Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Process by Victoria Chatham


Earlier this month I attended the When Words Collide conference in Calgary and spent nearly three days listening to presentations, discussions on various writing topics by panels and – best of all – talking to other writers. One topic that seemed to consistently crop up was that of the process of writing. What is this magical process? As it turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

What one writer loves, another abhors. Take Scrivener, for instance. I know several writers who swear they could not write a book without it. I looked at Scrivener, but whichever way I looked at it, however many people explained parts of the program to me, it made no sense. Rather than make the writing easier, it seemed like more hard work. Another author writes in longhand and then revises when she transcribes her work to the computer. That I can understand a little more. There’s something very basic about sitting with pen and paper and letting your words flow across the page in total freefall, the method by which Canada’s great W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen the Wind, Jake and the Kid, Roses Are Difficult Here to name just a few of his titles) wrote and which has been the basis of many authors giving birth to their ideas.

The idea of freefall is to simply write, with no attention to sentence structure, grammar, punctuation or any kind of editing. Use as many adverbs as you like! As Nora Roberts has said, you cannot edit a blank page. In getting down the bones of whatever your idea is, you are filling your pages and therefore have something to go back to revise and edit. Freefall is different to stream of consciousness which is an internal monologue reflecting a person’s thoughts, feelings or observations on what they see about them, whether it is another person, an event or something that has caught their attention. It is written in much the same way as freefall. That is, without worrying about grammar or the editing gremlin on your shoulder. Stream of consciousness writing does not actually tell a story.

You may be familiar with the term pantser, which refers to a writer who sits down at his/her computer and writes. I lean towards being a pantser. The only time I resort to actual plotting is if I get lost in the middle, when it becomes something of back-paddling scramble. My usual process is to write timelines for my major characters, decide what is going to happen to them, do whatever research I need to do and then sit down and write. Being an editor at heart I usually read the last six pages before I start another writing session, just to get myself up to speed on what I wrote yesterday and revise as I go. At the start of a book I’ll decide how many chapters it will be and stick a post-it for each chapter on my white board. There may be some notes about that chapter, more often not. I have to say that the further I get into a book, the less social I become. In fact, at about the half way point I am so engrossed I have been known to become quite grumpy if interrupted.

Once my book is finished, it goes to my critique partners and beta readers and when I’ve done whatever revisions might be necessary I kiss it goodbye and send it to my publisher. My process after finishing a book is similar to apr├Ęs skiing. There’s wine, chocolate, cozy blankets and sleep – lots of sleep.  

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