September 13, 2016

The Anatomy of a Writer

The writing process is different for everyone. Those articles you read, those words of advice from authors you cleave to, need to be filed away as research. It’s only opinion. Strategies that worked for them, and sometimes only them. And just like them, mine is only another opinion.

When I write non-fiction, I prepare an outline. I decide what information should be included and in what order. I make a list of things I need to research, then factor in my own knowledge, and begin. I organize everything into chapters and chapter titles. For me, it’s a very distinct process.

When I write creative non-fiction, I simply pick a subject and write. I write what I know and make notes of anything I don’t. If research is required, I usually start this process towards the middle or the end of the piece. It’s important to me to write down my thoughts and feelings on the subject first, then back it up (if necessary) with any “facts”. It really depends on how deeply I’m going to cover the subject, or how intimately I’m attached to the project to decide if research is even necessary.

Now the biggie: fiction.

I do not plot. I do not outline. My stories are character-driven, so a character sketch is the only thing I draft before I begin the writing process. I make notes about where and when the story will begin, where it will go, and possibly where it will end up. But that’s it.

My characters write the story. I may be the vessel they use, but they decide what’s going to happen, what they’re going to say, and how they will get in and out of a situation.

I don’t know how the story ends (even if I guess) because I don’t know what they’re going to do until they do it.

All I can tell you is that it’s like having a movie projector in my head. I can see, hear, smell, and taste everything that’s happening. I am in the room. I am in that body. I feel and empathize. I am a man and then I am a woman. I am young. I am old. I am learning and doing everything my character is learning and doing at any given time.

That’s my process. It’s a strange and wondrous thing writing fiction. I didn’t think I could do it. Until I did.

Is that all there is? Well, I have a note app on my phone where I keep thoughts, snippets of dialogue, and ideas. I have a slew of notebooks where I write more of the same, along with paragraphs and phrases. I use these tools to get started, keep me on track, and edit.

But regardless of what I’m writing about, the point is, I’m always writing. Always.

There are no days off.

Does that mean that I clock in an 8-hour work day? No. Some days I only write down those thoughts and ideas. Other days, my butt is firmly planted in front of my computer where I sit and write for as long as it takes to work out an idea, or hit a particular work count, or when my brain freezes and my characters or the story just needs to rest.

When I’m not writing. I’m thinking about writing.

I had planned on a full day of editing yesterday, but the words just wouldn’t come. I got up and decided to work around the house. Physical activity helps my brain focus on other things and ultimately allows the words to come back to me organically.

And there it was. The words and ideas I needed for the Epilogue I wasn’t sure I was going to write.

I tell you all of this because I wish I had someone tell me these things during the years I spent spinning my wheels and “learning” how to write instead of just writing. Knowledge is power, but you can only learn so much before you actually have to go to work and just do it. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and write.

Just write. 

P.S. You may also like My Take on Writing and 1000 Words.


Tara said...

I read your blog for so many reasons, but I love your writing advice. I'm trying to break into the field. Up until now, I've written just for myself. I've been afraid to really sink my teeth into it. This post inspired me.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what fiction stories you have written. Please fill us in!

Wendy E Wrzos said...

Great posting, Kim, and so true..... there is no single answer to the question of how to write, but it is good to know how other people do it; to garner all sorts of opinions, try them out, and just see what works for you. And then just write.

It is so scary to just write, and in the beginning I wrote for six months without making a blog post public. I was so afraid to take that leap. Now, I just write, and I am so grateful if even one person reads it. I have never written fiction, but my blog posts are often like the movie reels that you mention - stories, sentences, paragraphs, feelings and sensations that just appear in my head, and need to come out :-)

Thank you for sharing your process, Kim, and inspiring us!

- Wendy

Sara said...

I really like how you've changed your blog around. Although I do miss the how much you posted before.

Looking forward to more posts like these.


Kimberly Merritt said...

Thank you, Tara, Sara, and Wendy.

As a beginner writer, I wish I had someone to tell me the things I know now. You can read a lot about writing: grammar, style, substance, but the only way to become a better writer, or a writer at all, is just write.

And it is scary. It's still scary for me all these years later.

As for my fiction project, I will share when it is finally complete. :o)