Monday, March 15, 2010

Learning What *Doesn’t* Work

Soleil d'automne For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t with my writing.

I kept trying to use techniques that other writers I knew found useful.

Sometimes I thought up new approaches to writing a book and tried them out.

Finally, after failing miserably trying these different things, I discovered what worked. And now that I know, I’m not deviating too much off of that.

What works for me: (but not for everybody!)

Getting an idea—usually about the victim. Mulling the idea over to see if it’s viable. Writing a very short blurb about it—like back cover copy. I look at the back cover copy to see if the story idea makes sense. I come up with the characters that might want to murder this particular type of victim. Why would my sleuth get involved with this? Is her involvement realistic? I start shooting through the first draft. I plan for the next day before I stop (short plans…no outlines.) If I get stuck at a point in the story, I skip it and jump forward to another section of the book (marking the point I defected with highlighter so I can return to it later.) I don’t stop for anything—not research, not chapter breaks, not anything. Finish the first draft.

What I’ve tried before that hasn’t worked so well:

Outlines. And outlines seem to work really well for half the writers I know and seem to mess up the other half. I get messed up. I overthink the text, try to stay the course, and end up with very academic-sounding prose that isn’t my natural voice.

Working through a block. I’ve wrestled with points in the story where I’ve gotten stuck until I’m sick of the book. I’d try working it from different angles, try just writing something. Ick. For me, it’s better to work on a completely different section of the book and come back to the problem area later (sort of like taking a test.) It managed to screw up my momentum if I stopped and picked at it.

Writing nearly every section of the book out of order. Not too bad on the creativity end of things, but when you’re putting the scenes in order and trying to write in transitions? It was a nightmare for me. Now I just write out of order when I’m truly stuck on a section or I’m in the mood to write a scene with a different tone.

Stopping to research. As Alan mentioned in his excellent post on Friday, research and the first draft can be a bad combination. I get so easily distracted online.

Setting up a particular time of the day to write. If anything came up and I couldn’t write during that scheduled time, then I waited until the next day to write. I get a lot more done if I just go with the flow and write when I have a chance.

Putting in chapter breaks as I go. This REALLY messes me up. I think it makes me start looking at the technical side of things (formatting) before I’m done with the creative end.

Have you figured out what works for you? Are you still trying different approaches to writing a book?