My crappy writing process that failed me

shamguy4

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So I am going to admit some embarrassing stuff in this post... And most of you will roll your eyes.

Iv'e come on the forum here on and off to discuss writing my novel and working on it etc... You might wonder why it's not written yet?
What I fail to mention is that, while I have worked very hard on my novel, it has been in the plotting department. I have written only two chapters in the last 2 years... Yup. there, I said it. I spend all my time plotting, outlining and world building and here is why:

When I first started writing my novel I winged it. I had no idea what my novel was about. I was just excited to write something! I just, as they say, pantsered through it. Unfortunately I found myself unhappy with what I wrote and after writing chapters 1 through 3 over and over, I got burnt out. I decided to figure out what the heck I was writing about.

After a while of brainstorming I finally came up with an idea for a good story and went back to writing. I got to chapter 5 before hitting a plot hole and fell out of the book, annoyed. I realized I am a plotter and should try plotting the story out.

Then I read that J. K. Rowling plotted her entire series before writing book one! I took this to mean she literally knew every detail of each novel. This made me make the decision to NOT WRITE ANOTHER WORD until I knew my entire book. In hindsight, this was probably not a good decision... :p

Two years later I have written probably four books worth of notes! I know how my world works, who lives where, and how the traveling works. The book has grown quite a lot. But the stubborn murky middle of my plot would not reveal itself to me. Not fully anyway. I knew the first 8 chapters at this point and the climax.

Recently I purchased A history of Magic, a book that gives more details on how Rowling wrote Harry Potter. There's a spreadsheet of book five showing rows of chapters and plot points. (Iv'e seen this once before online at some point but didn't give it much attention.)

I'm guessing she wrote this spreadsheet while writing her 5th book, because the idea of her writing a detailed plot like this while writing book one would just blow my mind. The bigger takeaway was that half the stuff written in the spreadsheet is quite different from the end result book we have, which means she could not have known the entire plot when she wrote book one...at least not this detailed... cause it changed A LOT.

This is why I am starting to think my idea of not writing before knowing the entire thing might be a bit too difficult...
Perhaps I need to write and plot at the same time... I do have an 8 chapter buffer now... But I'm a man, and I'm told men don't multitask very well!

Why can't there be one proper way to write a book.. :/
 

Droflet

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Hmm, Shamguy. Where to start?
I wrote two and a half books without plotting a single movement. They were, understandably, rubbish. I didn't know what I wanted to write about. So, I began plotting. I look back now and say, Doh. Of course, plotting is important, for many of us. The salient factor I have taken away from the exercise is that your plot is like a train track. It guides you in the direction you wish your story to go in. BUT, unlike a literal train track, it does not have to be adhered to with maniacal dedication. So plot out your story and start writing.
When your book talks to you, and it will, listen to it. If it says 'put a spur line in here' do not ignore it.
As you write, the creative juices will begin to flow, and that's where your real story comes from.
My first book roughly follows my plot, but I listened to my book's suggestions and it was a far better book for the exercise. So, listen to your book.
Lastly, remember. Writing a novel is not a sprint, it's a marathon. I hope this has been of some small assistance. Good luck.
 

DLCroix

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Well, if I were your secretary, I would tell you that you have an emotional block, but the cause is in the expectations.
You are not the only one. In fact, the greatest threat to a writer is precisely when he knows a lot or handles a lot of theory. In this sense, the slightly more novice writer is much more effective because, even though he may know much less, and have never even made an outline, FINISH books or, what a mother would see, is at least capable of finishing that started precisely because he is not with his head in expectations, he is not interested in being like Rowling or Simmons or Tolkien.
Spreadsheet ... For God's sake. My advice is to simplify everything, the MC has a problem to solve, there is an antagonist who opposes, fight, the problem it solves, end credits.
If you don't, your depression will only advance; what you need is to regain your self-esteem, reconcile with the child you carry inside you. Around Rowling was a team of over a hundred people. She knew every detail of the story ... Yes, sure. At that level it becomes industrial, the author begins to be influenced by the focus group, the agent, the editorial group and the study of trends.
As I told you, fewer characters, less intrigue. You must start a process of self-recovery in which the first thing is to get used to putting the word "The End" more frequently or you will never leave the swamp. I got into a more or less big trouble because it is a saga that includes a dozen books. The point is, I don't care how that ends up. In a few years I will be a MILF. But what has caused me great relief is to see that in my nephew (who is now ten years old but you can already see that he carries a massive writer inside and not even he knows it, he only writes) I have the key, so what I do not finish, he will finish it. Anyone can do it. In fact now I'm drinking a Gin.
Why care?, I say.
Relax up.
But change the system or I will remember the whip that I have in the ... well, where have I kept it? Anyway. Get it up, kid. :ninja:
 

J Riff

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It doesn't hurt to know the ending before you start, and dodging plot holes is a challenge but ya gotta get excited a bit and go for it again.
 

