Stupid Process

Yeah, well, sometimes my process is stupid. Why? Well, I’ve been doing again what I swore never to do – moving my characters to suit my plot. Gah! It’s so insidious. You have a great idea for a scene perhaps mid-way through the book and because you love the idea of this scene so much, you start moving your characters towards it instead of letting it evolve naturally. At least that’s what I’ve been doing. You’d think I know by now that when suddenly all the scenes get very hard to write and I feel like I’m wading through wet cement, it’s a sign I’m pushing my characters not the other way round. But no, it’s like ‘Why is this scene so hard to write? Why aren’t they doing what they’re told? Why can’t I get that lovely, flowy thing going? Argh!’ *chucks keyboard across the room*


This is what happens when a die-hard pantser has to plot. Or when an impatient writer is desperate to write the ‘good bits’.

I think for a lot of the past year, I’ve been trying to get back to the way I used to write. Which was having no idea for plot etc, just writing as it comes, finding out what was going to happen when my characters did. Which was fine. Until it came to revising something and then I realised that actually, craft wasn’t there just to confuse me and make me feel annoyed. It was there because if you want to work with an editor and possibly get published, you kind of have to know the nuts and bolts of how to put a story together. Certainly you have to if you want to stay published. The problem with learning craft is that it can get in the way of how you write. You’re so worried about conflict/character arc/structure etc, etc, that it can act as a barrier and totally kill your spark.

The mss I wrote last year were a case in point. It’s like weaving a tapestry that you used to do totally by instinct and now you actually have to look at what you’re doing. Make sure you’ve got enough blue threads, not too many reds, put in a bit of green, but watch out for too much yellow. Oh and not forgetting that you need a little bit of purple because ahead there’s a design you want to do that has LOTs of purple in it so you have to put it in now. And because you’re worrying so much about all the different threads, before you know it, your lovely weaving is just a paint by numbers job, not a fabulous, organic, creative bit of art.

Anyway, the point of this is that I need to get to a point where I can incorporate the craft I’ve learned, with my instinct. And that means not pushing your characters forward because you want to write a really good argument/love scene/black moment. Or because you need to get them to this point so you can have this particular scene (you would not believe the problems I had trying to incorporate a strip chess scene in my Chessman ms. It was SO hard. In the end I took it out because I realised my characters were trying to tell me something – they didn’t want to play bloody strip chess!). For me I need to be with them in the moment, not think about what more I have to do for their characters arcs or how I’m going to work out their conflict etc etc. If I know my characters well enough, it’ll work out. I have to trust my instinct more. Oh and probably stopping being so damn impatient would help too!

So, anyone else learned anything interesting about their process?

14 thoughts on “Stupid Process”

  1. Ooh boy, it’s TOUGH,isn’t it? I just finished four rounds of revisions on a manuscript I didn’t fully discover until round three of revisions. I think trying to get it right the FIRST time is too much pressure. Maybe do your panster thing first? Follow that spark and THEN go back and layer all those thread colors in? Rework to better showcase growth etc if need be? Everything can be revised.

    Good luck!

  2. Aimee – wow that’s hard work! But sometimes that’s what it takes eh? I do try and get it right first time (not looking at anyone in particular, Maisey Yates) but it IS too much pressure for me. And hey, that’s damn good advice for me re following my pantser instinct. I SHOULD do that first! Thanks m’dear!

  3. Process – I always stress that I don’t really have one. But I guess I do. I’m in between plotting and panting too. But you know what’s bugged me about learning more? The fact that it’s slowed my writing right down. I used to write so fast and now I agonise over every line. I’m trying to get back a bit of this speed and shut off that internal editor during the first draft! But I’m soooooooo bad at rewriting my first draft must be pretty tight!

  4. Aimee – that’s really interesting. I think I NEED to learn to embrace this reality too. I’m discovering so much about my characters and the characters in the next book as I write, so some rewriting is always gonna be necessary! Bangs head on desk in anticipation!

