I’ve been working steadily on polishing my WIP Shade for probably two years now, with breaks in between for other projects. First it was having a friend who edits professionally go through it with me and changing it as I learned. Then it was doing a major rewrite after a conference. And then again with Pitch Wars.
I got to the point where I felt pretty confident about editing—as far as process goes. But that’s when I started to notice a shift in writing. When it came to starting brand new—and I’m talking a project you’re not sprucing up, I mean 100% scratch—it was hard to switch over from editing mode. Part of me felt like I had to edit as I went along. And I’m not discounting that, but I do think it can hinder creativity.
If you’ve been in this game long enough, you’ve been through different writing phases. For me I see these stages as plotting, creating, and editing. There are complexities within those stages, but I think it’s sufficient enough to cover the areas of writing with these phases. You can be in all three at one time, but my philosophy is you’ll likely be in one of them more than another at different times while you create story.
And these stages don’t necessarily occur in that order. You might be creating, then decide it’s time for some plotting, and then go on to editing. There’s no wrong or right way when it comes to process, except to say do it right for you.
This is the stage where ideas are knocking down your door. Maybe you can’t even sleep at night because ideas are bothering you so much. Scenes are vivid in your mind. You might take to outlining, if you’re a plotter like me. You may also do some research to help the plotting along in your mind. Perhaps you gather photographs or other things that remind you of the story bouncing around in your head.
Often I have to outline just so I can get some peace. It seems like during this stage it’s hard to stay focused on conversations. Sometimes books, too, are difficult to read because the ideas are flowing.
The upside is you’re on top of the world. You can’t stop creating and you hope you can somehow capture all of that wondrous creativity before you. For me, it’s like that scene in Tangled where they’re surrounded by sky lanterns. How can you possible focus on anything else when you’re surrounded by all of that?
However, the downside is you may grow so comfortable plotting for your story you don’t actual do any creating. Or maybe you write a little and decide, nope, needs more plotting. You know how to do the plotting.
But the story needs to come out. Yesterday I read a post from Kristen Lamb’s blog about writing when you’re tired. But I took it to also mean writing when conditions aren’t ideal. Take this quote for example:
Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.
Sometimes we don’t write because it won’t be “perfect.” There’s a time and a place for plotting. But don’t linger there too long.
This is where the writing happens. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with the scenes tumbling out of my brain. I’ve also had times where I had to pause, do a little bit of plotting, and then get right back into creating. But as the quote above says, it’s important to let that creating happen when it does.
Let the weak words work as place holders for now, especially in a first draft. It’s okay if they could see and could feel and if you about in there was/were, etc. etc. etc. Just keep on writing and allow yourself to flow with pure creativity. A lot of people see no value in NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The idea, for those that don’t know, is you write a novel in a month. Pretty fast, but for a first draft I say why not? The first draft will ALWAYS need editing. Always. Might as well get something rough out to start working on.
Turn off that inner critic and just write. Get your story out. You may discover you want to take it in a different direction, or the story just may take you in a different direction. If you’re doing a major rewrite, since you’ve gotten to know your characters so well, why not let them take the lead?
While doing a rewrite of my WIP Shade, I was rewriting a scene between the MC and his girl. They were doing something mundane, repairs, but were having a conversation and suddenly this new bit of information tumbled out of her mouth that I wasn’t expecting. It will likely take future books in a completely different direction because I allowed her to tell me how her world worked. So I accomplished some more world-building as well as future plot directions.
I’m telling you, it’s amazing what your mind will give you when you let your subconscious have a little more control.
This is the stage I’ve been in the most lately. So this is the one I’ve become most familiar with and sometimes staring at a blank Word doc can be a little daunting. I noticed when I started writing a few paragraphs of a novella I tried editing as I went. I wanted it to be as polished as my WIP. But this is the first draft. It’s going to take way too long if I do it that way.
I also noticed it definitely hinders my creativity. It’s weird to think sometimes you just need things to suck at first. That’s the only way the subconscious comes out to play it seems. I decided to put the novella on pause until I’m finished with this final (because they’re never really final) edit on Shade, and then I’m just going to write it with creativity on full throttle.
But back to editing. I’ve written a whole series on the best way to get this done, and I recommend you check it out. It’s a compilation of all the advice I’ve ever been given coupled with my own personal experiences in editing. The editing process can be quite fulfilling once you understand it.
A writer in the editing process should have only one goal: best story ever. That means ego can be a casualty. In fact, count on your ego getting hurt time and time again. And be okay with it. Remember your goal. Find places where one word can take the place of three. Do a lot of reading during this time too. Often when I’m editing I’ll read books like Story or Writing the Breakout Novel because they inspire me on how to fix weak scenes, boring descriptions, etc.
Most importantly, gather feedback during this stage. We are way too close to our stories to notice all its imperfections. Another pair of eyes is always helpful. In fact, I’ve just received feedback from friends recently on the first chapter of Shade. Even with all the drafts I’ve been through, there are still things I’ve missed that need fixing. Sometimes the fixes will be major, sometimes minor. But if your goal truly is best story ever then you won’t mind.
EMBRACE THE STAGE YOU’RE IN
Whatever stage you’re currently in, love it. Love every minute of it. You’re creating worlds and people and ideas in unique ways. That’s awesome! Appreciate that you’re actually doing it. Being a writer can be the greatest thing in the world, and I don’t mean the fame or fortune. Many of you know exactly what I mean. For those that don’t, keep on writing. The feeling will come. Obviously most of us would like to be able to write for a living, but when you’ve felt the elation of story creating, you’d keep writing even if you never saw a dime. That’s the passion you should have, because then you’ll have a story people will want to read.
So what writing stage are you in? Which stage is your favorite? Have you experienced that story creating elation? What would you say to writers who have a hard time embracing all the stages? What would you add as far as stages go? Let us know below.