The Penner's Process

So JK Rowling wrote a novel under a pseudonym! I'm going to wait a while before I read it, as I imagine it will be a fight to the death to get copies at this stage, but it just goes to show that we shouldn't be looking for a next JK Rowling. The queen's still going strong.

Fun fact: I originally wanted The Bone Season to be published under a pseudonym, as I thought readers might judge me on my age if it were published. In the end I was persuaded to publish under my birth name, as it would be difficult for me to engage with readers if I were to remain entirely anonymous. I'm glad I made that decision in the end.  

Before I start my post today, I apologise for being so lax on my blog over the past few weeks. Now we're only 30 days away from publication my schedule is suddenly packed. I'm also six chapters into the next book and I'm finally getting that irresistible urge to write again, which means I tend to lose focus on other tasks. I've decided to reduce my blogging time to once every two weeks, which means I'll have a bit more time to explore my topics and won't be rushing out half-baked posts. I just started a Tumblr, The Lens of the Dreamscape, where I'll be putting up quotes and soundbites more regularly – but I want to make sure I still have time to write up well-thought-out entries for this one. So look out for blogs every first and third Sunday of the month from here on out.   

Anyway, this week I'll be talking about the writing process.

Theory of the writing process

Before I talk about my own personal writing process, I want to think about what the term 'writing process' actually means. It's a term we use a lot, but did you know there are several theories on it? Research into the writing process began in the mid-1960s to early 1970s, when Donald M. Murray suggested in an essay that writing should be taught as a process, not a product. He encouraged teachers to work with students as they wrote, rather than once they had finished writing; to work with evolving language, 'language in action'. Teachers puzzled over how they should teach students to write.

Nowadays, the writing process in generally divided into five stages: prewriting, drafting, revising, proofreading and publishing. Here are some other theories.

: There are three loose stages to the writing process: prewriting (research, daydreaming, note-making and so on), writing (producing a first draft) and rewriting. He claims that prewriting should take up around 85% of the writer's time, rewriting should take 14%, and the actual act of writing – the fastest stage – should take only 1% of the time spent on a single project. Most writers go through these stages, even if they don't stick to them rigidly. The amount of time spent on each stage should vary between writers and depend on several factors: personality, maturity as a craftsman, the difficulty of what's being articulated, work habits

The Flower-Hayes Model (or Cognitive Process Theory of Writing): Flower and Hayes acknowledge the wide acceptance of prewriting-writing-rewriting, but argue that it may be too linear and that the stages are not clean-cut. Writers should always be prewriting and rewriting; it should happen while they're still composing. We should see writing as a cognitive process. It begins with the 'rhetorical problem' of what to write and for whom. The act of writing is 'solving' this problem. 

Expressivist Process Theory of Writing (or expressive view): Expressivist theory, according to Richard Fulkerson, focuses on the writer's 'authentic voice' as part of the writing process. Thinking is different from, and precedes writing. An expressivist theorist, Peter Elbow, said 'think of writing as an organic, developmental process in which you start at the very beginning – before you know your meaning at all – and encourage your words gradually to change and evolve. Only you know what you want to say or the words you want to say it with'.

Example processes

So there are some basic theories of the writing process, academic style. What they all fundamentally agree on is that 'There are no rules, no absolutes, just alternatives'. So let's look next at some writing processes of five writers. As you can see, there is no single right way to do it. It all depends on what works best for you.

Donald Murray: He got up every day at 5.30am to write. He used the Latin phrase nulla dies sine linea – 'never a day without a line' – to motivate himself. He called himself a 'promiscuous' writer, never able to stick to one thing. 'I take on too many projects and try to split my writing mornings into two or three tasks…It doesn't work'.

Maya Angelou: Angelou writes in the morning at a hotel room before going home at midday to shower. She writes about 10-12 pages per day but edits them down later in the evening.  

Kurt Vonnegut: Up at 5.30am, just like Murray. Maybe it's a magic time. He'd work until 8am before having breakfast. Then work until 10am. Then swim and do errands until 11.45am. Then have lunch and do schoolwork. Sleep at 10pm. 

Simone de Beauvoir: Worked from 10am-1pm, then 5pm-9pm. 

Toni Morrison: When she first started writing she liked to get up before dawn, and still thinks she has a clearer head in the mornings. 'I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down'. 

My process

I get up in the morning between 7am and 8am and make myself a big cup of coffee. I get a kind of brain fog in the mornings, not the kind of state that's conducive to writing, so I tend to do my Internet checks, blog and general domestic impedimenta until about noon, when I have lunch. Then, hopefully, I'll start writing. With The Bone Season I didn't really edit as I went along; I was just so excited by the idea and wanted to get it all down as fast as possible, so I barely paused for breath. With the sequel, however, I'm allowing myself to be a little more time to deliberate over my words, which will reduce the amount of time Alexa and I need to spend on editing. I tend to write slowly but solidly until quite late at night. I aim to sleep at around 11pm but often the writing urge will kick in when it turns dark, and I'll end up writing past 1am. In that case, the morning process will begin again at around 8.30am. 

In terms of planning, I work through what I call the flesh-and-bones structure. I know the bones of each story, but I let it flesh itself out as I go along. I see where the characters take me. Murray's theory definitely applies when it comes to my daydreaming; I spend tonnes of time doing it. I'll usually end up daydreaming something important and then scrambling for a notebook to write it down in. 

What's your writing process? Are you a night owl or an early bird?


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  3. Samantha, very interesting article. I always try and find the right balance to create for myself the most effective day possible. I, like you, find myself just wanting to keep on writing late into the night!

