I spent the weekend finishing off the first draft of A Biloxi Christmas. I love telling stories, but I have to tell you, that first draft is always the hardest part of writing for me. Getting the story on the page is always a struggle, because even when I try to outline, I have to get a little ways into the story before I really can see the whole thing.
I start stories with the basics – a character that really speaks to me, a location, the beginning of the story, and a general idea of how it will end.
Building a story from that bare of a skeleton is work. It requires time and concentration. I have to be able to spend time writing the story down and I have to listen and watch the characters as I do. They lead the journey from the starting point to the finish, and I usually don’t know how they’re going to get there.
During this process, my story often grows and changes. If I’m not careful, this is where I can get bogged down. I might be half-way through a book or novella before a sub-plot becomes completely clear. The temptation to go back to the beginning and add that whole story in is often overwhelming. But I’ve learned over time, going backward is a bad idea. If I do, then I get bogged down in the story and sometimes I’ll put it down for years a time.
Understanding my strengths and weaknesses, I’ve developed a system for writing. I start my story with that bare bones outline. Along the way, I’m building a story board that helps me stay on track with timing and it helps me keep track of what has happened. More importantly, however, my story board is a place to put all of the notes, in the places they belong, for the editing process.
About halfway through, I usually have a pretty detailed storyboard for the whole story. It’s that halfway point where I finally have a fully developed “movie” of the book playing in my head. So, usually, the second half of the book goes much faster than the first half did.
Getting the story down on paper is only half of the work, though. Once I have it down, then it’s time to go back and really build the story. I won’t lie, I love this part of the process more than anything. I have the basics down, I know what all the plot lines are (and they’re fully developed in my mind), and what I have left to do is tighten the writing that’s there, eliminate what isn’t need, and add flesh out any spots that are too bare bones.
I do it by hand. Pen color doesn’t matter, and I’ve been known to switch up editing color mid-way through to stave off boredom with the process. I also add the edits to the manuscript as I go. I might work on paper for a few hours, or even a few days, and then add that into the electronic document. I usually don’t print another copy, however, until the first edit is done.
There’s something about that whole tactile process that is soothing to me. I’m building a great story. I’m seeing the edits on the page and watching the pages left to edit dwindle down to nothing. It’s progress that I can touch and feel in a way that’s very different creating the story in an electronic document. In the electronic document, I can see the number or words and pages, but it doesn’t seem as quantitative.
So, tomorrow I start the editing process on A Biloxi Christmas. I’m excited, almost to the point that I can’t sleep. Does that make me a geek? Or a nerd? Or maybe just plain weird? Maybe, but it works for me.
What’s your process? Do you like the initial writing or the editing better? Share your methods with me in the comments below. I’m constantly trying something new, and maybe something you share will help me improve my process.