  5. Rach – you keep on panting…;-) Yep, same here. My writing has slowed heaps due to the wretched craft. At least, it slows down when I’m doing something I shouldn’t. I just need to STOP when I’m doing that and figure out what I’m doing wrong. And Rach, you’re NOT bad at rewriting. It’s not easy, no, but you can do it!

  6. Georgie – you’re so right! I’m a great believer in just getting it all down first. Which is what I usually do. Though at the moment I’d like to do a rough first draft that I can edit into something not worth cringing over instead of rewriting the whole thing five times – which is my normal process. 🙂

  7. Jackie – I loved the title of this blog and started laughing straight away.
    I’ve never had thoughts about fabulous scenes – and am quite jealous that you have. Sometimes I think that might be quite useful when I feel stuck!

  8. I’ve always envied plotters a little. Those writers who have characters profiles, excel spreadsheets, file cards, collage boards etc and seem so organised. And I’ve never been one of them. But I’ve tried to learn. I’ve read books and made plans that never really saw the light of day. And the learning seemed to take away from my writing time. So I just start with my main characters, a vague outline of the kind of story I want to write (secret baby, love reunited etc) and I start writing. I try to get it right as I go – sometimes it works, somtimes not so well. But I figure that’s just my way and I long ago stopped fighting with myself about being a panster.
    Great post Jackie!

  9. Scarlet – Thanks! But yeah, I do have scenes in my head. It’s great but it can also be a pain in the butt – witness my forcing my characters to do stuff just so I can have the scene!

    Thanks Helen! Yeah, I’ve never been one for post-its and collages etc. In fact, I think I need to pants more than I do cos sometimes the plotting bogs me down something chronic. What HAS been good has been taking the time to get to know my characters a bit more. Certainly helps when it comes to figuring out the plot. 🙂

  10. What I don’t understand is how an author can ever have a ‘final’ draft. Although I’ve stopped working on my more recent manuscripts (having concluded the story and reached word count), I wouldn’t say that they’re Finished. There are too many things to change all the time: foreshadowing, another funny exchange, more detail, less detail…I’ve had to forbid myself to open past so that I can move on to the next!
    As you said Jackie, it can get mega frustrating, no matter what process you use. I’m a plotter. I have each chapter planned before I start writing the story. But that doesn’t seem to make it any easier to reach the end! I might know where the plot is going, when certain conflicts will come to the forefront, and so on. But that makes it harder when I come to a scene that I WANTED and have PLANNED AROUND, but is not right for the characters. Like strip chess. It ruins everything *has a cry* because sometimes it means the whole plan has to change. And I’m a Virgo. Unexpected change makes me very unhappy.
    Luckily, I haven’t reached that stage in my current ms. Fingers crossed I won’t. But my plans are rarely spot on the first time. Sometimes I want to try being a pantser, but I can’t handle that kind of spontaneity 🙂
    Good luck pushing through this particular patch of wet cement. You can do it. There’s a dry, set footpath just around the corner where you’ll be able to gain speed again xx

  11. Madeline – ah, big hugs!! I feel your pain. I’m not sure what to advise. I have found that going back to my gut and writing from that is pretty much the only way out of the mess I’ve got myself into. And that means chucking the stuff I’ve written (or at least putting it another document) and writing it all afresh without thinking ahead or planning. It’s working much better. AND I’m finding that there’s some stuff that’s falling into place naturally that didn’t when I was TRYING to do it! Stupid eh?
    The only thing I can suggest is continuing to work with your process but at the same time, allowing yourself some leeway for change. A combo pants/plotter type thing.
    That bloody happy medium again!!

  12. I’ve just had my best mate have a look-see at my NV chapter and asked for input. She (quite rightly) said I need to mix long and short sentences together more Duh! Why didn’t *I* spot that ehh? Just goes to show how easy it to be too close to your MS sometimes! Going over to NV to check out your entry now Jackie. Can’t wait…Caroline x

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