In my last blog, I talked about trusting your process. So what happens when the process, for whatever reason, stops working? How do you know when it’s keeping you from evolving as a writer? When is it holding you back?
When I first started my career as a professional writer, my process was something like this: Do research, come up with an idea, sit down and blast out a brief chain of events (wherein there was always a statement to the effect of: Something happens here and everything changes).
This did not work.
It didn’t work because I always got to that “something happens here,” hoping against hope that some deus ex machina would have suggested itself to me, and it never ever did. I was stuck, every time, and completely. Not a one of those books was published. In short, my process was defeating me.
It evolved rather quickly to better pre-planning, including detailed synopses and character biographies in the pre-planning. This was about the time I acquired a critique partner and a critique group, and the writing itself evolved to taking chapters in, having them critiqued, re-writing them, handing the whole book off to my critique partner, and then editing that.
This is when I began to sell my work. I was pretty pleased with myself. I had a good working process. But then, I found myself fighting my own process—in particular, those character biographies. As I became a more confident writer, and my characters began speaking a little more eloquently for themselves, I found myself completely stymied by who I’d planned for the characters to be, because the story itself kept changing them. I was fighting them extensively, and exhaustively. The very tools that had proved so useful to me in the past had become weapons against me. Eventually, I realized that the biographies were holding me back. I needed to jettison them and let the characters breathe a little on their own.
Processes work—until they don’t. What’s important is recognizing when they aren’t working; when you’re fighting yourself; when your tools become limitations. When that happens, you must analyze thoughtfully and professionally. Look at what others are doing, take what ideas work for you, and let the others go. Many careers have been derailed by writers trying to shoehorn someone else’s process into their own. If writing synopses before you work stifles your vision, don’t do them. Having said that, if you’re not getting published or getting decent rejections, perhaps you should look at whether writing synopses might solve that problem for you (it did for me). Be open minded. Embrace change but not didactic rules. Try everything, but don’t try to keep to ideas that don’t work for you simply because others insist that you should. And if something works, keep it, however weird it is. Who knows what genius lurks in that brain, or why that weirdness somehow spurs it? Trust what works. Jettison the rest.
Whatever anyone else tells you.
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.