Zellicess – Zellie’s Writing Process

According to WordPress, Zellie’s Writing Process should actually be “Zellicess” as that’s what it changed my title to.

I like to work on multiple projects at once in different stages. It keeps me from getting burned out on a single project and fills up my day nicely. Right now I edit The Resistance at home, brainstorm Sierra’s Story constantly, and Problem-Solve The Deep Within whenever I’m physically active.

These are in semichronological order. Brainstorming really happens throughout but there is a concentrated effort at the beginning. I also don’t obsess over finishing an outline before I start writing. I’ve found that the surest way to give myself writer’s block is to demand perfection and completion. If something isn’t working, I can leave it for later. If I’ve got the majority of cause and effect figured out but a few spots are eluding me, I’ll go ahead and start drafting with the assumption that I’ll flesh out the thin areas when I get there.

Part 1 – Brainstorm
This involves lots of daydreaming and even more research to trigger more daydreaming. I play around with the characters, scribble some dialog and some alternate outcomes to the dialog. Ponder events and world-build. I say I brainstorm “constantly” because I really do… I look at things like, a restaurant and think about what a restaurant would be like in the fictional world, what would be different, what would happen there, which characters would go together, which would cause a scene, etc For Sierra’s Story I researched magical systems both “real” and fictional, modern technology, Japan, tree houses, etc etc.

I also research not just the content of the story, but writing in general. I’ll look into what’s going on in the market, read bestsellers, read agent blogs, read the http://www.absolutewrite.com forums and anything else that can give me tips like “most agents don’t want X” so I don’t get to the point of having a 200K novel all about X which no one is going to want ^_~

I like to handwrite my brainstorms partly because I’ll think of things everywhere and anywhere but also because when I transfer them to type I generate more ideas and refine what I have. I know of writers who will draft by hand but my writing is waaay too slow and horrible for that. It would drive me crazy ;p

I also totally ditched how we learned to brainstorm in school. None of those bubbles for me. I just throw stuff down in a wonderfully disorganized fashion whenever I think of it. Sometimes this means I have a notebook topped with napkins, post-its, reciepts, and anything else I had to write on the moment an idea struck.


Part 2 – Outline

I gather up what I’ve brainstormed and string it on a timeline then dump everything else into a Notes file (or several-characters, environment, Ending, etc) for later use. I’ve studied the chronology of The Resistance and compared it to other books and movies I like to come up with an idea of how I want things paced, how to space out major events, and how many “sections” I need for a book that is roughly 80,000 words. Since I haven’t finished Deep Within I have no idea if my calculation is remotely accurate yet πŸ˜‰ I may have underestimated how wordy I am but eh, I always need to whipcrack myself to be succinct anyway so it’ll be good for me to know I need to make cuts.

“Sections” is a totally arbitrary measurement, all I can really say about that is the more you write the more you get a feel for how many words it will take to flesh out an Idea into a Section and how many Sections make a chapter, etc.

I REALLY REALLY REALLY respect outlines. I did The Resistance without an outline. I just kinda wrote and wrote and wrote. It became huge, unweildly, unfocused, and I wrote myself into some corners. An outline can save you so many rewrites because you problem-solve at blue print level instead of after you build the house. It reminds me to keep my characters dynamic and my Events exciting and make every word count. I don’t go off in (as many) tangents. Most of my outline is like “event, character shift, event, event, character shift” with some details about each and transitions from one to the next plus a few details that are REALLY IMPORTANT and must happen like velociraptor mailman.

I try to discuss some of my outline with friends to problem solve it before I start writing.

Part 3 – WRITE
The most important part- WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!
Some people write as it comes to them and there are benefits for running with inspiration. Typically my inspiration sprints give me a skeleton to work with so I’ll just write the skeleton as notes. Usually I can reawaken the inspiration when I go back to those notes.

Personally, I prefer writing chronologically. It feels natural to me to follow the progression of the characters through time and helps me make them grow consistently. It also saves me the trouble of writing all the fun parts first (action, drama, etc) and then trying to string them together with a host of not-as-fun parts (though if it’s really not fun that’s my cue to know I should be writing something different–if it’s boring to me, what would a reader think?)

