Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

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Lesson 19

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Yesterday, author Elana Johnson wrote about her writing process. Since I’ve already detailed my hardcore student life, I thought maybe I could share my writing process as well!

 

The Writing Process

The Writing Process

 

Jessica’s Writing Process

In the style of Ms. Johnson, here are my disclaimers:

  1. I type about 100 words per minute, if not more, on average. (I often have to backspace and correct typos, though.)
  2. I don’t turn off my internal editor. (But it’s not very good, either.)
  3. I usually don’t stop until I’m done. (Makes sleeping hard.)

The more I read how other people write, the more I think I might be a rare lemon. I never write without an idea of what I’m writing already. So I have two processes, and another for editing.

When I have the entire scene in my head:

  1. I open up a new document (separate from the entire WiP) and write. I can easily write about 2,500 words in an hour.
  2. Every time my flow is interrupted, I’ll reread the last few paragraphs or the last page to reorient myself in the scene in my head. And continue until I’m done. (That’s right, I don’t stop until I’m done. Yes, I am insane.)
  3. While I do take time to avoid my crutch words, avoid unnecessary words, and consciously choose words, I always scroll back to the beginning and reread everything. I make quick changes for everything I see (I often don’t see much).

When I have the first part of the scene in my head:

  1. I open up a new document and write until I reach a dead end. This is where the scene goes all black and I have no idea what to do next. Life sucks.
  2. I play out the scene until it progresses in a reasonable way. What if my MC says this? What if my MC says that? What would be the reaction? I write down the best thing I can come up with. Sometimes it takes several tries, sometimes it takes several minutes (or a lot of minutes).
  3. I follow this pattern until I see the end. Again, I don’t stop until the whole thing is written.
  4. Then I go back to the beginning and edit, sometimes rethink entire paragraphs, but try to just make the whole thing coordinate in some way.

And then my process for editing:

  1. I open up the WiP, all scenes written inserted into their proper place. I will only revise scenes that have context–surrounding scenes. This is for consistency.
  2. I reread the last page of the scene right before and then continue reading the to-be-edited scene.
  3. I pay close attention to the whole and its parts. If something sounds awkward, I’ll rephrase as many times as needed. I pick new words, I take out or put in commas and other punctuation when necessary. I usually rethink paragraphs and sentence order. Dialogue, and clarity of speaker and pronouns. I usually do this in increments whenever I have time, so I never work until I’m completely done.
  4. When I’ve finished revising the entire thing, I’ll go back to the beginning and reread it as if I’d just written it.

Now, as for whether or not I write out of order–I do. However, Devin and I have our entire WiP planned out scene by scene. We can write in order if we want, and sometimes when we feel particularly inspired, we’ll jump ahead and write something else.

And the last thing I do? Save. And then show off. After that, it’s for the critters to dissect so I have more work to do!

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Written by Jessica Lei

November 10, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Lessons, Writers, Writing

Lesson 17

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Agents agree that everyone who isn’t an agent and doesn’t have an agent has no idea what an agent’s average day is like.

Well, what about the average day of a writer?

It’s going to look very different for all of us, but the bottom line is the same: we’re busy! We often have day jobs, or night jobs, or both–kids, siblings, husbands, wives, parents to deal with–school, homework, papers, midterms, finals. It’s incredible how much we manage to pack into one day’s worth of hard work.

I’m a full-time student working unpaid at a psychology internship I started over the summer. On a day where I had my internship, two classes, a midterm, and a writing assignment due for creative writing, this is what happened:

A Vigilant Writer/Student

A Vigilant Writer/Student

The Day in the Life of a Writer/Student/Intern

I stayed awake through 7am to write over 8,000 words on my manuscript to turn in for my English assignment. I took a shower and slipped into bed at 730am. I woke up at 1030am, clipped out an 11-page snippet of what I wrote the night before, read it over quickly and turned it in online. Went back to sleep until 1120am. Dressed, brushed my teeth, tried to make myself look presentable (probably failed in hindsight), packed food for the entire day, and took a 15-minute drive into Seattle (when President Obama was in town, even) to arrive at my internship at noon (okay, maybe 3 minutes after).

My supervisors fished around for 15 minutes trying to think of what I should do. I honestly told them I’d love to go back home to study, which they decided I could do that and come in tomorrow to make up the three hours. I took another 15 minutes to drive home, slipped into pajama bottoms and back into bed. I reorganized the Contents page, added a few pages to the list even, started this post, tweeted, read up on the blogosphere. Around 130pm I cracked open my textbook and started taking notes on what I knew I really needed to know.

Around 2pm I took a break and continued writing this post.  At about 230pm I hit the textbook again for another 30 minutes, keeping track of only the most important items that’d be on the test. I planned on going to my next class but decided to skip it (sorry, professor) in favor of more studying. So I took the next two hours to study and talk to Devin about the writing process.

Seattle Rainy Traffic

Seattle Rainy Traffic

At 5pm, I changed back into a pair of jeans and packed up for class. I drove 30 minutes to the other side of Seattle to my university–in light traffic (although it was 5pm, don’t know where everyone was). I had a double shot of espresso as I drove. It didn’t take me long to find parking and 5 minutes to walk to my first class. I waited in the hall for half an hour with a classmate before my next class started–my dreaded midterm. Instead of studying, we mostly talked about an English teacher we shared, about applying to graduate school, and how hard we thought the test was going to be. At 6pm, the test started.

I took it in an hour, drove back home at around 645pm, make a quick dinner of left-over chicken-flavored rice. I talked to my mom for about an hour, exchanging rants and bonding over stories of my freshman year. Then I opened up my manuscript and worked on my first chapter so I could send it to my crit partners–at 815pm.

By this time, I had been awake for 32 hours and had two shots of coffee. I worked on my manuscript until 3am, when my eyes were burning so bad I didn’t have any choice left to sleep.

So, what’s the lesson here?

Writing is rarely the only thing a writer does.

Written by Jessica Lei

October 27, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in General, Lessons, Writers