Saturday, April 25, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #8: Writing has to be scary and difficult!

This week's post is a bit later than usual. Apologies! I've had to hand in several assignments and hit plenty of deadlines this week and a lot of my time simply disappeared. Yes. All of the above are excuses for poor planning... but here is the post! I hope you enjoy it.

As I mentioned last week this one is a bit special. We've been looking at all the scary things in writing so long that I thought for the last post it might be really interesting to see: Why do writers write when it all seems so difficult? Why make the effort and put in the time?

So this week's question is this:

What about the writing/editing process do you enjoy the most?

ADRIAN: The freer I can be in creating, the better. Those parts of my writing where I really get to explore the world, to show new perspectives and vistas, are definitely my favourite, even though they can also be the most challenging. The sections from the PoV of non-humans in Children of Ruin almost broke my brain, but they are definitely favourites. I am also a sucker for the big emotional scene – the chase, the fight, the doomed charge into the teeth of the cannon. There are definite scenes I’ve written that still carry a huge emotional weight for me, and hopefully some of that transfers to my readers.

SUE: I like editing the most, and that’s because I have something tangible that I can work with. I can fix any problem, but first I have to have a problem to fix.

ANNA: I love the feeling of seeing characters and settings come to life on the page. I love it when I really nail a scene - an interaction, a piece of action, a setting - and it feels immediately real and visible. It's a great feeling when the image in my head matches the one on the page. That can also come with editing; being asked to trim a certain scene, particularly a favourite scene, can be hard, but it's a bit like sculpting - all of a sudden the true image emerges from the surrounding detritus and what I was trying to say all along is still there, it's just much better.

And I love being taken by surprise by my subconscious!

YOON: Honestly, the planning is the most fun. Actually writing is kind of a chore because it goes on foreeeeeeever, and then revisions become fun again. Kind of like a sandwich? I like twisty chess plots, which are hard to pull off, so that aspect of Raven Stratagem was particularly satisfying.

CAITLIN: I think my favorite part is the first draft. Seeing how the characters interact with each other (it's not always how I predict when I first start writing), how my brain starts riffing on my original plans, figuring out the shape of the story. In The Luminous Dead, getting to the crunchy meaty bits about Em and Gyre's similarities (and how much they hated seeing those) was an absolute joy. Getting those scenes exactly right usually takes several editing passes that are totally agony, but getting the main ingredients down in the first place is just... fun.

THORAIYA: Like a woodworker who has to build their own chessboard and carve their own pieces before they can play with them, I definitely enjoy writing big emotional or action climaxes more than I enjoy setting up the board. It’s sad when you leave the game, too. That’s why, in every trilogy, whether to write or read, my favourite is book two.

EOWYN: It's hard to explain but there are certain moments in writing and revising when a sentence or a plot element will just appear to me, and it's as if it's part of me and has always been there, and when I click it into place, the whole thing shines in a new way that I couldn't have imagined before but feels perfect now. Those are the rare moments I live for as a writer.

RICH: That’s like asking whether I’d rather be poked in the eye or slapped around the head. I don’t enjoy any of the process, I find it extremely difficult, so you might ask why I do it in the first place? And I guess it’s more of a compulsion than anything. The burning need to create your story and get it on paper for others to read. Add to that the feeling when you receive your first print copies and smell that ‘new book’ smell! There’s nothing like it (just have a look at some author unboxings on YouTube).
Saying that, I did enjoy writing a diverse cast of characters in the Steelhaven books. I enjoyed inhabiting their heads and learning about them as I went (despite already knowing what they’d do, if that makes sense) – I liked Merrick’s witty irreverence, I liked Nobul’s brutal desperation, I liked Rag’s impulsive cunning, I liked Waylian’s unexpected bravery. Despite the hard work, despite the monotony of grinding out that first draft, particularly when times were almost unbearable, it was an experience I cherish. Go figure!

TIM: I like drafting, seeing and hearing the story unfold in my mind and documenting it as well as I can on the page. The romance was great! I had different favorite parts in all the [Axiom] books. In the Wrong Stars, Elena's confrontation with Sebastien near the end was great, and Callie growing to trust Lantern too. In the Dreaming Stars, all the virtual world stuff was a blast, and their rescue of Q, and the simulation scenes where Sebastien tries to murder everyone. In the Forbidden Stars, Callie's assault on the prison/lab on the planet was super fun, and every scene Kaustikos was in (scene-stealing little jerk). Also, of course, every single time I got to write Ashok, because Ashok is a character who writes himself.

