My Writing Process - A Work in Progress (Penny Rader)

This month our topic is When you sit down to write, do you have a writing “process?”  Share! 
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I haven’t settled on a specific process yet.  While I don’t recommend it, with Sapphire and Gold it went something like this:
  • I'm not one of those people who knew from childhood they wanted to write.  So once I decided to try my hand at writing a romance (because that is what I read), I read lots and lots of ‘how-to’ write books because I didn't have a clue how to get started.
  • While watching an episode of Rawhide, the opening scene intrigued me and inspired the idea for Sapphire and Gold
    • I had to decide who was in the river and why, then how that person would get out of the river and who would help.
  • I read through a couple American history books to narrow down what time period I wanted to set the story in. 
    •  Colonial America had long been a favorite of mine, so I began doing a lot of research.   I discovered visuals helped, so I found pictures that resembled my characters, a poster of a ship with cutaways so I could better imagine my hero’s schooner, maps of Colonial Philadelphia and Williamsburg, cutaways of colonial homes. The secretary of the Newfoundland Society sent me scads of info that helped me create my hero’s dog, Max.
  • Once I decided who my hero and heroine were I tried to figure out their backstory and their GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict).  The “C” part was especially difficult for me.  Still is.
    • The climactic scene of the book popped into my head, which gave me something to write toward. 
    • When scene ideas revealed themselves I jotted them down and dropped them in a file folder. 
    • After a while I took those bits of paper and spread them out to see if I could find the story.
  • Worked on Chapter One.  
    • Wrote it out by longhand, and then typed it. 
    •  Then fiddled with it. Over and over and over.   
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  • Wrote Chapter Two. 
    • Yes, still in longhand, then typed it.  Writing in longhand and then typing it continues to this day.
    • Fiddled with the first two chapters.  Over and over and over.  
    • Still researching.
    •  Started to enter writing contests for feedback from people who didn't know me.
  • Wrote Chapter Three. 
    • Tweaked the first three chapters.  Over and over and over.  
    • Still researching.  Found a wonderful professor of Pharmacology who answered tons of medical questions for my heroine who was a healer.  Found another expert who helped me plot possible routes my sea captain hero might sail to get my heroine from Philadelphia to Williamsburg. 
    •  More fiddling and tweaking.  This went on for some time.   You've probably figured out by now that I have a Master’s Degree in Procrastination.
  • Wrote some more, bit by excruciatingly slow bit.  Really rough draft.  Mostly dialogue (which is what usually comes to me first).  
    • Tweaked.  Fiddled.  
    • More contests. 
    •  More research.  A librarian in Colonial Williamsburg provided me with a fantastic list of books about Colonial America as well as Colonial Williamsburg (thank goodness for Inter Library Loan!).
    • Watching the pages of Sapphire and Gold fill up the fat stationery box gave me a secret thrill and helped me keep putting pencil to paper.  
  • Four years passed.  
    • Then one day, a few minutes before I needed to leave to pick up my son from school, I realized I was just about to finish the story.  Freaked.  Me.  Out. 
    •  I wasn't ready for the draft to be done, so I stopped.  Put down my pencil and closed my notebook.  Picked up my son from school.  
    • Waited till the next day to write The End.
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  • Still trying to nail down a powerful conflict, a stronger heroine.  Gutted and rewrote the story at least four times.  
    • The opening never changed much and the climactic scene stayed the same. 
    •  But the muddly middle?  It changed.  A lot.  Characters came, characters went.  Ditto subplots. 
    •  I managed to edit the life right of the story and dove back in to undo the damage.
During this time I was still entering contests, sending the manuscript to agents and editors, getting rejected...though many of the rejection letters were encouraging.   The Colonial America setting had become a hard sell.

I set the manuscript aside for quite a while till my WARA writing friend and critique partner Starla Criser told me The Wild Rose Press was looking for books set in Colonial America.   She had printed out their submission info and put it in my hands.  Within a month I’d sold the book to them.  I received “the email” on April Fool’s Day.  Yes, I thought it was a joke.  Turns out they really did want to buy it!

By this time my reading interests had changed to contemporary romance and romantic suspense, so the other stories I've begun are all contemporary.   Here’s where my writing process has fizzled.  Big time.  I have openings for at least 17 stories.  Some are 3-5 pages.  One has 80 or so pages.  But I've stalled out on all of them.  Unlike my first book (and A Colonial Valentine, a short free read prequel I wrote for The Wild Rose Press), I've never had a clear idea of how any of these other stories are going to end, of what I’m writing toward.

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Confession time:  I like “having it written” more than the actual writing. Researching and revising and editing are my favorite parts of writing. Getting words on a blank page is a mighty struggle for me.  Well, that and plot and conflict.

I've allowed fear to stop me in my tracks.  Meanwhile, I scour the Internet and how-to write books for other writers’ writing processes, hoping something will click and help me to once again get words on paper.  To get beyond the first 3-5 pages. To defeat the fear.  To finish another book.  And then another.


What’s your process?  Has it evolved from story to story or has it pretty much stayed the same?


Ilona Fridl said...

Great post! My writing process is do research on the time period I'm working on, then flesh out characters and a plot. I'm all computer, but I do write out notes to myself if I get an idea. One of the mysteries I wrote, I changed the killer several times because it didn't seem to work out right.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Ilona!

When you finally arrived at which character was the killer did you have to go back and weave in any hints or foreshadowing, or had your subconscious already laid the groundwork?

I envy your ability to do all your work on the computer. Not sure why I feel the need to do my first drafts by longhand. I have a harder time thinking creatively at the keyboard.

Janice Seagraves said...

Great post. I like seeing how you wrote and then published your first book.

How I write? I'm a draft writer. I get a lift watching the word count grow. It keeps me going. I post my word count to my yahoo group, and we cheer each other on. If there's something I don't know, I'll stop and do research online and get back to it.

When I finish the first draft, I let it set a few days and then go over it again, revise it, then I start submitting it to my critique group.


Penny Rader said...

Hi, Janice. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing and seeing how other writers work. And I think it's fabulous you have a support group cheering you on.