Process Stories

Laurie King on writing:

Generally, I don’t do a lot of rewrite-as-you-go. I write the stuff as a first draft, knowing it’s awful, allowing myself to just write crap, so long as I’m writing. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop what I’m doing and go back a chapter or six in order to work out my thoughts on a character or a plot development, since it’s nearly impossible for my mind to make any sense of an outline. I don’t think in outlines, I think in story lines, and although I may occasionally sketch out how I see the story developing, it’s merely a sequence of events, not anything with structure to it.

Everybody does this stuff differently. I tend to be a beginning/ending girl. I’ve usually got my first line and last line in mind and work my way forward and backward until the two sides meet in the middle. Sometimes I just have a title, or a quote, and build around that. I don’t really think about it too hard, to be honest. There’s a thousand ways it could work and I’m not married to any of them.

I have a friend who outlines everything, who has a very clearly defined process that he follows every time: themes, plotting down to the paragraph. We tried to work together once and nearly drove each other insane: He said let’s write and got out the pen and paper to make a map, I said let’s write and put my fingers on the keyboard.

The difference, though, is that when you have steps you always follow, you can see clearly when one of them isn’t working, whereas when I’ve spent the day writing what feels like absolute and utter crap, I have no idea how to fix it, and I get stuck in that spiral of despair where it’s just “your chapter sucks and you suck, and your hair sucks too” and by the end of the night I’ve convinced myself to just get a real job already. It’s very important not to drink at moments like that, and also to remember what Hemingway said to some asshole who was boring on about how tough it was to write: “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.” But it’s like the guy from the Goo Goo Dolls said. “Writer’s block isn’t when you can’t write. It’s when you write and write and write, and you think everything you write is shit.”

Is there a process to what you do, a point from which you build? Tell me about it.

A.