Writing and editing process

I’ve been writing a lot recently, and thought it might be helpful to go through my process. I’m aware that not everyone writes in the same way, but this at least is how I do it…

The first sign that I need to write – or that I have a story I want to tell – is that I’ll start with a line of dialogue, or an image. Desert Sands started with someone running through the desert; a section of Heights & Horizons that I want to write is S’ian and Iilde arguing over status; my most recent piece started with a woman in a red coat and knitted bobble hat sitting by a fountain, waiting for a Knight.

And then – I let the characters run.

I just write. I sit down and I let the words go – this is the point where my word counts shoot. I think about what I’d want the characters to say; what they’d do next; if I get stuck, I try to follow the paths e.g. something’s just happened – how would they react? I’ve done it for so long now that the process isn’t really a process any more; it’s more on an instinct level.

Sometimes I do get stuck. Sometimes the words won’t come; I can’t get into that world or those characters. Often putting some music on will help (either one track on repeat, or a playlist for one particular world) but sometimes, I know enough about myself to give up and go do something else. There are some times when my brain doesn’t want to write, and I accept that.

The one thing I don’t really do at this point is edit. I won’t go back over my work except to add things; I try to keep going. I will re-read, but only to work out what should happen next. I’ve found that if I start trying to analyse, the creative and editing bits of my brain conflict, and I end up with a muddled story. I have to let one go at a time.

And then, usually the next day, I’ll edit. I’ll re-read the piece with a fresh brain (and usually no music); I’ll see what I think. Does it flow? Does it work? Do the characters fit? Do I want to change the way I’ve said something to get a different effect? Do I want to consolidate, or expand? Have I repeated myself? Would something fit better earlier or later in the story?

Sometimes this process branches back into writing; I want to add bits, I want to change something. But this won’t be the same major word count as the writing process; it’s usually a word, a sentence, or possibly a paragraph. This is the point where I analyse my ideas and see if the piece does work; and, importantly, I let myself appreciate it. If I’ve done some good writing – I give myself a pat on the back. I let myself smile. If I enjoy the piece, I appreciate it as well as criticise it. I don’t think writers do this enough – if you’ve done something good, be proud!

All of this is entirely divorced from anything else. My pieces don’t have to fit within a canon; if I want to write something, I write it and try to ignore the criticial voice in my head (that would never happen! they can’t do that in the story! you’ve got the character wrong!). Doesn’t matter. Write it.

So I have a lot of writing that will never see the light of day; no-one else will ever read it, I won’t publish it, it’ll never be used. But – and this is the important bit – it doesn’t matter. Your decision on what to do with that writing comes after you’ve written and edited it, and you can’t archive a piece if you’ve never written it! Plus, I consider it writing practise.

So that’s my process. It’s usually spread over several days for a shorter piece, while I’ve got something in my head; for the longer novellas, it’s weeks or months. I’ll alternate the writing and editing processes; and then, at the end, when I think I’ve done all I can – it goes out to a reader, and then the whole thing begins again when they come back with ideas!