Kerrybuchanan

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Thanks Jo.
Have a look at https://londonwriterssalon.com/ for writing sessions. This is free to join and they have sessions four times every week day. In UK time it’s 0800, 1200, 1600 and 2100 but that translates to 0800 in four different time zones depending where in the world you’re based!
It’s done through Zoom and it’s basically an hour at a time of writing in company, muted after a short intro and inspiring quote, followed by a brief chat at the end. There’s some magic in the format that really helps creativity. Maybe it’s the knowledge that you’re not alone, but writing alongside hundreds of others.
I run something similar but very much smaller at www.ulsterdedicatedwriters.com. We meet only four times a week and it’s much more locally based. Still has the same magic though!
 

Ogma

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I have been through something like this. I think your problem isn't the plotting or the pantsing. That's a red herring as are the five books of notes.
I think it's that you want to create the perfect book. You're afraid to write because it won't be perfect, which it won't. You need to yourself permission to write bad in your first draft, to leave loose ends, to contradict yourself, etc. Plot if you want, pants if you want, but understand that either way it won't be perfect. Tell yourself everything is fixable in the next draft. Then, when you come to the second draft, aim to improve it, but don't aim for perfection. Do five drafts in the same way if you have to. Do ten. But understand this, you could do a hundred and it will never be perfect--the entire population of the Earth will never all agree that such a book is the best book ever. If such a thing could be achieved, there would be no need for more writers or more books.

Be wary of those notes. They've distracted you up to now and you've put a lot of mental capital into them that should be going directly to your story. But now you have them, they're a useful resource. By all means use them to write the story, but don't let them become a fixed canon in your head or they'll become another oppressive weight. Plotting, notes etc. are tools to help, not sticks to beat yourself with.
 

The Judge

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I can't say I'm surprised, shamguy, because over the last several threads you've put up it's become increasingly clear that the real issue wasn't the one you were actually asking about, and I know I wasn't alone in giving advice that basically came down to stop plotting and just write. Nor was I alone in offering ideas of how to make yourself write -- I believe Kerry pointed you in the direction of those writing sessions before.

The problem here isn't that plotting doesn't work or pantsing doesn't work or plotting-and-pantsing-at-the-same-time might not work, which is what you seem to believe. The problem is that you're failing to do the one thing a writer needs to do to be a writer -- write.

I agree with Ogma that the trouble may well be the pursuit of perfectionism which is something a lot of us have to deal with -- been there, got the scars. You might know on an intellectual level that you won't produce an excellent novel on the first attempt -- or second, or third or even tenth -- because surely to heaven you've been told that, but it's just not getting through on an emotional level. I also think it's dangerous for you to be looking at what writers such as Rowling might or might not do, nor for you to measure yourself against her work and methods. Rowling's success is the equivalent of someone buying a ticket in a lottery for the first time and winning billions. It happens, but it sure ain't going to happen to you/me/us/anyone here, and it gives unrealistic expectations not only of the profits but the process, because every individual is going to work differently.

My suggestion for what it's worth is that for at least the rest of 2021 you stop even attempting to write this novel. You've got yourself (and undoubtedly your sense of self-worth) screwed up by it, thinking about it, writing reams of backstory for it, and worrying about the ending/writing coaches/self-publishing/everything under the sun. Just stop.

Instead, for at least the next 7 months write rubbish, short stories, flash fiction, descriptive pieces, snatches of dialogue, plot ideas, character sketches, entries for all the Challenges here on Chrons, snippets for the exercises in Workshop. It's impossible to become a good writer without actually putting in the hard work of actually, y'know, writing. But do it without any thought of what comes next or what's going to happen to it or whether it will be any good and certainly not with any thought of publishing and making money out of it.

Think of it as a holiday from work. Then at the end of the 7 months you'll be able to come back to the novel refreshed, and what seems to be a mountain of trying to sort out a soggy middle will be shown to be a molehill. Or perhaps you'll see that this particular story isn't the one you really want to tell because your time away from it has given you a fresh perspective on its qualities.
 

Toby Frost

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I think it's important to realise that writing is as much a craft as it is an art, by which I mean that good results come from redrafting and editing, and that often a good story starts life as something pretty mediocre. The quality is often beaten out in successive drafts. But of course, you can't edit and improve what you haven't yet written.

I did two drafts of a novel before I realised that what I was writing was noir, and the third draft was much better because of it. Creating something that's as good as it can be is often a slow process, and that may just not be for some people. Too often, authors and books give the impression that writing is a bit like a seance, while it's really like making a chair or some other object: the first efforts are inevitably lumpy and awkward, and the difference between something mediocre and something good comes at a later stage.

Likewise, there's nothing wrong with a book whose plot or setting is reasonably predictable. World-building is a hobby in itself and a good setting does not necessarily equate to a good book.

I would always ignore the path to success of any "phenomenon" books, good or bad: Harry Potter, Twilight, ASOIAF, 50 Shades, Dan Brown etc. Even when true, the stories told about such books aren't usually very helpful, especially compared to how conventionally successful books are made.

I agree with The Judge's suggestion as to how to proceed.
 

shamguy4

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Thanks for all the responses.

