The Evolution of Process

I have a writing process.

At least, I thought I had a writing process. Here’s what it entailed:

Wake up. Because it’s helpful to be awake when writing one’s novel. Write in the mornings. Write only on the computer. Write a first draft all the way through, pantsed and messy and full of continuity errors, and then roll up the sleeves during the revisions. Listen to soundtracks or rain tracks while writing. Stop at around 2pm, because afternoons are no good for me. Write scenes in chronological order. Outlining is largely useless. With the exception of a few brief guiding notes here and there, pantsing is all I need in order to achieve flashes of clarity and logic, and eventually it will all make sense.

I did this about 90% of the time for all three Legend books. (Book 3 involved a tiny bit more outlining than the others. And by tiny, I mean that I used some note cards before I gave up. It was not pretty.) So, whenever I’m asked on a panel or in an interview about my process, I state the above quite confidently. I am a morning person. I am a pantser. I must have music. I must write on a computer. I must write in chronological order. Process, process, process.

For the last few months, though, I have moved away from the realm of writing in Legend‘s world and immersed myself in the first draft of a new series, a YA high fantasy that is completely (or, at least, noticeably) different than my dystopian books. Having used the above strategies on three novels, I figured I should apply them all to the new series. This is my process, after all. I must have things this way if I want to successfully draft a book.

But the above process isn’t working for The Young Elites.

I started out pantsing, then realized 30,000 words in that I had written myself into a black hole. I had to go back and toss out 15,000 of those words. Then I wrote myself an outline for the rest of the novel and detailed notes on upcoming chapters. To my shock, I actually ended up following them. I am following them right now. To be fair, I still pantsed some twists and turns in the plot—but never before have I followed an outline so closely.

I started out writing in chronological order, then realized that all the scenes I’d written were completely out of order. I had to cut them up and rearrange them in the correct sequence. Writing scenes in the wrong order? Not part of my process at all.

I have written half of The Young Elites in the afternoon. Not all of the words made it past the cutting room floor, but a shockingly large percentage of them have. Conversely, I have cut more written-in-the-morning scenes than I ever cut for the Legend books.

Most shockingly of all, I have been writing by hand. This is the biggest change for me, and it happened by accident. Early on in the drafting, I was traveling and had purposely left my laptop at home. I didn’t think I would need it for the next two days. To my dismay, I got the spark for a great scene right in the middle of the airport. Usually I’ll just type a few notes into my phone and then wait until I get home to type the scene out properly—but this time, I couldn’t wait. I bought a cheap little notepad (Remember real notepads? The ones that actually look like the Notepad icon?) and started writing out notes and memorable lines by hand. Two pages of notes turned into four, then six. By the end of that trip, I had over twenty pages of handwritten notes and a rush of new ideas. I can’t say that the handwriting was what triggered all of those ideas, but I’d rather not mess with the system. I’ve been filling up the notepad ever since.

My point is this: process can evolve. When your tried-and-true methods suddenly don’t work for a new book you’re working on, don’t panic. Every book is different, and different books may simply require different creative routines. Try new things. Experiment with a technique that you’ve always sworn could never work for you. Experiment with writing by hand. See if outlining can actually work for a pantser. Write in silence if you always use music, or vice versa.

You never know what might spark your creativity.


13 Responses to The Evolution of Process

  1. Cheri L. Roman Jul 12 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Good advice. Always be ready to roll with the flow.

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      Thank you! And yes, always be ready. 🙂

  2. Leigh Smith Jul 12 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Love this post. I’m at a point where what I’ve always done hasn’t been working so great. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try something else! Also, I’m so excited you’re writing a high fantasy!!

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      Yes, trying new things has worked out well this time–thank goodness, because otherwise my WIP would be a (bigger) mess. And thanks, I’m excited that you’re excited!

  3. Joni Jul 12 2013 at 11:11 am #

    I think it’s strange how finicky and restless our creative selves can be. Sometimes it can be frustrating when things just aren’t working, but once you find that completely new “groove” it can be fun doing things a new way.
    Thanks for sharing, encouraging us to push through and figure out a new method if the old isn’t working.
    I can’t wait to read CHAMPION- and these word pairings couldn’t get me more excited:
    Marie Lu + high fantasy. !!!! ^.^

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:46 pm #

      It’s a new challenge every time! And thank you–I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will turn out the way I intend it!

  4. Pamela DuMond Jul 12 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    It just keeps evolving. Good for you!

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:47 pm #


  5. Amelia Loken Jul 13 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Love this! Thanks for sharing. The creative process sometimes turns on its head and we flail about until we’re ready to listen to the new process muse. 🙂

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:47 pm #

      I like the mental image of the flailing. 🙂

  6. Rowenna Jul 14 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ve definitely found this to be true! Sometimes I think maybe it’s me changing (growing up? No, that can’t be right) and sometimes maybe it’s the book itself–like some stories demand a different approach than others. Regardless, the change of pace and process can really energize me!

    Hope you’re enjoying writing something new in a new way 🙂

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Totally agree. I think part of it definitely has to do with growing up–as a writer. Our skills shift as we write more, and sometimes I think our process needs to adjust with it. And thank you!

  7. Alexa Y. Jul 23 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    It’s interesting because I was just thinking about this today! I’m one of those writers who writes when I feel like it and without planning anything at all. But I’ve been stunted recently with my writing, and nothing so far has gotten me out of my slump! Today I feel inspired to try my hand at outlining properly and dedicating a few hours of my day to writing — hopefully that jumpstarts the creative process again!

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