My [Writing] Process
I remember once, my brother told me he thought I was a very determined person. There are many compliments that a person can receive, and they are not always easy to absorb, to accept, or believe are true. This was a compliment that I believed and received with gratitude. It is true, I am determined. I am industrious. I am hard-working. I don’t give up that easily.
I am in the process of re-editing “60 Black Women in Horror Fiction” because the initial release was not formatted properly for the Kindle. This is a pain in the butt process that involves resizing all of the photos in Photoshop so that they are uniform, because as it turns out, cropping done in Word doesn’t translate over to the Kindle, and the photos I cropped there just blew back up to their full size, appearing in the middle of paragraphs, and making a crazy mess. Fixing this issue will take a limited amount of time: I’m already half way done. I estimate this is about eight hours worth of work, four of which I completed last night. The problem is, I have to break up my time because I have a day job, school, and family obligations
Time management is not my strong suit, so it is something I put a lot of effort into mastering because I know that it is a weakness. In order to manage my time, I break down my processes in a way that makes the most sense to me. I spent a long time in video production, and am a graduate the now defunct Film Arts Foundation’s STAND program for first time directors. I apply a lot of what I learned about how to make a short film (documentary or otherwise) to the subject of writing.
Everything is work. Writing and its related processes such as research, proofreading and editing are usually broken down in my mind into terms related to the decade or more I spent as a video editor, and those are the stages of “pre-production,” “production,” and “post production.”
Pre-production is everything you have to do to get ready for the production of your writing product. There isn’t a great deal of pre-production involved in my writing a poem, but for a novel, there is character development. There are outlines of plot points, and there is research. This is the only part of the writing process that I habitually do on paper. My home is filled with notebooks, many of them incomplete, in which I have notes I’ve written explaining to myself how a certain character is.
A clear understanding of my character’s personality types allows me to know how that particular character will react in a given situation, so that they behave consistently on a page. I approach developing characters almost the way you would approach creating a character for a role playing game of the old-fashioned board game sort.
I wasn’t a huge player of RPGs, mind you, but I have been a major ElfQuest fan since I was nineteen years old, and as a result I played the ElfQuest RPG as a board game in the late eighties and I used to roleplay ElfQuest characters in the late nineties. I stopped writing fanfic years ago because I can’t seem to stop writing horror. The very existence of Wendy Pini’s “Masque of the Red Death” makes me happy in ways I can’t begin to explain, because it is the intersection of two of two of the favorite things from my teenage life, Pini and Poe.
I approach writing characters for my novels as if I were developing a character for an RPG, and knowing the strengths, weaknesses, and personality types of those characters before I insert them into situations helps me to create a certain nexus where eventually, the book starts to practically write itself.
Production is where you sit around and write the thing out. In simple terms, this is the creation of the first draft of the story. It is the kind of thing that some of us do during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Certainly, with regards to “Disillusionment,” the sequel to “Solitude,” it is precisely what I did. I proudly wear my Camp NaNoWriMo winner’s badge on my web page and I got it for writing about 51k words of “Disillusionment.” That’s a partial first draft. It’s still not done. My novels tend to come in somewhere between 80k and 125k in word count, and I expect this one to come in around 100k.
Writing this article is a type of production. For blogging, newspaper articles (I write for the Examiner.com), short stories and poetry, the production stage is very straightforward.
One portion of pre-production that carries over into production is research. I do as much research as I can into the worlds I create before I create them, but there will always be something I need to know that only comes to mind as I am actually writing. For example, in “Solitude,” I had to stop what I was writing and go and research the history of earthquakes in San Francisco several times, so that the ones used in the story were always actual earthquakes.
For “The Moon Cried Blood,” I had to research the cycles of the moon in 1975 so that the dates in the story matched up with the state of the moon at any given moment in the story (the full moon, the half moon, the Hunter’s Moon, the Blood Moon, the Harvest Moon).
Most of this is actually just plain old writing. I love to write, so this is both easy and enjoyable to me. I write at a good clip, and it took me three months to complete the first draft of “Solitude.” Writing is fun, and allows me to engage my emotional connection to the material and to veer away from the technical aspects of writing.
Right at the moment, I am writing this blog because it is relaxing for me, a nice diversion from the tedium that is post-production. I am often working on something new, even something small, while I am in the process of perfecting something else.
Post-Production consists of editing, proofreading, formatting, double checking facts, working with editors and beta readers, and it is the most time consuming and grueling part of the process for me. It generally takes me twice as long to get out of post as it does to actually write the danged thing, and writing something takes about twice as long as preparing to write it does, so the process of perfecting the completed work will usually take longer than the other two parts put together for all except for my very shortest pieces of writing.
For short pieces of writing like flash fiction and news articles, the limitations of word count actually make the process of editing easy breezy. I used to write a lot of grants back in the day, and when you have a limited number of words in which to express yourself it becomes a sort of an art after a while, the cutting down of excess verbiage.
This is somehow much more difficult for me when I am looking at something of more than 5000 words in length. In fact, I would go so far as to say the shorter it is, the easier it is for me to polish the work. Blogging requires less spit and shine than other types of writing, and sometimes it gets stream of consciousness – like right now, as I am recalling an editor for a fashion magazine who send me a rejection letter saying she was looking for a “more polished kind of writing.” I recall my sheer glee at the number of typos in the rejection letter.
This line of thinking brings me right around the subject of typographical errors. Typos are a symptom of a limited staff: the bigger the publishing company, the more people there are pouring over your work to make sure you don’t miss anything. I know this because as a graphic designer, which is one of the two career-level day jobs I have had in my lifetime, proofreading was very often a part of my job description. I often worked for print publications, and they usually had a policy of three additional rounds of proofreading for any given layout before it hit the presses.
These were mostly newspapers, and the thing about print press is that you can’t just re-release the danged thing like you can with an eBook and fix any typos you missed. Those typos are there, in print, in that particular edition forever. Even if you release a new edition, it can still crop up like a bad penny.
The three rounds of proofing before it went out the door were not all the proofreading, mind you. Three times was the number of times the corrections you just made had to be proofread. There is a lot of proofreading involved in print production, and it is grueling, time consuming, and done generally by a staff of twelve or more individuals. This puts indie publishers at a disadvantage, because we are essentially going to need to drum up twelve proficient volunteers if we can’t afford to pay twelve people to go over our work.
I also find: you have to become your own proofreader, and your own editor, and no matter what else you do, you will need to go over your own work three or four times or perhaps twelve times.
It’s work. Lots and lots of hard work. It’s a drag.
Fortunately, I am very determined.