One of my literary soulmates, Bracken MacLeod, posted this morning about his “process” when it comes to writing. He did in a response to a social media post from his friend, who is, to use the illustrative phrase, a “pantser”–meaning, they get an idea and they just run with it. MacLeod isn’t a pantser…but I am.
In one of the “definitive” editions to American Gods, writer Neil Gaiman talked about the process of writing the novel, expressing relief after he had written it that now he knew how to write a book. However, a legendary writer whose name escapes me pointed out to Gaiman that he had only figured out how to write that book. Every book is different.
This is true.
So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here’s as close as I get to a process:
- Gets an idea, usually a what-if.
- Noodle it
- I’m waiting for a title at this point.
- But this title sucks.
- This title is marginal
- Do I have a good opening-scene?
- That one comes too soon
- That one means I would have to do flashbacks. Fuck flashbacks.
- Start writing.
- “Hey, this is going decently”
- Doesn’t write for two days.
- I hate the first three pages.
- Man, I’m using a lot of passive sentences here.
- Spend the next week imagining how I’m going to fix the one scene I wrote to night.
- Spend the next week imagining how the next scene’s gonna go.
- Finish the first draft.
- “This thing is three times as long as asked for. Fucking hell.”
- Stare at it for a month or so.
- Print it out, wincing.
- Start reading.
- Cut 40%
- Realize that the sentence structure is choppy as hell.
- Stew about this for four nights and three days.
- Open a blank document.
- Write the entire story over without looking at the original.
- Revise, cutting only 20% of the overall.
- Begin submitting.
Now, this ignores the times when I get a title before a story–“Bones Are Made to be Broken”–or think of a weird scene before I have a conflict–“Baby Grows a Conscience”–but this is fairly close to accurate for a majority of my work. Sometimes, the idea comes from me noodling a prompt for an hour or so (“In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me”) or from spit-balling with another writer in conversation (“How We Broke” in Chiral Mad 4, which is forthcoming).