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Honoring Your Process

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I can't deny it: I love my writer-friends. Whether it's the ladies I met during my two-year stint in an MFA program, the authors I've connected with over goodreads and the Absolute Write forums, there's nothing quite like finding other writers who are also undertaking the same strange, terrifying journey—traveling down the road to publication with you.

But I also can't deny that writerly friendships can be particularly fraught. When you're chasing the same brass ring, it's easy to feel like you're in direct competition with your peers. Sometimes, in concrete terms, this is true—like when two members of your writing group both have fulls out to the same agent, or when you and a writer-pal's books are released at different publishers targeting the same audience. Inevitable and quite naturally, jealousy can set in.

And in a writer's world where many online activities—from word sprints to NaNoWriMo—are focused on producing a lot of words, fast, in the hopes of getting us all to stick with the adage of "butt-in-chair"—it's easy to focus that jealousy on something as tangible as output. "Oh," many a writer has been heard to sadly lament, "I'm slow. It takes me months to finish drafts."

(I've written before about the insane expectations of commercial publishing—but I think it bears repeating that the idea that drafting one book for months is a low output is crazy. Crazy! As John Scalzi says, authors are not word machines.)

Output is an easy thing to focus on when you're feeling insecure—and it's an easy way to cut down others, too. It's simple to sneer at someone and say she writes her books too fast; I bet they're a mess or it's taken her years to finish one draft; she'll never publish! And if we feel like rolling in the self-hatred, it's easy to let these thoughts blossom out of control: I write too slowly. I'll never be able to make my deadlines. My readers will all abandon me. Or I'll die before I see book 3 finished. Those other writers who churn out words faster are more professional than I am and so on, and so forth.

The problem with this is that every writer is different—every single one of us has a unique process that wouldn't—no, couldn't—work for any other writer. That's not to say that you should disregard all writing advice wholesale, but you'll know instinctively what advice is good, solid, and applicable to your process and your situation. Forcing yourself into other molds, even molds that are highly successful for other writers, is just an exercise in lunacy. And comparing your process to the process of others—either to disparage theirs, or cut your own down—is likewise madness.

Personally, my process goes something like this: I draft for anywhere between one month and nine (what?! You mean my process isn't identical for each book? Of course not! Different novel, different needs) without an outline but with the whole shebang more-or-less worked out in my head. Then I send to betas, revise, send to more betas, revise again. Sometimes I won't even figure out major plot points until a final revision, but that's okay—my process works for me.

What works for you?
Phoebe North

Phoebe writes stories about aliens for teenagers. She loves both Star Trek and Star Wars and doesn't believe you should ever have to choose. She is the author of Starglass and Starbreak, both from Simon and Schuster.

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13 comments:

  1. It is hard to stick to your own process when you're talking to so many people, each with their own process. Sometimes it feels like you're doing it the wrong way--but your post is totally true! You never are. Everyone is different.

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  2. Thanks Kaitlin! My point exactly. There's no way to do things Wrong, as long as it works for you. :)

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  3. I'm almost done with a novel I've been working on for a month, and I'm super excited to finish it! Lately I've been giving myself a break, refreshing my mind, figuring out some plot points, etc, before I finish. Then I'll begin editing when school starts and will have friends, family, and teachers, read it. I'm really excited to finally finish something!

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  4. Yay, congrats Willa! Def. something to be proud of.

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  5. I love hearing about other writers' processes on blogs and Twitter, but sometimes I miss my old idea of the writer who holes himself up and disappears into his story and we don't know HOW HE DOES IT...

    Of course, there's good old fashioned myth for you, but there's truth to it. You can share your process over and over again, but it's still a marvel that you end up with a complete draft, and that draft becomes a book, and that book gets sent to shelved.... There's magic in that, even if you've been in the process for years. It's the sort of thing where you have to find your own way.

    Lovely post! (:

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  6. *shelves

    And typos MAGICALLY spring up...

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  7. Honor your process.

    That should be one of the Commandments. Not just for writing - but for all projects undertaken! We spend far too much time comparing ourselves to others. Not nearly enough time exploring our own unique approaches.

    Writing, like all forms of magic, springs from a well-source deep within our souls.

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  8. Great reminder, and an important thing to note that even our own novels have slightly diff processes to get to The End, because they are all unique.

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  9. "Output is an easy thing to focus on when you're feeling insecure—and it's an easy way to cut down others, too." Damn, I swear to zeus I was saying these exact words to someone the other day in a discussion about the writing process. I write slow as molasses, but I definitely don't judge the quality of work of a writer who can churn them out faster. Fantastic post, Phoebe!

    And now, let us all sing the Different Strokes theme song together.


    (unrelated - my word verification is "preppy ho". o.O)

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  10. I love this post. It's so true. Not every writer writes the same nor is every story the same. I have one that was fairly simple. But another story line that's just plain complicated, very involved. The research alone for the historical elements simply take a lot of time. There's no way I could have written it any faster than I have. It just depends. Some authors spend years writing their story. Who cares. Let the story be the judge. Well that and life in general should set the pace.

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  11. I love this post. It took me 2 years (on and off) to finish the 1st draft of my WIP and throughout the process, I've felt bad about taking so long. But it was my first book and I was still learning how to write it. I think my next first draft will go much faster. This is a great reminder not to worry about how fast or slow other people write, but to focus on your own process. :)

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  12. I was talking to a friend about how I couldn't move on until the first five chapters, which sets up the story, were polished. This was taking a long time. She quoted poet Billy Collins, who once compared the writing process to cooking. Some people make a big mess and then go back and clean up. Some people clean up as they go. The meal gets made either way. Whatever works for the writer, is the point!

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  13. I LOVE that, Cindy! Great quote. :D

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Item Reviewed: Honoring Your Process Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Phoebe North