MARTHA: I like the final stages of revision, where I already have the story down and I’m just polishing and figuring out how to really focus in on the important points. Nothing about writing Murderbot is easy, but I think my favorite parts are when I figure out a scene and know it’s right, and it’s just a matter of polishing it.

JOHN: There's something wonderful about the act of creation, about seeing what's inside you expanding onto the page.  There's something strange and beautiful and a little scary about walking around feeling that you're as much in what you're writing as you are in the world around you.

KAT: My favorite part about editing Whispers from the Abyss was reading all of the submissions. True, sometimes it was a bit of a slog but often the stories were entertaining on one level or another. I also was on the ground floor to be exposed to awesome authors I may never have heard about before.

What a great set of answers to end on! As much as we may sometimes be afraid or worried about our progress it seems writing isn't just sweat and hardship! There are many enjoyable things about the writing process as well, whether you enjoy the puzzle of the edit or the many many pathways you can take from an empty page.

As a last call to action to all readers: What do you enjoy the most when you're working a new project? What makes you get up and do it again and again even if one of them doesn't work out? Leave a comment below!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this series.

It's been great to work with the authors and editor and get to ask questions! They've been very generous with their time and their answers. A huge thank you to all of them! (In no particular order...)

Sue Burke
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Anna Stephens
Eowyn Ivey
Thoraiya Dyer
John Langan

Martha Wells
Caitlin Starling
Yoon Ha Lee
Rich Ford
Tim Pratt
Kat Rocha

and you the reader!

Friday, April 17, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #7: The editing process is difficult!

We've already looked at our superheroes' writing process in much detail. Writing can be difficult. It can be easy. At times it feels horrible and other times it feels great. This week we'll be looking at the editing process from our professionals' points of view!

There seem to be a few fears every writer has when it comes to editing:

It will take time!
I'll never be able to put together this puzzle/How could I ever fix this mess?
I don't know how to edit!
I'll have to edit so much the whole story will be different!
The editor (if I can even get one) will force me to change everything! It won't be my story anymore!

A lot of us are downright scared of the edit... but do we have to be?

This week we've asked the superheroes:

How did you decide how much and what to edit in your novel/trilogy? What's your editing process like?

SUE: [A very] useful thing I’ve learned is the “zero draft.” That is, the initial draft of the story is sort of an experiment, and it’s okay if you make mistakes. No matter how carefully you’ve planned, the initial draft will have errors, problems, shifts in tone, failed scenes, etc., anyway.

The first (next) draft and subsequent drafts attempt to improve the story, and that might mean adding or combining characters, shifting events from one chapter to another, or approaching a scene from a different direction. I try to be patient with the process.

I usually edit until I don’t know how to make the piece better, then I submit it to critiquers and editors to get their suggestions. No story will ever be perfect, though, and if you find yourself in your edits changing “red” to “scarlet” and then back to “red,” you’re tinkering with the story, not improving it.

ADRIAN: When things work as intended I don’t edit much before submission. However there have been a few projects that have needed a more thorough go-over. Sometimes there’s a major change I’ve made during the writing that means earlier sections need to be brought into line with it. Sometimes it’s something mechanical, such as deciding that some sections need a different tense or a 1st/3rd person shift in the telling, which is frankly the most tedious and time-consuming sort of change but if it needs doing, it needs doing.

YOON: Some of the plot points changed in the course of the entire trilogy because I wanted it to work as a whole. I'd initially conceived of Ninefox Gambit as a standalone, but then came up with ideas for two sequels, and ended up changing things in the first and second books to accommodate ideas I had for the third. My agent also had a number of suggestions that improved Ninefox Gambit before we went out on submission, mostly to tighten up the action.

I lucked out with my then-editor, Jon Oliver. I was basically not asked for substantive edits to the trilogy. 

CAITLIN: I've mostly covered this already, but obviously most of the edits were determined by how The Luminous Dead was purchased - That whole second half rewrite [I discussed in previous questions] was part of the process. Before that, though, I did go through some various approaches. For a while, it was a YA book. I realized once I finished that revision that it didn't feel honest of me to say I wanted to write YA, so I undid some of that revision, but other bits stuck around. Em being Isolde's daughter, for instance. Originally, Em and Isolde were the same character, which changed the dynamic between Em and Gyre quite a bit.