I try to aim for 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it’s 500, sometimes 2,000 or even 3,000. My key here is SHUT UP AND WRITE. I don’t pay any attention to spelling, grammar, phrasing, etc. I just WRITE, just get it on the page. It ends up producing a rough draft of 60-70,000 words in 3-5 months. It’s a very, very rough draft but it makes me feel accomplished and now I’ve got something to work with.

Whatever project is in this stage is my primary project. I usually take a break from the particular project (sometimes from writing altogether) after finishing to clear my head. During this time I hopefully have people working on the project for me πŸ˜€ ….

Part 4 – Beg for critics
Yes I enforce my crappy first draft on anyone brave enough to take it πŸ˜€ This saves me a lot of time because I catch problems early instead of polishing the text when there are still plot holes.

Part 5 – Problem-Solve
There will be problems. There will be parts that just didn’t work out right. There will be characters to reinvent and others to remove. Now is the time to fix them!

I also do some Problem-Solving during the brainstorm stage as I try to get the chronology right. I’ll go walk around the park with the problem in my head and daydream until I end up with a solution.

There were also be parts of the outline and notes that I forgot to include so now is the time for that too. I like to print out the rough draft, hang out outside and read through it for issues and to get a sense of it as a whole. (Looking forward to hanging out with Deep Within at Forsyth and Metro Coffee mmm ) I also look for my major weaknesses here. I know for The Deep Within that I skimped on physical character descriptions so when I edit I’ll have a paper next to me with a labeled drawing of each character (midnight tresses, hawkish emerald eyes, crescent-scar on cheek stretches when smiling, scarlet pleated skirt, etc)

This is great to do while exercising or when doing some other boring physical task. I was reading an article recently that letting your mind wander like that opens up creative areas of the brain that solve complex, deeper problems whereas if you sit and concentrate too much you may overlook the answer. But if your mind is wandering how do you make sure you’re focusing on what you want to focus on? Two ways, for me, 1-I always make an effort to think about writing the rest of the time so it’s kinda my brains default setting 2-before I start the physical activity, I focus on the problem then let my mind drift. All of a sudden I’ll realize I’ve got a paragraph long solution of notes that I need to write down before it slips away! Keeping paper/a recording device nearby is a lifesaver πŸ˜‰

Part 6 – Flesh it Out
Fix the problems and whip the draft into shape! I tend to take this chapter by chapter. Give it another break, maybe give writing entirely another break (okay so I can’t necessarily break from the perpetual brainstorming but I do what I can ;p )

Part 7 – The Endless Editing Loop
Edit.
Ask for betas.
Edit.
Ask for betas.
Edit.
BE A BETA
Edit.
Ask for betas.
Edit.
Ask for betas.
BE A BETA
Edit.

This is not nearly as simple as it seems and I don’t just mean the problem of finding someone not only willing to read the whole story but thoughtful enough to comment usefully on it from start to finish. Each round of edits has a different set of focuses and it’s very different to detail edit vs. edit the whole. It’s overwhelming to do both at once so I have to go through and draft edit several times. On the whole I’d be looking at character arcs, pacing, etc. Detail editing comes down to the words chosen, the physical details, the precise emotions scene by scene, etc. The more varied the betas the better because they’ll each give different advice. Sometimes it’ll drive you crazy with one person saying there need to be more squares and another saying oh god, there are TOO MANY squares πŸ˜› But just relax, feel it out. In the end, YOU know what’s best for your story and maybe it’s just that there should be circles instead of squares.

Being a beta, not just accepting betas, is also an awesome strategy. When you look at someone else’s work with a critical eye you’ll notice issues that may very well apply to your own work. I usually also notice things that work really well for someone that I want to apply to my work and I’ve got them right there to offer me tips on how to do that πŸ˜‰

Part 8 – The Query
Query publishers.
Get rejections.
Read Writing Forums.
Realize the Billionth Draft is still crappy.
REWRITE!
Ask for betas.
Edit.
Ask for betas.
Edit
etc
(yeah, I have yet to escape this stage πŸ˜› )

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