I was recently prompted to write Nancy Kress after reading her interview in Locus. I was struck by how similar our writing processes are, and how similarly we speak of them. I could have written her description of her process, including the apologetic disclaimer that it’s scarcely a process at all.
In short, I start with almost nothing, a character who’s scarcely a character, since she hasn’t done anything yet (though this one just became female). She may have an interesting voice, be in an interesting place, or be faced with an interesting situation. Then we see what happens next, what she wants to do about it. However many pages laterâ€”6 or 400â€”the story ends.Â I’m leaving out lots of details from this recursive, revision intensive journey that I suppose crawls right out of my unconscious onto the page in some weird dance with the paper people I hang out with.
The guys with the real process make outlines, write detailed character sketches, know the ending before they begin the journey.Â I know good writers from both tribes, though I have no statistical survey and there are certainly many hybrids.Â The Planners are perhaps more prescriptive.Â The Vagabonders tend to apologize for their meandering ways.Â Why the disclaimer? I’m sure I pass this insecurity onto my writing students of the same ilk at the same time I’m trying to persuade them to have faith in their process. The ones who like to make outlines and detailed character sketches and so on before ever getting underway suffer from different self doubts.
I make outlines, maps, floor plans and such on the fly, as needed.Â The outlines are more often of where the story’s been than where it’s going.Â Revision of the past propels the story into its future.Â I see the ending along the way.Â Some journeys are scuttled.Â Though often, if one traveler hooks up with another, they manage to get the whole thing going again to a place neither had imagined before setting out.
No matter what sort you are, trust your process.Â Whatever works.Â Have a good time.Â Set out.