THORAIYA: Luckily, I had a Hugo Award-shortlisted professional, Diana Pho, to help me! But there were no drastic changes. Nobody lived who would have died. On the too-many-people front, there were a few minor characters who were cut or combined.


ANNA: Because the journey from first draft to publication was so long for Godblind, editing became a very organic process. In the five or six years prior to getting my agent, I'd read it and edit the bits I thought were weak, then send it out on submission and have it rejected. Then I'd stash it for a few months, reread it and invariably see something I didn't like, so I'd edit it again and send it out again. It became an annual tradition, but each time how I edited and what I edited would be informed by my changing worldview and the books I was reading. 

Over the years, my characters went from traditional high fantasy tropes to much more morally ambiguous,'real' people who made mistakes and got angry and wanted revenge and were consumed with jealousy, alongside being good people. Because we're all of us a mix of every emotion. I started writing about women who were resourceful and capable in a variety of ways and men who weren't afraid to be vulnerable in front of those they loved. I wrote about trauma and survival and did my best not to fetishise either.
I can safely say that the first version of Godblind was unpublishable garbage, and although much of the skeleton of the story remains the same, absolutely everything else on top of it is different. It's no longer a story of noble warriors rescuing damsels in distress from evil villains, much to everyone's relief. But despite all the work I'd done, I still got a set of editorial notes from my agent, and then we went through two more rounds of editing with the publishers. 

We removed a lot of plot points at that stage, things that simply weren't important or didn't really make sense within the wider narrative, and we tightened up a lot of smaller things that seem insignificant until you get to the third book. And it was all vital work.

RICH: I didn’t decide – my editor did. And thank heavens for that. Book one started off at 159,000 words, and the final draft was around 151,000. It was all the better for it, though I don’t remember any radical plot changes other than two of the characters started the book knowing one another where in the original draft they had been strangers. Book two was much the same, though after a suggestion from my editor an important non-POV character was killed off. For book three I pretty much had free reign, but by then my original editor was gone, and I was basically left to my own devices.

EOWYN: I often think a work is finished well before it is. I revise and edit and revise and edit until my agent and editor tell me it's done. It's a long, at times arduous and at times exciting process, and I know I'm finally done when I'm sick to death of the book and can't wait to get it out of my sight.

JOHN: By the time I turned it in to my agent, I had been working on the book so long there wasn't much in the way of edits necessary--chiefly some grammatical stuff. I had edited as I went--sometimes, if it had been a while since I'd worked on the manuscript, I would begin by looking over what I'd written and tinker with it--so it was in pretty decent shape by the time I sent it out.

MARTHA: I’m not sure we mean the same thing when by “editing.” There’s revising, which takes place when the writer is working on the first through the last draft of the story. Some writers finish a draft before going back to revise, others revise as they go along. I revise constantly while I’m working on a first draft, and because of that sometimes my first drafts are actually very close to my final drafts. Editing is usually what takes place after the book has been acquired by a publisher. The editor will go over the manuscript and make suggestions to add or change things, and a good editor will help you make it a better story. The first draft of All Systems Red was close to a finished draft and didn’t need much editing or revising. The others all needed tons of revising, but the editing stages were pretty easy. The editor suggested I make the climax scene of Exit Strategy longer, and that made it a better story.

TIM: I'm a putter-inner, not a taker-outer. My first drafts are often a little sketchy. I always have to go back and add texture, details, little character beats, sometimes extra conflicts if I made things too easy on my protagonists. My books tend to swell by about 10% in revision. I did cut a lot of Ganymede facts from The Dreaming Stars. Ganymede is really interesting! But perhaps not that interesting.

KAT: Writing [and editing as a writer] is really hard. I understand that. Writers need to have thick skin and take criticism daily from every angle. Whether you are just starting out or you are Stephen King. And yes, it is my job to give them that criticism. 

