Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Winging It

by J.M. Phillippe

Earlier this month, fellow Stiletto Gang author Bethany Maines posted a great blog about how she organizes her novels using spreadsheets and graphs -- all online! I was super impressed. And then intimidated. Because my organization of a novel looks a lot more like this:

Images of writing notebooks
Sometimes I can't even read my own writing.
 I don't even remember to put all my notes about the same story in the same notebook.

I do start out trying to be super organized. I spend a lot of time procrastinating...er...pre-writing by creating elaborate systems and files that some part of me knows I will never maintain. I understand that that the more up-front work I do, the less back-end work I'll have to do. And yet, inevitably, at some point during a writing project I find myself digging through various notebooks and poorly named Word files, trying to find that one piece of information I need to complete whatever section I'm working on. I have to scan first drafts specifically for continuity errors (like the spelling of a name), and if it wasn't for eagle-eyed readers and editors, I'd miss small changes I made in even basic descriptions (did that room have a brown leather chair or a burgundy leather chair?).

Vader is not impressed with me.
I also only ever make it half-way through a novel outline before the drafting process takes over, and characters and plots move in totally different directions. It's a little bit because I find outlines kind of boring, and a little bit more that if I get too detailed and figure out how it will all end, I lose interest. Generally, I never start with more than a vague sense of where I want to end up, and I find drafting it out so much more satisfying. And yet I know that an outline would probably make the entire process a lot less messy -- and faster -- if maybe not as spontaneous.

Of course, come revision time, I then I have to backtrack and do all the work that I maybe shoulda coulda woulda done in the pre-writing process. I create a reverse outline of my chapters and sections. I make a style sheet and finally decide on a single spelling of a name (the search and replace feature in Word is very much my friend). Changes are always intentionally planned. I invest heavily in the revision process, and the story can change dramatically from draft to draft.

In many ways, starting off by winging it and then going back and organizing what I've written lets me discover the story in two different ways -- as I write it, and after I go back and read what I've written. That process of discovery keeps me interested in the story, even if it is very labor intensive.

Still, I can't help but look at the ways other writers organize themselves and wistfully daydream about my own set of spread sheets and graphs. Sometimes though, I'd settle for remembering exactly where I put that really great breakdown of the third act I thought of while on the bus two months ago. All I have to do is figure out what notebook I had with me that day...




***


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City.  She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work.  She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.


2 comments:

  1. I have the same organizing technique as you do. Without your writing training I get lost in too many thoughts and so never get anything finished. Oh but if you could see my notebooks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. There are some great books that help you figure out how to organize your ideas. I'll email you some!

    ReplyDelete