    My routine is such: Wake at 8am, go for walk and meditate and do some yoga. I always find this puts me in the perfect mind frame to start my day positive. When I get home at around 9:30am, I sit down with a big blend and go through my emails and social media. Responding and saying thanks to friends. I also try to write my daily poem here, which has often come to my on my walk. At about 10:30 I try to focus on one or two tasks, like writing up a proposal, writing an article or blog, or fulfilling the latest task on the list. After lunch I sit down and try and work on a bigger project, like a large edit, an article with research, or the like. This lasts until the late afternoon and dinner time. After dinner I allow myself back on social medias to socialize, and I try and make some new active content on some of the sites like FB or Tumblr as you just started. This can also be a personal blog post of some sort. At 9pm, I try to retire to my reading room where I read at my book for 2hrs before I go to sleep. I always find that turning away from electronics and low attention span devices (computer/tv) allow me to get a much better sleep!

  4. I wake up 6 mornings a week at 6.00am and write for 3 hours. This tends to be when I get all my personal writing done, and I aim for 1000 - 1200 words a day. At 10.00am I head into the magazine office and usually hang out there until 6.00pm, conducting interviews (when the damn phone works), writing copy and editing pieces for publication. Every spare moment of my day is spent daydreaming: when I'm walking to work, when I'm in the shower, when I'm cooking. Daydreaming is like architecture for writers. It's where all of my ideas are designed.

    After writing almost all day, my brain is completely fried by the time I get home. If I have a looming deadline, I'll check where I'm at with my copy and read over what I've already written for the week. If there is something good on TV (I'm particularly fond of Antiques Roadshow. Shut up.) I'll sit down for an hour or so and give my weary brain a rest. My mind and body tend to go into power saving mode as soon as the sun sets. Productivity drops to zero, hence the reason I have to write so early in the morning. Perhaps I run on solar power.

    Bedtime is 10.00pm, but I often retire to my bedroom at around 9.00pm to allow for an hour of reading. Rinse and repeat the next day.

    As far as my process is concerned, mine is very similar to yours. I'll know the bare bones of the story - maybe the beginning and the end - and two or three characters. Everything else I discover along the way. I've always thought of storytelling as adding life to the skeleton: the organs and the muscles and the skin. There is honestly no greater feeling than stumbling across a plot twist or a new character or a line of dialogue and just thinking, 'YES!' I write for those moments.

  5. First off, congratulations on the one-month mark.
    Anyway, so I have a question on inspirational music.
    Do you manually search for music that pertains to a particular topic you're interested in?
    Or do you just stumble across a track that happens to contain something inspiring?

    1. It's a combination. I'll often do a sort of 'YouTube trail', where I'll find, say, an epic music video and then follow the recommended links to find others.

  6. What an insightful post. I didn't know about those different kinds of 'writing theory'. Very interesting. My own writing process used to be similar to yours, Samantha. I could never have written a word in the morning and was a real night owl about it. It's funny how your habits change over time and I now write exclusively in the morning up till about lunch time, then maybe an hour or two in the evening so long as the children and day's events haven't exhausted me (which they usually do!).

    Do you aim for a word or page count when you write?

    Also, I've noticed from your twitter updates that you seem to be a really fast drafter. Is there a method at work there? Like, do you have a scene in your head and then describe it really quickly, or does the scene unfold itself as you are typing? Do you edit as you go, or just get it all down, warts and all?

    1. Oh, another early bird! I feel like the only night owl left. Maybe my habits will change, too.

      I don't aim for page or word counts, no. I'm sure it works for some writers, but I find it reductive – I think if you're forcing the writing out, it will show and just *feel* forced when you read it.

      For TBS I wrote pretty much the whole manuscript in draft form, very quickly, and then worked to develop and improve it with my editor. With the sequel I'm trying to be more careful and allow scenes to unpack themselves a little more. I learned a lot during the editing process and I'd like it to be much shorter this time.

  7. Title of "his" novel is alone making me impatient to grab my hands on it ASAP. However, there is a sad part of the story, as it seems like Miss Rowling is not happy at all for the leaked news and she wanted to keep the secret for a longer period.

    Lesson Learned: Trust only those people who you are 100% sure about that they will never ruin your trust for the sake of money or some quick fame.

    Coming to writing process, I write whenever I get time to write (usually blog posts)…

    And only 30 days left! Do you remember when there were over 400 days. Time is flying.

    1. No, I don't think she was happy at all, but at least she's been able to make a big donation to charity through the increased sales.

      And I do remember! Time has flown...

  8. I absolutely LOVE this post! As always, you've given me something to think about when it comes to writing. I've never personally had my own process, which is probably why I've never really finished anything in my life. Right now, I write when I feel like it (and that's not always a regular thing) and whenever I can. Starting August, however, I'm determined to stick to a 3-5 hour schedule every day just for writing.

    I liked hearing about your writing process! And yay for your release date being only 30 more days away :)

    1. Nothing wrong with writing when you can! But 3-5 hours sounds good. I find it helpful to get a 'flow' going.

  9. Because I have to (generally) juggle with school work, I am a night-owl when it comes to writing. I try to give myself about an hour and a half at a time (I have a short attention span at the moment), but I am also juggling that with the research as well. Altogether, I do about three hours. An hour of research, an hour and a half of writing and then the last 20-30 minutes re-reading and editing what I have just done.

    1. I think student writers have to be night owls! Sounds like a good process.

  10. Thank you for posting this. I have spent too much time trying to adopt the process, or habits of authors I admire. It's important to see that there is a wide array of times and methods within the groups of successful and productive authors. I don't know why it's taken me so long to see that embracing my own pace will be more productive in the long run than trying to adopt one of someone whose work I enjoy, but whose lifestyle I do not share.
    Thank you.


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