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?