I have been lucky enough to work with writers who all were welcome to constructive criticism and were comfortable enough with me to have a discussion when they disagreed with my opinions.
True. Anthologies are different. You get authors from ever level of talent and maturity when you issue an open call. I’ve received some letters from authors who didn’t take rejection well. On the other hand, I also received letters from authors who had the courage to ask me why it was rejected so they knew what not to do next time. I don’t get too many of those. This shows guts and a willingness to want to improve. Not every anthology will respond to this question, but I encourage authors to do this. 

The only time I have worked with a writer who didn’t handle criticism well, I was doing a favor for a friend. It was a free review and easy to walk away from. I think he thought I would tell him that his idea was awesome… because everybody else had. When I told him how much work was needed to bring it up to speed, he got defensive. Used another cliché I hate which is “this has never been done before” and we never spoke of this book again.

Doesn't editing sound a lot less scary when reading the above answers?

It seems like:

You don't have to edit 99% of your manuscript. The edit doesn't have to be lengthy at all.

You don't have to edit at all unless someone who pays you or who will make sure you get paid later on tells you so.

And if you're worried about not knowing what to edit... well. The editor will tell you!

Kat (an editor herself) too has a wonderful point when she advises writers to send in the big 'why' question after rejections. A lot of the time this practice is labelled as 'taboo' on various writing advice websites. The deed is done. The editor/agent does not want to work with you. Don't waste their time by sending even a 'thank you' and never even mind a 'why not?'.

It's useful to nonetheless do this. If the editor or agent in question doesn't answer... well nothing is lost by asking. And if they do answer then the writer only has to gain. A lot.

I hope this clears up some of the editing fears! Don't be afraid. If you're stuck then let someone else read it. If you have an editor then they're the person to go to. If you don't then ask someone else you can trust to be honest (not your mother or friends usually). I can assure you even a novice at critique will have something useful to say if ever they get bored in your manuscript or something doesn't make sense!

This post marks the before-last entry of the #PenPower project. Next week's question will be our last and it'll be fun. It's also a surprise! So stay tuned!


Friday, April 10, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #6: Editing is scary!

All writers know that writing and editing go hand in hand. Yet whenever someone does an interview with a writer, the editing part is mostly forgotten, and the interview veers strongly in the direction of the writing process itself. Why did the author write the book? How did they write it? Interview questions are usually centered around those questions while editing and the editing process is almost entirely left out.

I wanted to know: How do my favourite writers edit their pieces? Do they get cold feet when the time comes to make sense of their (messy?) first draft?

A lot of writers think editing is the scariest thing they will have to do when it comes to what they've written. Writing is fun. It uses the creative half of the brain and doesn't really care about anything but play. The editing process is a different beast entirely.

But is this actually the truth? This week we've asked the twelve writing superheroes a question that'll help us get to the bottom of whether editing is actually as fearsome as it's made out to be:

What is scarier? Writing or editing?

TIM: I don't find either scary... I used to find editing difficult, when I started out. Eventually I grew to love it, but I sometimes say that drafting is an elemental pleasure and revision is an intellectual one. First draft writing is fun like going down a zipline is fun, like sex is fun, like swimming is fun, like psychedelic drugs are fun. Revising is fun like doing a crossword puzzle is fun. If I didn't get paid to write, I'd still write, but I *would* revise a lot less.

I didn't really have any trouble working on the [Axiom] trilogy, except balancing the action with the quiet character moments. There's SO much action I thought there was a danger of skimping on the characters, so I did my best to make sure the action reflected things about the people too. I was unevenly successful.

MARTHA: Writing first draft is the hardest for me. I actually like the revising and editing stages. First draft for Murderbot is very difficult, since that’s where I figure out the logistics of Murderbot’s multiple inputs, and that can be very tricky.

ANNA: This is not an easy question to answer; both! Drafting a brand new book from a rough outline (in my case) is very exciting, but it's always scary because I know I'm not going to hit all the arcs and story beats in the way that I want. Plus, what if I completely fluff the story? What if it it's boring, or over-long, or florid? Then again, getting edits back can be terrifying, but once I've sulked and railed at the injuctice of my editors pointing out my mistakes, I get really excited to make those sections better. I'd say actually, the scariest parts are the parts where I'm not writing and therefore have no control over the story - waiting to see if my publishers want to buy it; waiting for edits; waiting for the book to come out; waiting for those first reviews... 
I actually enjoy all the aspects of writing and editing, within a mildly stressed and terrified framework!

