I’ve been doing some thinking lately about process, and the plethora of writing advice which everyone and their mother hands out willy-nilly. There has always been, and will always be, a debate about how best to write. The question of whether one is a planner or a pantser has become rather ubiquitous, as if the answer can somehow tell the world something about who you are as a writer. And after years of analyzing my own process, I’ve come to realize that there is no best way to write. There is only your way.
My own process is unwieldy and—I’m the first to admit it—wasteful. Most of the time I think of it with exhaustion and resignation. It is a stupid, inefficient process. This is how it works: I spend 4-6 months researching, then I organize notes and write a synopsis, which I give to my critique partner. Together we go off into some dark little room where we brainstorm, often coming up with an idea/synopsis that bears little relation to what I’ve originally envisioned. I write 200-300 pages, hand it off to her, revise extensively, write a new 200-300 pages, revise it extensively myself, write the entire book, hand it off to her, revise extensively again, and then, depending, it may go through another read and still another revision. Finally, I do an edit strictly for language—making it better and stronger—and send it off to my agent, who sometimes has her own editing.
On Prima Donna, for example, I rewrote the first 400 pages SIX times. SIX!!! That’s 2400 pages. For my latest book, I wrote the first 200 pages 3 times—only one of those at the behest of my critique partner. She read the entire book, each time asking for extensive revisions. The pile of paper it took to write that book fills up an entire papercase—that’s BEFORE it hit the final draft. On my computer disk, where I copy each iteration, there are six drafts. Really, it’s just too much.
But after many discussions, I’ve come to the lamentable conclusion that this is simply my process, and despite everything, it WORKS. Each of those 2400 pages in Prima Donna brought the character closer to what she needed to be—I would not have found that character without doing every one of those revisions. At this point, I simply have to trust that my psyche knows what it’s doing. With every edit, I get deeper and closer to the vision I have. With every edit, I say more of what I mean to say.
At this point, I have to trust that I know what I’m doing, because every time I try to change the process, I fail. It ends up actually requires more work. Realizing that this unwieldy, stupid process is necessary was a hard thing to admit. Human nature wants things to be more tidy, more organized, more rational.
But the writers’ brain and vision are not a rational things. There are a hundred teachers out there, a hundred how-to write books, a hundred hundred articles on the best way to craft a story. Some of those techniques will work for you. Some of them will resonate. Others won’t. And I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter. Pick what works for you and jettison the rest. Your process is your own—you need to trust it. If it works for you, it works, and changing it because you feel it doesn’t fit with what your friends/mentors/professors/critique partners/mom/husband/fill-in-the-blank says it should be, that’s their problem, not yours. Trust your process until it stops working. Then refine it, test it, play with it.
It doesn’t matter how you accomplish what you’ve set out to do, only that you do accomplish it.
Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of several novels. The Best Reviews has said she writes “Fascinating historical fiction.” Her books have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices program and IndiBound’s Booksense. A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Find her at: http://www.MeganChance.com.