I offer my process to inspire you to develop yours. The joy is developing how YOU write a book, launch a company, develop a community or product, and so on. My process evolves but mostly stays the same because it works for me. I nurture and honor my process because it is sacred to me.
In winter, I focus on one story (usually Truitt) in winter and I read a lot, more than any other season. Please note winter starts in November in Vermont and stays until April/May so this is nearly half the year for me. In spring, I create rich, raw, needs a lot of work material. It shoots out me so quickly I can’t keep up, and don’t want to. In summer, I tend to my garden in the book sense, meaning I edit, and rewrite, and rewrite some more until it goes to my publisher. In autumn, I enjoy the fruits of my labor. Harvest time. I travel. I connect. I attend workshops with friends. I pitch and launch new work. I celebrate. And I plan for whatever I’m writing in winter. I story map, do scene lists and start first drafts that will be completed in winter.
The Call to Quiet
I used to write with lots of noise: coffee shops, television, upbeat music, and a variety of other distractions. I had one very important mentor tell me early, early on that I needed to get quiet. I didn't know how. I didn't believe her. I didn't know why it mattered.
Now I do.
I don't do everything in the quiet. But I do a lot. Especially my re-writes. Please note that I said, quiet, not silence. There is a huge difference. If I can break free of my need to have a little noise, my writing is better. It's crisper, clearer, stronger. We live in a loud world. It has been become habit to jump our minds from here, to there, to this, and to that, all in a few seconds. To write without the same hops and bounces, I had to form new habits.
Every day starts with coffee and snuggles in my home and then a long walk in the woods or if I’m traveling, on the grounds or streets near my lodging. This is my meditation. It is where I find peace and clarity for the remainder of the day. And yes, if I’m tense or anxious or sad, I take another walk. Nature is my solace, my heaven, my place to surrender.
It is now a Discipline. It is a Practice. It requires awareness and contemplation. It gets my full attention and devotion because I have dreams and hopes and desires and promises I’ve made to myself. I keep my promises.
I create a spiral notebook for each novel, non-fiction book and business I create. I also keep an idea book for each year that is also a spiral or like a spiral. I take it with me everywhere I go, and I put story ideas or scene ideas or concerns in that idea book and I refine/story map them into a notebook.
I do not allow myself to type one word in the computer until that has happened. Because if I don’t, I write myself into corners. I don’t know what I am creating. I get lost. I go off point. It’s ugly. It’s frustrating. And it’s lazy. I want to produce the best for you and everyone I interact with. To do that well, I have to lay it out.
First Drafts: Never Go Back
I write all the way through without stopping, ever. This technique, this gift, was bestowed upon me by writing coach, Anjanette Fennell. She emphatically believes that if you stop and go back to the beginning, even one page back, you lose your flow, momentum, and creativity. You risk the magic. She is right.
Write your first draft until it is done. No editing. No going back until the first draft is done. It’s not easy to not go back and edit. Please at least try it once for something small and see how it goes.
To relieve my desire/desperate need to change/edit the beginning, I write notes within the manuscript or on the website/program/product page so that I get it out of my head and onto the page. I write notes directly to myself or my editor in the MS, like, “That last bit was crap but I’m moving on. The point of that bit is for Truitt to learn that Junius does not know everything even though he does know everything. ONWARD! UGH!” I usually highlight it in bright yellow so I can easily find it and delete it once I have addressed it. And guess what? Usually what I think is crap is pretty good. It was simply a hard and/or emotional section to write so I’m wobbly and fragile and need to vent a moment and I let myself.
I also put placeholders in the text, highlighted bright yellow. For instance, “Add in party scene details here.” Or, “Describe house.” Or, “Write love scene.”
I write the first draft all the way through and I also edit all the way through each draft. I don’t jump around.
The beginning is not as important as we think. Beginnings are mutable.
I always change the beginning to fulfill the ending. Always.
When I was a “newer” writer, I was told the first three chapters, or first fifty pages matter most. I spent actual years trying to get the first three chapters of my novel, Becoming Truitt Skye: The City on the Sea right and guess what the last thing I did was? Yup. Added chapters to the beginning because my agent had received enough feedback (read: rejection) that it needed to be addressed.
The first three matter. Once you have created the whole story. It was easy for me to write a couple chapters to the beginning because I knew exactly what would fulfill the reader/publisher. I knew my main character so well and I was happy to do it. The novel sold quickly thereafter.
Second, Third, Sixth, Tenth Drafts
For my “last” draft of any book, I read it out loud. This is the best way to hear it and typos jump off the page. I typically have three “last” drafts.
After I find endless things to fix, I set it free. For me, this means I hand it over to my beloved publisher so they can transform it into something for you to enjoy and savor. This means at least two more full edits before my promise to you, and me, is kept and I get to say the words I’ve been longing to say, “It’s Done.”
Ways to Discover Your Process
Be patient with yourself as you determine what time of day you write best, what days of the week give you the best combination of quiet, focus and receiving, where you like to write, how you like to write and who you want to share your work with.
Please keep a notebook or journal or whiteboard where you can capture what works. Remember the earlier exercise about capturing your distractions so you can bust yourself and eventually outgrow/overcome them. When I need to write, as in a deadline which I impose as much as anyone, I write. On a plane, in a loud conference room, hotel room, bathroom… I will do whatever I have to in order to finish the draft I’m working on.
This took years of practice to get to. Nothing distracts me now. I work my distractions into my life. I do laundry AND write. I eat AND write. I email my web designer AND write. But for the greater part of two decades—I started seriously writing when I was 28. I’m 49—I let my distractions run my writing life. It takes quite a lot to commit to our dreams. Far more than committing to our commitments and responsibilities. There’s a story in there, isn’t there?
References & Resources
The best source you have is YOU. Read any and all books that are like yours to get a feel for what they did/do then get on with the writing! These references are slanted more toward fiction but remember the best non-fiction, reads like fiction. It pulls the reader in and inspires them to turn page upon page until the end!
John Truby’s, The Anatomy of Story and all his courses, online and live. He has screenwriting software as well.
Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc by Dara Marks.
Save the Cat series by Blake Snyder. There are apps and software as well.
Screenwriting: Behind Enemy Lines by John Schimmel.
Abraham-Hicks’ Emotional Scale
Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Every Donald Maass book written. He also does workshops.
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See.
On Writing by Stephen King.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
This article is an excerpt from The Science of Story by Adrea L. Peters to be released in 2020 by MMH Press.
Order your copy here: https://www.mmhpressgroup.com/product-page/the-science-of-story