Writers are asked about how they work all the time. Probably because writing’s such a struggle for all of us, we look wherever we can to learn better ways to get things done, to motivate ourselves, and produce better stories. Every time I’m asked that question, I answer differently, because every time I start a new project, I have a new process.
While writing Losing Faith (still unpublished, and probably always will be) I rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch after I had completed several revisions. Actually, I was forced into this method after I lost all of the files. I recovered from the horror of it all by remembering that Gabriel Garcia Marquez once lost his notebooks for a story and had to rewrite it, and when he found the original notes, the stories were pretty much the same.
My new middle grade, The Jumbies, is inspired by a Haitian folktale and went through several plot versions, none with any method, outline, or specific plan. Almost every time I restarted with a new plotline, I did so without looking at previous versions. I just kept starting over until one of them stuck.
Every picture book plot I’ve written has come into my head fully-formed, then I spend months or years fiddling with the language. As yet, none of these have been published either, but I have high hopes for the last two. In both of those cases, I made dummy outlines so that I can see how the book lays out, and concentrate on the all-important page turn.
True to form, my new story (still untitled) has it’s own process. I’m outlining it on a long sheet of craft paper. I had specific plot points (hi/low points) that I wanted to hit, and I wrote chunks of notes to correspond to each one. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gone back in to doodle and add snippets of ideas. My daughter read the outline and gave me a drawing of the opening scene as my mother’s day gift. She also wrote me a note with an offer of help.
This time, I really feel I’m on to something. Not just because I love how the story is coming together, or that my 11 year old thinks it’s great, but because I’m a visual thinker, and I don’t know why I haven’t tried this before. So maybe this is my process. Of course if history is any indication, the next time it’ll be something else again.