You asked for it – real life writing process example

Yesterday was a near perfect day. It was cold and snowy so I wrote by the fireplace all day, a mug of coffee in reach. I got in about 7 hours of writing, went to the gym with BH, ran on the treadmill at a decent pace (3.25 miles at a 1% incline in 30:18 minutes, for those of you who care about these things) , stretched, showered, visited my parents, ate leftover turkey soup for dinner, watched half a movie, and was asleep by 10 pm. Seriously – I adore days like that.

Let me tell you how the writing went. I am currently turning Part 2, Draft 3 of my WIP into Part 2, Draft 4. (Draft 4 of Part 1 is finished. It is 163 pages long, so I figure the total book might come in between 300-325 manuscript pages.)

Yesterday’s task was to smooth out the action in chapters 24 – 28, and to polish chapter 24 until it was so tight and bright I could see my face in it. After much jumping back and forth, I felt the pacing was off in the section. In chapters 21 – 23 there are several Very Dramatic Things that happen. Chapters 24 – 28 are kind of a breather, both for the characters and the readers. A fair amount of time passes and there are some subtle and important developments and the character changes her opinions about a few things. In Chapter 29, we again get a Big Honking plot twist that sends life on another wild ride for our main character.

But every time I read through it, something didn’t feel right. The character’s motivation was a little off – I figured that out by my second cup of coffee. That could be fixed by clarifying some of her dialog and giving a few more peeks into her head. But that wasn’t enough…. what wasn’t working?

Revision is a pain in the butt, no question about it. It is also a necessary part of writing. You need that flash of inspiration, sure, but (for me at least) if I don’t revise and hone that flash, it is wasted. In early drafts, I often throw in way too many characters, details and (in this case and in the case of FEVER 1793) too much historical research. This tends to make the book bloated and uncomfortable, like eating too much junk food.

I find it helpful to ask myself – at every scene – “what happens to the rest of the story if I throw this out?” If the answer is “Not much” than it is time to reach for the delete key.

After close examination, and a good lunch, I realized that Chapter 27 was a total waste of time. It was a talking-heads chapter in which my Main Character and someone else stand around (in a dynamic location – very cool – I hated cutting that) and talktalktalktalk – no action at all, no true furthering of the plot. So I threw out the entire chapter and renumbered everything else.

By the time we left for the gym, chapter 24 was in really good shape. Getting rid of 27 allowed me to see more clearly what had to happen in 24-26. Today’s goal in to rewrite Chapter 25 (minimum goal) and to rewrite 25 & 26 (maximum goal).

That’s the way it works in my head.

21 Replies to “You asked for it – real life writing process example”

  1. Thanks – this did help. I’m revising for my agent and find myself floundering a lot. I guess I didn’t realize how long it takes to revise even a single chapter or scene — that there’s a lot of decision-making at hand, which is very different from the process of writing it out the first time.

  2. Awesome post. My fiance and I are learning the importance of self-editing, and plot vs. theme. We’ve both scrapped a ton of stuff and wondered whether or not scrapping entire chapters was the norm. Reading this post is reassuring. Anything is good that’s in service of the story. And wow, that’s a good distance for one treadmill session in between everything else! Tomorrow is my gym day…

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I’ve got a question though: how many published-book-pages does 300 manuscript pages translate into?

    Oh, and yesterday in one of my classes designed for soon-to-be English teachers, my professor plugged SPEAK as a book we should all read and recommend to our (future) students. Not that I had to be told, of course!

    1. It depends on the size of the page and the font the book designers choose, but I think it comes out to pretty close to the number of manuscript pages… maybe a few more. If you think of it, remind me about this in the summer when I should have the galleys.

  4. I love it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Seriously, hearing about the writing process for librarians is like getting to hang out backstage at the biggest and best concert. So. Darn. Cool.

  5. I’m working on the third round of revision for my editor (first novel!).

    I don’t think as clearly as you in terms of “doing” a certain chapter. Which is perhaps part of my problem with plotting. I couldn’t tell you off my head what happens in a particular chapter.

