Processing your unique process

One of the parts of writing that I found the most difficult was understanding my process. There were plenty of people around who were glad to tell me how to write my stories. Outline, story board, character questionaires, exploratory chapters, the list goes on and on. Those are all good methods, but they didn’t help me understand what was going on in my brain. They didn’t help when I hit panic mode.

I wrote over twenty full length novels before I figured out panic is part of my process.

I want to quit every time I hit the panic phase. This comes on at about the fifth draft and I have 50,000 words in what feels like should be at least a 70,000 word story. I know I’m missing something big, and I can’t see it. Panic!!!!! That’s why part of my process is calling in the troops. I whine and plead with my critiquers to read this mess and tell me where I’ve gone wrong. One will give me a couple of pages of explanations and suggestions on the chapter or two that is the failure point in the story. The other will just tell me “This is where my head exploded.” Both responses are very helpful. And while one reads for plot, the other reads for character.

Part of my process is getting the needed jolt at that point in my writing that gets me to the full, fleshed out story.

I had always ignored photoboards with pictures of my characters and lists that told me what my characters ate for breakfast and who their first pet was. I thought it was because I write historical and this would only work for contemporary. Not at all. It was because of my process, which allows me to see my characters, sometimes through a veil and sometimes through a prism. But those images are so strong that everything else is a poor replica. The skill I needed, and still need to hone, is to describe those people and places in my head so well that readers can visualize them without pictures. This is part of my process.

These experiences convinced me that process is individual. Every writer, from initial idea to finished product, gets there a different way. We can give each other hints. Try this. Change that. Don’t give up.

Especially don’t give up.

So if you need to story board or write 80 page outlines or fly off into the mist every time you sit down at the keyboard, embrace it. It’s your process. We all handle our ideas, our images, the characters in our heads differently. It’s our unique process. And once you process what your process is, writing will go more smoothly for you and you’ll be able to enjoy the journey more.

Don’t get me wrong. It will always be an uphill climb. But you’ll be able to find your own personal path up the mountain once you process – or understand – what your unique process is.

23 responses to “Processing your unique process”

  1. So incredibly true, Kate! I was just talking about this with a writer friend the other day. She writes out of order and then puts it all together like a puzzle where I have to go linearly. Just the way each of us work. Unfortunately, the I-think-this-book-might-suck phase is also part of my process. 😕

  2. Addison Fox says:

    Kate – I LOVE THIS POST!!!!!

    Discussions on process absolutely fascinate me and I am in a billion percent agreement with you – everyone’s process is their own. A huge milestone in the writers life is coming to accept that!


  3. jbrayweber says:

    I sometimes catch myself lamenting on why my process isn’t as fast, fruitful, definitive, or polished as someone else’s. But then I have to take a step back and remember that EXTERNAL forces are at play, too. Part of my process has to factor in my time and life as (in no particular order) a mother, editor, mother, wife, volunteer, mother… Did I mention how demanding kids can be? So my process has to be fluid. What works for me getting characters and plot on the page for one book doesn’t always happen for the next. I might write an entire book long-hand at the park 3 days a week or be bouncing character motivation at my accountability partner’s dining room table or doing hours of research at Starbucks just to get a tiny detail right. Who knows? It’s like anything goes, but it’s a part of my process for now. At least until the kids are grown. 😉

    Great post, Kate.

    • Yes, this! I hear you, and my process is similar, especially with kids around. In fact, I have two out of school today, so I’m trying to write around them. I kind of like the flexibility and unpredictability of my process, though. (Sometimes. LOL)

    • Kate Parker says:

      My hat is off to anybody who can write with kids around. However, with hubbie’s health problems, it’s like having a big kid. I have an inkling of what gyrations you have to go through, and I admire you.

  4. Elizabeth Langston says:

    Thanks for this post, Kate. I’ve been stewing over my process. It feels like a mess–and I’m so slow. But books have come out the other end on several occasions, so I need to hang in there.

  5. Lots to chew on here, Kate. I was struck by the importance of your critique buddies in your process. Clearly off loading your story (and panic) helped you tear down a road block and journey on. This is a great reminder for those of us stuck on a project or particular area. Thanks!

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great post, Kate! So much to absorb here.

    As someone who used to design processes for a living, I’d like to add that processes can, and sometimes must, evolve and change over time. Making minor changes in how we work isn’t a process failure, but an improvement opportunity, sometimes driven by our own growing competence and confidence.

    For me, recognizing that what I’m doing isn’t working as well as it used to, and giving myself permission to try something else (even temporarily), is half the battle. 😉

    • I agree with you, Tammy. For years, I wrote the same way and I came to recognize it as my process, but further down the career path things didn’t seem right. I wanted more. I wanted to plot more so there wouldn’t be so many rewrites. I wanted to know my characters more so that I could write their flaws and changes in the first draft instead of layering in later. So now, I spend time before writing that first line, no matter how badly I want to begin, and work on plot and characters sketches. I’m finding I like this way much better. So yea, we need to be open to change in our process.

      Great topic, Kate!

    • Tamara, you made my day. I’m going to have to copy and keep that middle paragraph of your comment.

      I’ve been struggling with not being able to plot this past year. It’s like my brain just shuts down when I try to think too much. And it had occurred to me that both external forces (life stressors and burnout) and internal (getting bored and/or frustrated with the writing schedule/demands/lack of payoff) was creating a mess in my head, which made me unproductive. And even more frustrated.

      So, I’m trying to embrace the lack of plotting and trust my instincts, just to get some words down. It’s been tough, but also it’s helping the fun return to writing, and that’s a win. (And hey, I like thinking of my struggles as “evolving.” ;D )

    • Kate Parker says:

      We need a blog post on changing processes. Tammy? Do I hear a volunteer? My processes haven’t changed, but I’d like to hear how it might.

  7. I enjoyed your post, Kate – thank you!

    I used to try to force myself to do character interviews, collages, or whatever to encapsulate my characters, but it was taking all the fun out of discovering them. I’ve learned that my process involves writing the first 2 or 3 chapters as a way to get to know the characters and then do some plotting. But this past year, I didn’t even want to plot anymore. Just wanted to dive in. In fact, my brain just couldn’t seem to think that far ahead. I think my process has been changing to keep things interesting. And yes, my process also involves the panic mode, usually in the final two weeks before a deadline. (I’d like to strangle my process sometimes.)

  8. Rita Henuber says:

    Thank you Kate. Grwat post!. Writers are creative people. I can’t imagine any of us doing the same thing, the same way forever. Honestly I’ve exited workshops that the presenter said they was only one way to do things. (Their’s of course) Nope.

    • Kate Parker says:

      I’ve found the presenters who say that seem to be plotters. Intense plotters. As a pantster, I couldn’t follow any of their suggestions if I wanted to.

  9. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    As a “newb”, I’ve yet to find the process that works for me. I’ve been introduced to several – outlines, storyboarding, index cards, plotting & a few others.

    I am not sure if I will ever settle on one process, but for me…I think that there will be times when the story and/or characters will dictate “the process” to a degree. What I do know is that “my process” will change and evolve just as my writing will change and evolve.

    Enjoyed the post, Kate!

    • Kate Parker says:

      Your process will change and evolve for awhile before you find that central core piece of process that doesn’t change. Then you’ll probably find the pieces of process around the center will shift over time. Good luck. Finding that core that doesn’t change is relaxing in a strange sort of way.

  10. Diana Layne says:

    This is great to recognize your process. Mine is too slow and right now I’m trying to come up with a way to WRITE FASTER! So many stories I want to write but I keep having to drag them out. There has to be an easier way!


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