Thursday, October 13, 2005

On my hands and knees: Julie's dirty thoughts about the writing process

            Some authors proceed through the writing of their books sequentially; they know what’s going to happen when and to whom and in which chapter right from the very beginning. I know authors who actually use Excel spreadsheets and bubble charts (::cough:: Michelle ::cough:: ) and index cards to plan their stories.

            I’ve tried to be one of those authors. Honest to God, I’ve tried. It seems so elegant, so mature, so very accomplished, this way of doing things.  I’ve tried index cards (Pink ones! Too pretty to write on, in fact); I’ve tried following the synopsis (this was dull, since given an option, I’m a “dessert first” sort of person, which means I always write the "love" scenes right away. And by that I mean sex scenes.). I even drew a bubble once and wrote something in it, but then I got distracted and drew a flower and a little horsie and a big eye (pretty much the only things I knew how to doodle), and that was the end of that.

            And the irony is: I’m a person of lists. I love to sort and analyze; I, in fact, spent years at one job making Excel-driven pie charts and bar charts of mind-boggling variety. But my writing process defies all attempts to impose this sort of structure upon it.

            No: I basically have to…unearth my stories. It’s like an archaeological dig, where I stumble across something shiny poking up out of the dirt, and I kneel and delicately brush the dust off it, and by God—

Alert the press! It’s the shard of a story!

Which means the rest of that story must be scattered around there somewhere, right?

That's how it begins. I set up metaphorical camp, and get down on my metaphorical hands and knees in the metaphorical dirt with a metaphorical little brush, and I delicately dig up and brush off the story one piece at a time. I do always go into it knowing what my pivotal scenes will be, and I often write those first. But then I have to find the rest of the pieces of the story, and it’s a sweaty, inelegant, hair-tearing, teeth-gnashing, ceiling-staring process, requiring its own sort of precision, I suppose, bringing with it endless surprises and ending, usually, with satisfaction (more or less) and a met deadline.

But I will have flow chart envy until the day I write my last story.

Any other writers out there want to reveal their own dirty little writing secrets?


Michelle said...

Mmmm. Bubblecharts. Me likey.

Megan Crane said...

Bubble charts and spreadsheets sound terrifying to me. So do "pivotal scenes," for that matter. My books are a great big mystery until they are finished, at which point they become an editing disaster. Chaos is good! Embrace the chaos!

Michelle said...

Bubble charts are for brainstorming only. They're actually quite fun. However, I'd never heard about things like "character arc," and "black moment" until my second book. And now I'm all obsessed with them.

Julie said...

That's right!! the universe DID begin in chaos, didn't it?? I *should* embrace it! (I should bloody well embrace *something*, anyway).

Character arc? Isn't that that thing they have in St. Louis? Ha! Someone *should* build a monument to writers and call it The Character Arc.