YOON: Writing, definitely. I'm not afraid of editing. I like taking a mess of manuscript and whipping it into shape; it's like doing a jigsaw puzzle and making everything fall into place, except more fun. (I hate jigsaw puzzles. Sorry, puzzle aficionados!) Writing, on the other hand, is just a long slog of getting the words out. Editing lets me fix the words that already exist. I'm much faster at editing than writing

RICH: I worked as a professional editor before I started writing, and I’ve always been more comfortable with the editing process. However, I do find if you put the prep in before you begin the drafting process (i.e. plan your story, know your characters, have your chapter breakdowns ready) there’s a lot less work to do at the back end.

The Steelhaven trilogy was a long journey, but it was helped by the fact I knew the characters inside out before I started writing the first paragraph. Still, I found the editing process much easier than writing the first draft, and probably always will.

THORAIYA: They’re both scary! But on Titan’s Forest, I found the writing more challenging. There were so many people and places I wanted to fit into the overall story, and I was worried it was too confusing, or that I wasn’t introducing things in the right order. I really relied on my editor to help point out the places where there was too much exposition in one hit. Contemporary fantasy or near-future science fiction is so much easier from that standpoint.

EOWYN: I don't find either process scary necessarily. I do sometimes find it challenging to get into the zone, to really become absorbed in the work to the point that nothing distract me. The initial writing process feels very intimate and private, something like dreaming when it's going well. During editing, I have to shift gears and think outside of myself and try to engage with how other people are experiencing it. It can be hard sometimes to set aside my own ego and defensiveness, but I always remember to be grateful. As hard as it is to hear from my agent or editor that something isn't working, I know that ultimately it will push me to make the book better. Often the most difficult part of that process is figuring out how to fix the problems that they've spotted, because I'll know they're right, something is not working, but they won't have the right solution. All of it, though -- the writing and the editing -- is a rollercoaster ride. One minute I'm chugging uphill and it's such hard work and I'm doubting myself, and then suddenly I'm cresting the rise and the wind is in my hair and the ride is positively exhilarating.

ADRIAN: I don’t think I’d class either as scary, but if forced to go for one then, editing. Writing is definitely more fun. Editing always feels gruelling, and I often have a gap between receiving edits and starting on them in which I feel the whole business is insuperable and horrible, but once I get down to it, it tends to go efficiently enough.

JOHN: I think each has its challenges. With writing, you're trying to get down on paper something that comes as close to what you want as possible. With editing, there's the realization that you've used the same word four times in two sentences, or that you've used the same type of sentence ten of the last eleven times.

With The Fisherman, I think the first was more of the issue, especially when it came to the book's middle section. I had to encourage myself to be as bold, as wild, as I could.

SUE: I think “scary” is the wrong word. Writing should be fun. If it’s not, maybe there’s a different job you would enjoy more. So, which is more fun, writing or editing? For me the first draft is generally harder and editing is easier, but that will vary from author to author. In any case, both writing and editing are necessary, like different parts of any job, and I try not to attach stressful emotions to the process. As Nike says, just do it.

KAT: Editing. If nobody likes my writing, I’m the only one that gets hurt. But hell hath no fury like a writer whose been told their ideas need work. 

CAITLIN: Editing. Even though I know it's necessary and therefore doesn't mean I got the previous draft wrong, there's still some pride caught up in it. And also fear that I won't be able to see or solve all the problems. I've had a few projects that, while good, have required substantial revisions/rewrites in order to be really good, which can be [difficult].

For The Luminous Dead, as I already mentioned, I had to rewrite half the book after it sold. The original draft had very real, very physical monsters, and the threat of those monsters formed the whole plot of the second half of the book. My editor, David Pomerico, decided we didn't need those monsters, and that the relationship between Gyre and Em, plus the uncertainty and dread of the cave itself, could more than fill the book. That meant I had to reorder a lot of events, and find a way to make a book with no big reveal of "the real threat" still feel satisfying. That's a tall order! I started by identifying the major problems and gaps caused by pulling out the monsters, then re-outlined, then started in on redrafting. It took about three months to get the second half redone to specifications. Then we cleaned everything up over the next half a year.

It appears from the answers above that editing is indeed scary. And so is writing. And some of our superheroes are even worried about both. Again there's no one answer. There's only sitting down and doing it anyway.

