Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
The Writing Process and How It Evolves:
Being Open to Change
by Tyffani Clark
The writing process, like the stories we love to read, is constantly evolving. What worked for us when we were younger and carefree isn’t always going to work. As we get older, our minds change and grow, and we need to learn new ways of organizing, compartmentalizing, and eliminating distractions, so we can focus. Day-to-day tasks start to take up our time, so we have to find new opportunities and new places to write. The key to keeping it all going is to evolve and be open to change.
I used to be a straight pantser. That is, I sat down to write and as long as I had an idea in my head about where I wanted the story to go – beginning, middle, and end – I had a winner. I wanted to be as surprised by the story I was writing as my readers would be when they read it, and I still do. But I’ve found recently that if I plot out my main points, I have a more fleshed out story with less need for rewriting, and I still get the same surprise when the in-between points fall into place.
I had a system that worked for many years: sit down, pull up the document, write until you can’t focus anymore. Lather, rinse, repeat. But in recent years, that has become harder and harder, partially because it has become harder and harder to find the time for that kind of commitment. I hadn’t yet figured out that I needed a new system. My old approach of writing without a plan wasn’t giving me time to get to know my characters or the worlds I was creating.
Last year I sat down to write The Canyon Edict. It followed five different timelines in a non-linear format. It was my biggest challenge to date and I knew I would have to start with a full outline if I wanted anything to come of it. I had to plot each timeline separately, and then weave them back together so they didn’t get confusing. I couldn’t blow my way through this one. I had to take it slow and know what I was going to do before I did it. It came together more easily than anything I’ve ever written and is the piece of which I’m the most proud.
To plot The Canyon Edict, I used Dan Wells’s 7 Point Plot. It hits the seven main plot points of a story’s structure to help you flesh out your story. This worked for me because while I was outlining my story, it was enough of a skeleton that I knew what was happening, but it left enough of the story open that I was still surprised when things happened between my main plot points.
Many writers feel that if they have an outline they must follow it to a T. I certainly did, but I’ve found that even my main points can change or move around in the story once everything starts to fall into place. When I taught the structure to an author friend of mine, she found her plot points were all in the wrong places.
Because my current situation required a change, my writing has improved greatly, and I’ve implemented that same system in everything I’ve written since. But I had been resisting a change in my writing process for the last year or so. I liked being labeled a pantser. I liked that with that title came the knowledge that I could sit down and bang out a story. Even though that method wasn’t working for me anymore, I kept trying. It took driving a whole story into the wall to realize that my pride was getting in the way. I needed to step back and reevaluate. Was my writing method getting me where I wanted to be? The answer was a resounding, painful no. I was getting in my own way by refusing to see that I needed to slow down and plan my story beforehand.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and good writing requires always being open-minded. If you want to be good at your craft, you must always be improving, and to always be improving requires action. Ask yourself, “Is this still working for me?” If it’s not, what is getting in your way? And are you ready to do what it takes to get yourself to the next level?