Tomorrow is my visit to New Heights Charter School, which will kick off a weekend of authorly activities that concludes with the Orange County Book Festival on Sunday.
For my visit, one of the things that I want to talk about is my process as a writer. How do I conceive of the idea for a story? How do I get that idea into words? Once that story is all down on the page, what do I do next?
One of the key aspects of my process, which I try to follow religiously, is to try to draft a piece in its entirety before I start to revise. There are so many ways that you can get in trouble by trying to revise something before it is done. Start trying to revise before the draft is complete and you can end up spending a lot of time reworking the same portions over and over again–which might make for a perfect prologue, introduction paragraph, whatever, but that’s about it (that’s experience talking). It is definitely better to power through, get your ideas out in all of their ugly glory, and then begin the revision process. By having a finished draft, you have the whole picture in front of you. You know where you want to end up, so it is easier to go back and revise with your conclusion in mind. Your revisions become more focused.
Edgar Allan Poe, in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition”, actually encourages that writers start at the end. In other words, figure out what the ending is (in terms of the desired impression, conclusion, or scene) and then work backwards, determining what needs to happen in the story to get to that predetermined conclusion. I was reading that essay, probably for a class that I was teaching, around the time that I started thinking about the second book of the Shifters Novels series. I had not started at the end before, but I figured I would give it a go while writing book #2. It didn’t hurt that for months I had been picturing this epic battle scene in my head and I knew that it was a part of the book, I just didn’t know where it would fall. That epic battle became the climax of the novel. Having the end already figured out was great because it gave me a focal point; all I had to do was figure out how the people involved got to that point. The whole thing was far more focused than my normal creative process of meandering with the story and being surprised by where I end up.
I have to say, the technique worked amazingly well. Sometimes, those old guys really know what they are talking about. I need to reread that essay and see what other useful suggestions old Edgar Allan has…
Are there any aspects of your process that are sacred? Any foolproof strategies that you employ? Any authors whose words of wisdom guide your process?