So this time comes a call to action in this last paragraph: What do you think? As a writer, which is more scary to you personally? Writing or editing? Or are you not scared of either like some of our superheroes? There's of course the option to be scared of both (and more!) too! Leave a comment in the comment section below or chime in on Twitter @Jasmingelinck!

In the next post we'll be looking closer at the (scary? Non-scary? You decide!) editing process itself! Must you edit? Why is it so essential? And how much should you edit?

Friday, April 3, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #5: I must know everything before I start

This week's post deals with how much we must know at the beginning in order to know a good story. This goes a little bit back to the popular debate of plotter vs pantser and again everyone differs. Take Adrian for example. He's definitely someone who likes to plot his novels. He likes knowing details and having a clear outline. The masterplan needs to be there before he starts on a new project. Yet even Adrian has said in our last post that he mostly plans the beginning and the ending and doesn't spend as much time on the middle.

Could we then argue that you don't have to know as much as you think you need to know in order to start writing your story? Let's hear the details from our writing superheroes!

How much direction do you need in order to start a story?

TIM: I am a planner, though not an extensive outliner. At most I'll jot a few notes if the timeline is complex. I use the foggy mountains metaphor: I can see the mountaintops I'm trying to reach (major story moments), but the valleys in between are full of mist and mysteries. I make my way from one mountain to another, so I know where I'm going, but there's room for discovery along the way. I do sometimes find myself writing a completely different ending than the one I anticipated, usually because I've learned more about the characters and decided whatever resolution I first had in mind isn't true to their nature. Sometimes I'll throw in a character for expository or plot reasons and they'll interest me and interact fruitfully with other characters and I'll keep them around as a supporting player. So, I plan, but I'm open to serendipity.

MARTHA: I don’t always know much about the story when I start. I want to explore the character I’ve come up with, and I have an image of the environment they’re in that I want to develop. I’ll usually have some idea of the first plot point, and a very vague idea of what the ending might be. Once I get to that first plot point, I’ll have a better idea where to go from there.

KAT: (editor's perspective) When taking on a client to edit their manuscript I always ask for the elevator pitch first, then a one-page synopsis of the story with the major plot points laid out. I want to know the milestones of the story first so that I can gauge if the author is doing a good job getting to those milestones… or if they may have passed by the audience by unnoticed. I want to know here the author wants their story to end as well as begin so that the journey is as engaging as it can be.

ADRIAN: As noted, I plan extensively. However sometimes the plan doesn’t work, and that tends (to tie in with the above question) to be a matter of an increasing subconscious dissatisfaction with where things are going until I consciously overcome my reluctance to go back and rewrite, and admit things aren’t working. Sometimes I come up with a better way to do things and rework the plan for that reason. There’s also one part of the book I never plan out, which is the very end. I usually know what the climactic confrontation will be and who will be there for it, but the actual resolution is something I leave to the book’s own momentum to solve.

SUE: The more you know about a story, the easier it will be to write and the less likely you’ll get blocked at any point. I know people who write 100-page outlines for 400-page manuscripts, or who spend months working on the outline. I especially recommend knowing how the story will end — and make sure it’s a strong ending, because if you try to “pants” your way, you may be tempted to grab the first idea you get for an ending, which might be weak or hackneyed. Some genres like mysteries demand a pre-planned ending.

THORAIYA: In my early days [of writing I needed almost no direction to start]. Just a description of a place, or a feeling, or a person facing a dilemma. That can work well for short stories, but agents aren’t generally keen on a pitch that says, “I have this feeling and I want to write a novel about it!” I need a solid idea about the world, whether alien, alternate history or secondary, and I usually start from the ground up. You don’t know what a person will be like until you know their culture, and you don’t know what a society will be like unless you know the natural surroundings or technological situation. Everyone’s a product of their environment.

ANNA: Quite often this will depend on the length of the story. For instance I'm currently working on a short story that is entirely based on an image from a dream I had and the underlying feeling that came with it. That'll probably be about 10,000 words, which is quite long for something based on a single image, but it's clearly something I've wanted to focus on because the words are flowing really well. When I'm working on my Black Library commissions, they prefer much more thorough outlines and for me to stick quite closely to those plots, which is something that doesn't always come easily to me, but I'm getting better at it.

