Friday, May 22, 2015

The Writing and Revision Process of a Complete Moron

That's me, complete moron. If you don't believe me, ask my wife.

I love hearing about the processes of other writers. When I first started writing, I thought I would learn a magical way for me to do my work.

I didn't find it.

In the end, every writer has her own process and what works for me will probably not work for you. But it's still fun to learn.

I usually get an idea. Maybe it's the title of a book. Maybe it's a character. Or maybe it's a "what if" question. It's happened each way with me. And I kind of noodle on that idea. I think- what about this idea, character, or question interests me?

At that point, one of two things might happen.

Some times, I just start writing. Stephen King talked about novelists being like archaeologists and our idea is to dig and uncover dirt until we 'find' the story. That's what I often do. I just write. I discover things about my character, the idea, the setting.

Then, after I've written anywhere between 1/6 and 1/4 of the book, I stop. I stop and I take a cold hard look at what I've got.

I started with a flash, and now I've written words. But this is my timeout, my opportunity to ask myself the all important question: I've got a whole bunch of words, but do I have the makings of a story?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Regardless of the answer, I ALWAYS do the SAME thing next. I pull out a piece of paper and I plot. I don't outline nor would I ever outline. Not because I'm fundamentally against it but because I'm fundamentally disorganized and, as I mentioned before, a complete moron. So, instead, I plot. I write down opening, inciting incident, break into act 2 (crossing the threshold), halfway point decision, dark night of the soul, climax, resolution.

And I start brainstorming what the plot points of this story would really need to be in order to look like a real story. Sometimes I can do this in a day, sometimes in takes me a couple weeks of just letting my brain roll the thing around in order to find the right solution.

If I don't find it, I don't keep writing. If I find my plot points, I go back into full drafting mode. Sometimes I start back at square one, sometimes I just pick up where I left off. But my job at this point is to bust out a first draft. And I do mean bust out.

I'm not precious with words. I'm under no delusion that I'm the H.P. Lovecraft of Middle Grade fiction. A wordsmith, I am not. I'm not poetic. What I am is a complete moron, with a decent sense of story and a desire to write funny stuff. So that's what I do. I write the first draft as fast as I can. And my goal at the end of the first draft is the following: I want to finally know what this story is. My job during the first draft is to tell myself the story.

I almost always move on to one of my other projects after I finish my first draft. Sometimes I return to it the following week but in most cases, I bet I wait 2-4 weeks before I start the second draft. My job during the second draft is very simple. I want to make the story I told myself in draft one DOES NOT SUCK AFTER DRAFT TWO.

That's it. Make it NOT SUCK.

Draft two usually takes me longer than the first draft. My job isn't to bust this draft out. It's to pay more attention to the words, to the characters, to the flow, to reversals in plot, things like this. And hopefully, at the end of the second draft, I have something I'm reasonably happy with. I read the whole thing and think about what I need to do to start making this a good story. Doesn't usually take me long and I'm ready to proceed into draft three fairly quickly.

And when I start draft three, my job is very clear. I want the story to be good enough to send to an editor.

That's it. I have to really make the words count, I have to make this damn thing funny, I have to make the climax work, I have to have my character grow, I have to get something done. Third drafts have gone quickly for me and sometimes they have taken F-O-R-E-V-E-R.  But at the end of that third draft, I need to do something with this baby.

Now, in case you didn't know, I self-publish. And my business model is to publish a lot of good books. I'm not writing best sellers. Remember, I'm a complete moron. My job, as I see it, is to write good stories, fun stories, funny stories...and to write and publish lots of them. So after the third draft, I send it to a freelance copy editor. I make those copy edit changes, then I read the entire story again and make any last minute changes that I think need to happen.

Then I send it to a proofreader.

Then I publish.

That's how I do it and if someday, you want to be a complete moron like myself, you might just copy my process exactly. But I think, much more important, is to find the process that works for you.

Last thing, I also draw pictures. My latest book is for 7 and 8 year-olds and has tons of pictures. It's called The Big Life of Remi Muldoon and you can buy the ebook now by following this link.

Best of luck and happy writing! Daniel Kenney


Chuck Robertson said...

I don't feel like such an oddball now. I have fragments of stories that kick around for years. Sometimes they end up in novels and sometimes they don't.

Metaphysical Poetry Society said...

Thanks for the enlightening look into your writing process. I think mine is very similar, though I tend not to rush through a first draft. In the first draft is where I have to do all the grunt work of the research. I figure I either have to spend the time in the rough draft doing it, or I'll have to do it later when I revise--either way it has to get done.

But I think you've got an excellent writing process, and I learned a lot from reading about it. Thanks again. :-)

Daniel Kenney said...

Hey Chuck and Edward, thanks for the comments. Yes Chuck, we can both be oddballs together and Edward, I totally here you and guess that you're way makes more sense. It just usually doesn't work for me.