Monday, March 14, 2011


by Gina Sestak

A question that came up in my Saturday critique group meeting got me thinking.  One of the newer members posed it, asking about the writing process.  What do you actually do when you write?

That's a good question, and one we writers rarely seem to discuss.

We spend a lot of time talking about what we've written.  We point out spelling and grammar gaffs and note the logical disconnects.  We count pages and words.  We brainstorm about agents, publishers, marketing.   We compare technology and software.  But how do we write?

Personally, I tend to do the first draft almost as if I'm watching a movie and jotting down what's happening on the screen - I fall into what seems to be an altered state of consciousness and lose track of time.  Sometimes it feels as if I'm just describing something that's already there, bringing a pre-existing story into concrete form.  As the story progresses, I get to know the characters better - not because I'm purposely making them up but as if they, like newly-met friends, are becoming comfortable enough to reveal more about themselves to me.   And yet, I stop and edit as I go, jump back a page or two or twelve to change a prior passage so it leads into the part I'm writing now, restructure.  I fix the grammar and spelling, jump out of the document to google a date or other fact.  I don't outline, but I usually have an end in mind from the beginning - a final scene or two - and, like watching a movie, I get caught up in all the interesting things that happen to my characters along the way, from their first venture out onto a page to the (I hope) satisfying conclusion of their saga.

Other people do it completely differently.   Some people start with detailed outlines.  I know one writer who works through his outline several times, expanding it and fleshing it out, until that outline turns into a book.  I know someone else who painstakingly crafts each chapter, trying for perfection before moving on to the next.   There are probably as many ways of writing as there are writers.

So here's the question for today:  How do you write?


martha Reed said...

Hi, Gina. Great post!

I always seem to know how the story ends. I think about the characters I see in the final scene and work backwards, fleshing it out as I go. You're right about the characters revealing themselves slowly, like meeting a new friend, and I also get the feeling that the story already exists and I'm just writing it down.

Of course, I write a lot down and then the editing begins because that's where "I" come in, trimming the mss to get to the real meat of the storyline.

It's a marvelous process and hard to explain to anyone who isn't doing it, too. It's like a sculptor shaping a block of marble, only I'm shaping my imagination!

Annette said...

Excellent post, Gina.

The process of how I write progresses and transforms from book to book. But I do always start with some sort of outline. I use a plotting program on my computer, but I also use sticky notes on my three cupboard doors (one door for each act). I write and revise my way through a first draft and then go back and revise and edit for two or three (or ten) more drafts. Sometimes I have to remind myself the first draft is allowed to suck, just to get myself to move on through the difficult spots.

Which seems to be every page of my current wip.

C.L. Phillips said...

I start with a notebook and crayons. I write snippets about each character, the stories they would tell if we became friends. Next they tell me the stories they only tell when they are drunk.

After that, I plot and draft, rewrite, and rewrite. All in pencil.

And I learned something new yesterday at SXSW (twitter hash tag #brvance. I'm going to put all of this backstory detail into my own local wordpress database so I can tag it and come back to as I enter the serious writing phase.

Thanks for this post, it's got me thinking.

PatRemick said...

Enjoyed this post. I tend to write and then go back and polish and polish and then sometimes I get stuck with trying to reach perfection. I can tinker for an infinite amount of time, which is not good for progress!

Ramona said...

Very thoughtful post, Gina.

When I write a short story, I often start with an opening sentence and have no idea what or who will show up next. It's very much the free write method, and I sometimes bang out the whole story in one sitting. I love it.

Longer works, I plan and outline. Like Pat, I can fall victim to tinker-itis. That I don't love.

Anonymous said...


Great post.

Me, I'm one of those outline-writers (maybe the very one you mention in the Saturday group?). I find that knowing what's to happen helps me with pacing: Can't spend too much time on X since Y and Z are soon to follow. Does this detailed plotting hurt the spontaneity once I'm writing? I don't find it does; invariably there are enough small deviations and detours to keep things fresh.
-- David