I’m realizing that I’ve never written a post about how I write, my process for banging out all the books. So, this post is a first in a series on that. This month, I’m going to talk about the moment that changed EVERYTHING for my writing. Now, I’ve talked about this before, and I’m giving advanced warning—I’m going to use the dreaded P-word—plotting—but plotting is definitely a big part of my process. Now. I didn’t start out as a plotter. I was a die-hard pantser at the beginning.
But things change …
When I first started writing, I had less than zero idea how to write. I thought it would be fun to try, but I’d never studied writing, so I had no expectations of myself. I was astounded that I finished that first novel. I was also immensely emotional; it was one of the most momentous accomplishments of my life. It just felt huge. It still does. Every time.
That book took me a year to write. I’d sit down and work for days in a row; as long as I had ideas in my head, I’d write them. The ideas always ran out, though, and I’d have to wait for more to come to me. That might take a week, weeks, days, a month. I was patient. I had no urgency. It was a hobby, nothing more. So, no problem.
Ultimately I did finish (yay!), but the story that came out was not good (boo!). It was frankly bad. So bad.
I’ve written already about my deep love of revision. It took me a while to get what makes revision fun and rewarding. This book was pre-that. The kind of revision my first book needed was ridiculous and not fun, and it took years. Fixing, rearranging, cutting, clarifying. Some of that process also involved me just getting better at writing (aka, leveling-up). I’d come back to the manuscript after thinking it was done and I’d see all sorts of ways to improve it. Every time I leveled up, I’d realize I still had work to do.
This was all fine, because I was learning and growing every day. The downside was it would take me forever to get good enough for publication if I kept using this same strategy. Not to mention, if I ever did win the jackpot and signed with an agent and/or sold a book, it would have been hard to make it in the professional world working that way. I needed to change some things up.
Fast forward a few years later (4 years almost to day after starting my first book, actually), and I had continued to revise not only my first book, but also my second book, (which I also pantsed). It was November of 2014, which means NaNoWriMo time. For folks who don’t know what that is, you can check it out right here. But, in short, you try to write a book in one month. I just happened to have a book that was outlined. I’d had the idea while I was still finishing up my second book, so I wrote down the ideas as not to forget them. When Nano came around, I decided to give the whole 50K word thing a spin. I didn’t only write the 50K words needed to “win” nano; I wrote a 75K full MS.
I was astounded. Mind=blown. I literally thought I couldn’t do it. The thing was, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I mean, it definitely took effort—and I had some intense work days there, including a retreat weekend—but it was okay. It was fun. And, my first draft was way stronger than any of my first drafts before. Yes, I get that part of that outcome was I’d learned a lot by that point, but part of it was having the definite plan in my head at the start and focused effort on the MS over a short time. In other words, I didn’t have time to forget details (what was the name of the MC’s high school science teacher?). My writing momentum remained strong.
I learned something very important the day I typed the end on my third book: we can literally assume something is impossible and never try. I’m so glad I tried.
We must always try.
After that, I decided that I’d write all my books the same way. So, the first development in my current method for writing was to join the dark side and become a plotter. This is not to say that I think everyone needs to complete Nano for every book, but I do believe one-hundred percent that plotting can allow for stronger first drafts and quicker product, regardless of where each individual writer is starting off. And getting through a first draft faster means we get to my favorite part-plotting—faster.
Next month, I’ll write about how I fit my writing activities into my full-time work schedule and how they all fit with each other (e.g., drafting time, revision time, more revision time, more revision time, etc).
Until then, remember, You can do it! You can write!
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.
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