For novels, I always start with character, with a voice in my head and a sense of a person. From there comes setting, and from there comes antagonists and a sense of what might happen. I'll take a couple of weeks to brainstorm, jotting down things I might want to explore, and then crossing them out as others take precedence. I usually end up with a starting point, a main conflict, a couple of sub-plots and an end point. That's usually it for me and I begin drafting from there. The start and end points usually end up remaining roughly the same, and everything else in the middle is up for grabs and will change and flow as I work out what I'm really trying to convey.

I quite enjoy not really knowing what's coming next. There have been many occasions where I've genuinely been taken by surprise by a character's decision or actions and that sends me off on a completely different path that wasn't planned. And those paths always, always end up being better than where I thought I was going. A lot of writers scoff at the thought of their characters doing anything unplanned and say that it's impossible, and that's fine, that works for them. For me, there's a real sense of joy and wonder when my characters make their own decisions, because I know I'm on the adventure with them then.

YOON: I need to have a very strong idea of the plot beats, which for me means a chapter outline. Then I work out characters for whom that plot makes sense, although this is subject to change during the process of writing.

I'm fairly loose when it comes to worldbuilding. I think of worldbuilding like choosing the key and time signature of a piece when you're composing--the overall flavor of the piece. There's still so much you can do within that flavor. I tend to make up world details as I go in the rough draft, based on the flavor, and then to fix continuity in revisions.

RICH: I am a control freak. Experience has taught me I get the best results from detailed planning and preparation. That might just mean thinking about something for a few days and letting it germinate, rather than making extensive notes, maps, writing histories, etc, but I still have to have most of the story already formulated before I begin.

Once you’ve got a handle on your characters and setting, a lot of the time the story will write itself. You’re just the one telling the tale. I imagine that’s how a lot of pantsers (though I prefer the term ‘Gardeners’) begin, but it is a spectrum. Every different author will have a different method, but the whole ‘plotters vs pantsers’ thing is just down to when you start putting pen to paper. Even the most ardent plotter (or Architect) will start off with the seed of an idea. They will just choose to start crafting the prose after they have a stack of notes to write from. So aren’t we all Gardeners really?

JOHN: It really varies. Some projects I know from the beginning how they're going to begin and end and most of what's going to happen in between. Others, I have an opening and a vague sense of what the story's going to involve. A lot of times, I'll have random elements in my head and all of a sudden something will cause them all to fall into alignment and I have the story. It can be terrifying to begin something with little to no sense of where it's going, but I try to embrace that terror.

CAITLIN: [W]hen I'm actually putting words on paper, I sort of zone out, and the writing happens. I just have to provide the structure (outlines, notes, writing schedules, etc) to make sure things keep working.

EOWYN: In all of my books so far, I have had a core idea and a rough outline going into the process. But I also know that ideas and plot outlines are a dime a dozen. The surprising phrases, the unexpected development in a character or storyline, those things that jump to mind as I'm writing -- that's where my best work is, and I can never force or predict those moments. All I know is that I have to sit down and put in the time, and eventually it will happen, the layers will deepen and the metaphors will come. So for me, both elements -- the logical, linear and the random sparks of creativity -- are important to my writing process.

Although a lot of our writing superheroes like to make outlines (and I've heard of the occasional case where the outline is longer than the actual novel) before they start it does seem like many of them enjoy developing the story as they are writing it just as much. This can be from a single image or perhaps a character/scene/setting that they've had in mind for a while.

A lot of the points made make a lot of sense.

Your local stonemason needs an idea of what they're trying to craft. Whether they start chipping away immediately or create careful outline of the statue in their mind they will usually want to mark the most important features of the object they're trying to craft: Where does the head of the statue go? The arms? The torso? The feet? But even they might not be able to mark every piece of stone to the T. There will always be little details they haven't thought of that come to them when they're actually doing the work. The same applies to your work!

I can guarantee from our superheroes' responses that you will have some kind of idea before you start. It might be only a sentence and it might be only a word. You may choose to develop it into an outline before you begin or you might just write merrily ahead. They are both fine ways to create a story! (Although perhaps listen to the superheroes: The more complex the story the more likely it is you'll need more than just an image/character/setting/scene.)

That's it for today! I hope you've learned something useful and this post will help you panic less when it's time to start your next project!

Next week we're going to be looking at: WRITING VS EDITING. Why is editing so scary? Or is it?