'You never figure out how to write a book - you only learn how to write the book you're writing', and the more things I complete, the more I realise how true that is!

  8. I think I have similar DNA. Maybe we're related!

    At the moment my method is basically the 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle method of novel writing. I don't outline exactly, although I usually know which direction things are going in - my brain won't allow outlining - but I love brainstorming. I have pages and pages of notes about things that MIGHT happen in my current WIP. I also don't always write in order.

    I keep things somewhat sane by having a big document that all my scenes go into, in approximately the right place, sometimes with notes about what needs to go before them and after them. And as I write/edit more, the gaps will fill up and eventually there'll be a whole novel full of scenes that hang together the way they're meant to. Hopefully.

    I'll keep experimenting, anyway :-)

  9. Glad to hear you found something that worked so well for you. It looks like a great idea, but I. just. can't. outline. I try and try and try and always fail. I'm such a pantser, it just makes no sense to me any other way.

  10. That's exactly why I love outlining! I have these scenes I'm wildly excited to write, and I do better if I just jump ahead and get through them--otherwise everything leading up to them suffers as I rush rush rush.


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Item Reviewed: Everchanging Process aka Finding Your Method Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lee Bross