You're afraid to write because it won't be perfect, which it won't. You need to yourself permission to write bad in your first draft, to leave loose ends, to contradict yourself, etc. Plot if you want, pants if you want, but understand that either way it won't be perfect. Tell yourself everything is fixable in the next draft.

@Ogma
You hit the nail on the head. I am a perfectionist and I do want it to be perfect on the first try... I felt that any other way was wasting my time. I have massive fear of writing garbage.
It's hard for me to shut down the perfectionist issue. Coupled with the fact that I got burnt out writing the first few chapters so many times it became necessary for me to write a masterpiece. So I stopped enjoying it and it became a chore. A heavy burden.
My self worth is still there... I think... The good news is I have had those first few chapters read by a few people and they were received well. There is a method to my madness, but at this rate it wont be finished till I'm in my 80's.

So I am going to start writing, I'm petrified. I am going to try creating rules for myself. I'll start small. I will write daily at least 500 words. I'll try looking at it as a writing drill, not necessarily trying to finish a novel. Just writing.
If I get stuck, I will allow myself to plot, but only after I have written the allotted words for the day. This way the story is still moving forward.


@The Judge
The idea of even stopping this novel for the rest of the year is giving me anxiety. This baby wants out. If I am not working on it, I have anxiety and feel guilty. If I work on a different story, there is a voice in my head telling me to finish what I started first and stop jumping around.
If I still don't have a final draft by end of year, or close to it, I can try your method.
 
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goldhawk

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A little encouragement, Ira Glass on beginners:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone has told me. All of us who are in creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

"And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do something interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all got through this.

"And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.

"It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through."
 

paranoid marvin

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Don't be discouraged if you can't write a book like JK Rowling, or any other well established professional author. And remember that creating a story of any length, and indeed of any quality, is a great achievement and more than most people will even attempt in their lifetime.
 

Astro Pen

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I would like to see a Shamguy book. One that brings something new to the party. This won't be achieved by trying to write like someone else.
What is important is to find your voice. That can take time. And it can take a degree of experimentation.
I would suggest forgetting the technicalities and plot hole issues for a while and switch to finding your style. One where you can write a sentence, paragraph or page and think wow! I love the feel of that even if it doesn't fit some plot road map. Try a few shorts in different 'modes'. Purple prose or thuggishly blunt. Just get used to all the delicious ways you can play with language.
Eventually you can go back to the plot you have spent all that time drafting and make it dance, - with your own voice.
 

Timebender

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Also, just remember that mistakes are made when you grow, and are nothing to be ashamed of. No one whose opinion is worth a flip will judge you for doing some things that don't work out for finding your own process.
 

Wayne Mack

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Perhaps I need to write and plot at the same time
This sounds like a good thing to try. Give it a shot and see how it turns out. Treat your writing process like dating and not like marriage, if your current process is not working for you, try a different one. You can always go back to an older one if the new one doesn't work out.

As you noted, there is no one process for everyone nor even one process for an individual across time. Let yourself experiment, fall down, skin your knees, and then get up and try a new direction. Good luck on getting a story to tell us.
 

Ogma

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So I am going to start writing, I'm petrified. I am going to try creating rules for myself. I'll start small. I will write daily at least 500 words. I'll try looking at it as a writing drill, not necessarily trying to finish a novel. Just writing.
If I get stuck, I will allow myself to plot, but only after I have written the allotted words for the day. This way the story is still moving forward.
Sounds like a great plan, but there's no need to be petrified. Nobody has to see your work until you are ready. Eventually, you are going to get it beta read/critiqued/edited and that's going to make it better. Every step will improve the story. You have just to take those steps one step at a time.
 

JS Wiig

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Participating in the challenges has been significant in tempering my expectations, and learning to get over the initial stab-in-the-guts of solicited feedback to the constructive criticism part.

I highly suggest it.
 

sknox

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>I will allow myself to plot, but only after I have written the allotted words for the day.
This is actually a pretty good idea. It gives one permission to plot, but only after the writing work gets done.

I have a habit that runs in rather the other direction. I will sit down to plot--could be a character arc, the main plot, or just a scene to block--and in no time at all I'm writing dialog. I like writing dialog. As I try to work out plot points or sketch a character, inevitably my notes turn into conversations. Sometimes there's not even any attribution, it's just statement-response.

One other point worth making. I've plotted every novel I've written. In every one of them I wind up abandoning the outline. I start out following it. Then I start skipping around. Then I start veering off. (note, all this is actual writing). Then I find myself updating the *outline* to match what I've actually *written*. Soon after I abandon the outline as an annoyance. Or, and this happens too often, I have fragments of outlines. This bit matches what I wrote pretty closely, another bit is way off. Another bit isn't in the story at all, and there's stuff in the story that can't be found in any of the versions of the outline.

So far, I've written four books this way. It's terribly inefficient, but I've more or less stopped worrying about it. Happily, I'm not writing to deadlines or to please an editor, so I bumble along like an old car out for a country drive.

It's my method. Yours will be different. Or it will be, once you have written a story all the way to finished. Then wrote another. And another. Maybe six more after that. <g> But you cannot have a method until you actually write. You may have heard that before. <g>
 

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