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Every Book is Different

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by

E.C. Myers

EC MyersI love reading about authors’ writing processes. Even though I’ve been writing for a long time and publishing for a little while, I still read blog posts and books on writing all the time. I look forward to interviews that ask authors about how they wrote and revised their books. And occasionally I’m asked, “What’s your writing process?” As it turns out, there’s no simple answer to that question.

The first thing you realize when you’ve read a lot about how other authors write is that every author has a different process. That means there’s no “right way” to write—whatever works for you is great if you’re actually finishing manuscripts, but your methods may not work for someone else. For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote every morning at dawn, while standing, but Ray Bradbury didn’t bother with a set schedule at all and worked anywhere and everywhere, presumably in a chair. Some authors like to outline, some people are “pantsers” and make it up as they go along. Some revise as they write and end up with fairly polished first drafts, but I like to dash for the finish line without looking back then tidy up the mess I’ve made.

onwritingSo if there’s no right way to write, why bother studying how others do it? Partially, it’s cool when I find out that a famous author or someone whose work I admire does the same things I do — it’s like some sort of validation that I’m not doing it wrong. When you’re first starting out, you have no idea how to write a novel even though you’ve read a ton of them, so you’re desperate for any guidance you can get. And even if you’ve finished a book, you’ll probably discover soon enough that you haven’t figured it out at all, because just as every writer has a different process, each project may require a different process too.

That means writing never gets any easier either, but at least that keeps things fresh and exciting. I wrote my first two novels without an outline, and that turned out all right, but I got stuck on the third one (which I’m actually still revising) so I wrote a loose outline; in that case, it was useful because working the plot out in advance made me spend my writing time more efficiently.

Learning about other approaches to writing can expand your toolbox, so if your old process doesn’t seem to be working anymore, you can try something new. I’m writing a book now about teenage hacktivists, with a fairly complete outline, and I’ve tried a few new things with this project:

  1. This is the first book I’ve written from scratch in Scrivener. (I’ve used it before to revise some older manuscripts.) I like the way the program keeps me organized and it makes it easier to follow my outline and track my work.
  2. TwinFallsFor the first time, I’ve created a Google Map for my story with all the key locations pinned on it. The characters are moving around all over the place, so the map helps me get the travel time and neighborhoods right, and grounds me more in the setting.
  3. This is also the first time I’ve “cast” the characters in my book. I ended up picking actors who have all been in superhero films or shows, which initially wasn’t intentional but ties into the theme somewhat. The descriptions in my book don’t match the characters exactly, but it helps me to visualize them and it was a fun afternoon of procrastination, which I still consider a healthy part of my process.

SoS_Cast

So the moral here is that we’re always growing and changing as writers, and we should constantly be challenged by the books we want to write and open to trying different ways of writing them.

So what’s your writing process or routine like? Do you have any particular writing habits?

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN, as well as numerous short stories in anthologies and magazines. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blogTwitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The most liberating writing advice I’ve ever received was “learn to write this book.” It was permission to approach each new project as I needed to, not as I felt I should.

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      That is great advice! It seems like so much of writing requires you to give yourself permission to tackle things in your own way — and not compare yourself to other writers or their career paths.

  2. Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I usually write early in the morning, since my kids aren’t up and it’s quiet. I can’t outline, I have to read what I wrote before to regain the logic of the chapter and the characters, so I can follow that logic to put more words down. I have lately done a bit of dream-casting, in my last couple of stories. I don’t visualize my characters (mostly I don’t even describe them), but the characters they’re modelled on will affect the dialog greatly.
    My blog is mostly about my thoughts about my writing process and writing in general, so I hope you’ll stop by sometime.

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      I just did! Thank you for sharing. It’s always nice to meet another Chuck fan.

  3. Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    LOVE THIS POST. It’s so true, and something I seem to relearn with every new book I write–because every new book comes out differently than the last. I’m super strict about my routines and my rituals, yet HOW the book actually unfolds–outlines or no outlines, brainstorming for hours or for weeks, pinterest boards or epic music or nothing at all–always changes.

    I also really love that comment above–“learn to write this book.” Such great advice there!

    (Side note: that was a hard captcha equation for this comment…*counts on fingers*)

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! Math captcha seems especially evil to inflict on writers. I’m trying not to use my computer’s calculator…

  4. Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This was such a nice reminder, E! I’m with you–every book demands to be written in it’s own way, and that’s okay. Processes change and we adapt, and somehow, the book comes out. Like you, I actually created a google map for the first time with my current WIP! I think the only part of my process that has remained true from book to book is that I revise very lightly as I draft. I don’t like losing momentum, but I’ve found that if I plow ahead knowing something is broken, I lose all faith in the story.

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      One thing that remains consistent (so far) with my drafting is when I realize something I wrote earlier needs to be changed in order to move forward, I just make a note and pretend I’ve already made that change from the new section forward. My reasoning is three chapters later I may come up with an even better approach, so I don’t want to keep reworking the same material over and over. But that leaves me with a lot more work in revision.

  5. Posted February 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Mind-mapping and spider diagrams work well for me. I use the Xmind programme to develop the book’s idea, characters, plot etc – making them all branch out like a tree. The programme allows notes, hyperlinks, images, markers, external files as attachments and also has inbuilt features like creating summaries and relationships between topics and subtopics. Overall – a tremendous tool for those who like to do some structuring in advance.

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      I recently heard of mind-mapping, and I am intrigued. My problem I’ve discovered with Scrivener and even building up the map is that I still feel like I’m losing time, even though I know it will actually help me out more later. When under the pressure of a deadline, it’s hard to justify anything that isn’t resulting in new words by the end of the day. I’m going to look into this though.

  6. Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I love the idea of a Google map, but would it work for stories that take place in uninhabited jungles and mountains? I wish I could try mind-mapping but I’m afraid I would go off on too many tangents and likely never come back. The biggest hurdle for me is getting the first draft down. Once that’s done, it’s not as difficult for me to go back and edit, cut, revise, etc. But no matter what kind of manuscript I’m working on, I’ve found this method to be the only one that works for me. I make rough outlines and then draft using the Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com). This is where I focus on writing for 25 minutes and stop for a break and go again for 25 minutes, stop for a break and so on. I love it! This has increased my speed and productivity by a ton.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see why the map wouldn’t work — even uninhabited areas have been photographed by satellites. You just pin what you want anywhere, or you can always build your own map if it’s a fantasy world :)

      I’ve also heard good things about the Pomodoro technique! I should definitely look into things that improve my productivity, though I suspect just staying off Twitter and Facebook when I’m supposed to be writing will do the trick!

  7. Posted February 13, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I loved reading this post! I think this is really practical advice, as it’s true that different things work for different writers. Or even readers for that matter!

    • Posted February 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! And yes, that’s so true: It’s always good to remember that everyone will read a book differently.

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  1. By Book Bloggery Week-in-Review (47) on February 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    […] E. C. Myers talks about how every book is different. […]

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