I read a book about 30 years ago called “Zen and the Art of Writing,” as I would wager many of you have. I still have it–a great book with a lot of great suggestions. The one used in this process was, “take a notebook and create a list of story titles and nouns.” My list started that way but grew to include other, slightly more verbose entries. Sometimes an idea will come and I’ll start on it immediately. Sometimes I’ll take a look at that list and see what sparks.
From this filtering, I’ll do a loose idea–not exactly an outline, just a who, what, when kind of thing. it might be something as simple as:
- A young girl has a power, and this power requires the energy from eating a bag of Cheetos. As the energy from the Cheetos runs out, her power weakens. (No, not a story I’m working on, just illustrating :D)
As you can see, it’s sparse. Sometimes it might be more verbose and outline-y. And sometimes it may happen that I’ve got everything before I even start! Ha! It’s a trap. We’ll use this example. Next, I’ll discovery-write my way into it for as long as I can. Eventually, I’ll get to a point where it starts to be a mess of questions. The “why” will often get in the way here if I didn’t have that already. There wasn’t a story in my prompt.
At this point, I might pull away for a bit, depending on how I feel, or I might dive right into the next bullet-point dance. I read what I’ve done and jot down all the questions that come to me from this. If I can get all these answered, then I can move on to an outline. Otherwise, I might need to discovery-write more with some of the answers I DID find, or I need to go for a walk/run/nap or whatever.
By the way, research can happen at any time. Sometimes it’ll be upfront because I know I’m a noob on the topic of Cheetos. Often it’s in the previous bullet-point dance. And sometimes it’s even in the middle of writing a sequence, though I try to avoid that. It really depends on what’s going on at that moment. If I hit a snag and I feel like some research might shake out some fruit, I’ll go with it. Stop looking at me that way. It’s not a crime!
And… an outline forms. I’ll do some full scenes here and there, and do iterations over this outline to get rid of any of those cliches that will most likely crop up. “Leveling-up” passes.
Someday, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I’ll have a nice outline, and I can start laying skin on skeleton. I may have answered enough questions to inject a story.
- I know what the power is and have created the rules if it’s that kind of thing.
- And! I think the power and rules don’t suck.
- I know something like: She sees the news that the Big-Cheese of Cheetos has decided to change the formula, and there-by kryptonites access to that power. She researches and discovers that she’s not the only one, and that the Big-Cheese knows about them and wants to control them.
- I know/have an idea of why he wants to do this, and it will make sense to him.
- I know/have an idea of what she needs to do.
- These last two might be fuzzy on purpose so I can discover all the twists and turns, or these twists and turns may have already presented themselves fully, ready-made.
If I run into problems putting this together, I may need to hit up other writers and troubleshoot by spitballing. Some of us did this the other day and it helped me tremendously.
Away I go, writing every day I can. By the end of the thing, it may, or may not be like the outline, but it’ll be ready for the next phase. So far in my writing life, things have ended fine without being that different from the outline. If this ever happens, I might question if I spent enough time upfront.
Next, I do a search through the doc, looking for [
Some of you may recognize this trick from Mary Robinette Kowal from Writing Excuses. I’ve used several different methods, but this one works well because I can jump through the doc to each one.
I’ll fix those up until the story is  free.
I was continuously dumping more verbose ideas into another document during that full-on writing spree, sometimes referencing sequences. This next pass will see if any of those make sense now. I’ll play around with that for a bit.
It’s time to get away from it. When I come back, I read through it, making another edit doc, or just editing parts that I’m sure about.
If everything seems to work and make sense. It might be time for alpha and/or beta reader. I have not done this with a six-figure word-count book yet, but I suspect I’ll do something similar to what Brandon Sanderson talked about for that size (and maybe even shorter ones now)–the spreadsheet and a book with line numbers.
There are a lot of things I’m leaving out which are not really “process” related. Those one-off inspirational dumps… like waking up in the middle of the night when you realize an entire sequence completely messes up another earlier sequence; you have to fix-that-right-now! But this is the basic rhythm of the thing.
Most of this is not that ground-breaking, and many of you may follow something similar, but it’s about learning from one another. Someone here might have a very unique process that may inspire someone else, even if they use something completely different from what inspired the idea.
I’ve found that many people like a physical book, and you can print a version 0.01x reader copy with lulu.com. I’ve convinced myself this is reasonable, but if someone else has a better place, I’d love to hear about it.