How do I write a book? One word at a time. (Ha ha.)
Truly, though, I do tend to write a little at a time. It all adds up, and before I know it a few words have turned into a few thousand.
But, back to the HOW. One thing authors are often asked about is their writing process. Do they outline their stories in advance, or do they just start writing with no idea where their story will take them? In writerly circles, the latter method (I’ve learned) is called “pantsing.” As in, flying (or writing) by the seat of your pants.
Sounds kind of risky, doesn’t it? It is for me.
When I was a kid, I started stories I couldn’t finish. I would write exciting opening scenes, introduce some characters and a mystery. I’d throw in a conflict, maybe a little danger. And then I’d run out of steam. I didn’t know the answers to my own questions! So, my stories would just stop abruptly, partway through... much to the frustration of my little sister who later picked them up. (Sorry, Jill!)
So, I do like to have a vision for my projects before I plow ahead. I don't need to know all the details, but I do need to figure out "whodunit."
I should say, though, that there's no right answer to this question. There's no one, absolutely correct way to craft a story. As long as you end up with a product that has a beginning, middle, and end—along with plenty of conflict and enough spice (humor, romance, intrigue, etc.) to keep it interesting—it doesn’t matter so much how you got there. All authors have their own preferred methods. I suspect many do what I do, though, which is actually a combination of both approaches.
I outline some, and I free-write some. I might do some broad, rough outlining in the beginning to work out the who, what, where, when, why. And I do a form of outlining as I go, summarizing the scenes in each chapter, to keep things straight. I also keep a running timeline, so I know what day it is (in my characters' world) throughout the whole book.
But free-writing is also a big part of my process. By that, I mean that I just write the story as it happens in my imagination, making up the dialogue and descriptions as I go. I also like to scribble down notes and ideas in a notebook, as well as sloppy first drafts of scenes. (It's crucial to allow yourself to be sloppy at first. Otherwise, you may never write a word.) Then I take it to the computer later and start typing, cleaning up the writing and coming up with additional ideas as I type.
In fact, if you have an idea for a story and you don't know where to begin, a great technique is to just start writing ANYTHING. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you string words together on paper—the more you write, the more the ideas come to you. I'll do this at the beginning of a project, and also anytime in the middle if I'm stuck and not sure what to write next. I'll just start writing ABOUT my story. I'll journal about my ideas and plans and problems, just as if I were telling a friend.
Then, before long, I'll find that I'm eager to close the journal and hop over to my manuscript. Or I might even transition into the story right there in my notebook, jotting down a scene or trying out lines of dialogue.
So, that's my method: a mixed-up jumble of outlining, pantsing, and talking to my muse. :)
To the other writers out there: How do YOU work YOUR magic?
P.S. In reflecting on my writing method, I realized I've been heavily influenced by the fabulous Anne Lamott and her popular book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Here's a list of some of Lamott's writing tips, as summarized by Gretchen Rubin.
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.