    My revision goes more like this: I know that my character is going to be a glassblower, and it’s a new development. I have some idea about what she wants to get out of it (and what I want her to get out of it) and when she’ll be doing it. So I go through the whole manuscript and put in the scenes, fiddling with their surroundings so that those new scenes flow. Then every time I go through the manuscript for some other reason, I’ll also be looking for opportunities to think about/connect to glassblowing.

    Maybe this is . . . organic, in a way? But maybe it’s just confusing. It does work for me and my roundabout brain.

  6. Thank you!

    I’m about to start a big revision and the question “what happens to the rest of the story if I throw this out?” is going to be a major help. I always have a vague thought like that somewhere in my mind, but I usually look at it from the “What function is this serving?” angle and sometimes I can use that to rationalize things I shouldn’t. So thanks! I will quote you often as I work.

  7. a writing career…

    Laurie,
    I know you’re busy, but would you mind answering a few questions for me for my careers assignment? We had to research a career we would be interested in pursuing and then find someone who does that career and interview them. Here’s the questions;
    Do you enjoy what you do?
    What is you favourite part of the job?
    What is the hardest part of the job?
    what is the average salary? (don’t answer this one if you don’t want to)
    What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?
    Do you think that this is an obtainable career goal?

    Thank you very much!
    And I really enjoyed reading your post today. I’m working on a creative writing assignment and it helped a lot.

  8. Fabulous post!

    My mind bent at “I got in about 7 hours of writing”. That is stunning to me. And it has got me wondering if you found, earlier in your career, that you had to build up to this?

    I have small blocks of devoted writing time: most days it is a 2 hour block in the wee hours. These times are a breeze and I inevitably reach the end (signalled by the sound of small feet hitting the floor desperate for a little bit more. Recently I was able to free up 5 hour blocks a couple times a week … and these are tougher than I expected them to be! Somewhere in hour four I begin to wander, eat foods I shouldn’t, prepare excessive cups of tea, check my email ad nauseum.

    Can one build up their writing stamina? I certainly hope so…I’m officially in training for one of those perfect, 7 hour days!

    Thanks for a fabulous post.

    Best,
    Loree Burns
    http://www.loreeburns.com

    1. Re: Fabulous post!

      You can build up to anything if you work at it. I generally write around 6 hours a day. There have been a few 18-hour days. Those tend to make me snarly – the family discourages them.

  9. Very interesting.

    It wows me that you can do so much writing and rewriting. I think that is the part that floors me, that there is so much rewriting that goes into a book. In my head it just seems that it leaps out of an author onto a page all perfect (except for very minor flaws) and that there is little to no effort.

    It’s neat to hear how it really works!

  10. wOw

    See, this is why I rethought the whole be a writer thing. I mean, seven hours? I get restless with just having to write in AP Language (Part of this is the time of day – right after lunch. My brain is more creative in the morning.) And the throwing out the very cool chapter? I couldn’t do it. I would have had to keep it just for coolness’ sake. I have attatchment issues.
    But I really enjoy hearing about it, and even though novel writing and the stuff we do in AP are completely different, the revision process helps me think about stuff I can focus on for our writing prompts.

    I gotta extra question: Who do you let read your novels before you send them off? Does your husband or family ever help? Or do they only read it once your finished? Or do they have to wait til it’s published liek everyone else?

    1. Re: wOw

      I read my book out loud to my husband first, usually around the 4th or 5th draft. When it is ready to send to my editor, I will also send it to a couple of my kids and some very trusted writer friends for their comments.

  11. Like other people have said, this is like backstage at the coolest concert of the century.

    The life of a writer is a lot more complicated and tough than it sounds! That’s a whole lot of revisions and throwing away. I could never throw away a whole chapter. Ever. Actually, I don’t throw away ANYTHING I have written. Since the sixth grade. Attachment issues? Yeah, I think so. It’s just so fun to go back and read through old stuff and see the growth I’ve made.

  12. a glimpse

    Thanks so much for this tale from the trenches; having just moved from picture books to an historical middle-grade novel, I’m really new to the big slash and burn sessions. Oi. Ugh. It’s like flouride. Good for you, but doesn’t taste that good…

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