Finding the story in the mess that is my head

Warning: This blog post contains rambling, navel gazing and mixed metaphors.
Like many writers, I enjoy pondering over my writing process. I find it endlessly fascinating. Since I started writing regularly/seriously/professionally, it’s been an enormous learning curve as I’ve discovered what works for me, and what doesn’t.
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The biggest surprise for me was to find that I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Winging it is how I roll, but I fought this really hard at first. Because in most areas of my life, I’m a planner. I live by lists. I don’t leave things to chance. I like to know exactly what’s happening and when it’s going to happen. I’m a control freak, damn it.
So when I started writing professionally I was all: I’m a serious writer now. I need to outline and plan and stuff.
I tried to outline. I outlined my arse off and it looked good. I started writing. But then the story veered off course. So, I changed the outline. Okay, I thought. I’ve got it now. This is how the story’s going to go.
But nope.
So I changed the outline again, then veered off the new outline. This happened a few times till I was about halfway through the book. Finally I gave up trying to plan and just wrote the damn story. I was a million miles outside my comfort zone, because OMG NO PLAN! But I finished the story, and I was pretty pleased with it.
However, because I was resistant to the idea of NOT having a plan, I went through a similar process with the next story, and the next… until eventually I came to reluctantly accept that outlining is never going to work for me. That’s not how my brain works, and that’s okay.
This is how I imagine my brain when I’m starting a new story:
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It’s bascially a clusterfuck of too many barely formed ideas. All the different threads are possible storylines/scenes but most of them will never make it into the actual story. Some of them will end up in future stories, and others will end up on the scrapheap.
My writing process goes something like this:
I sort out the setting and the characters. The only really detailed planning I do is for their backstories. Once I know the characters and where they’re coming from, I feel able to handle them in the current narrative.
I work out the ending. As a romance writer, that’s the easy part for me. Happy and together is the end point. I always trust that I’ll get there eventually.
I usually have the starting scene in my head, that’s often what triggers the idea for the whole book. Then I also have a few other scenes that I’m pretty sure will feature. I think of them as route markers, or checkpoints. I try and get to them if I can, but once I start writing, all bets are off.
I start writing and I trust the process.
At the start of the book, I feel like I’m lost. Stuck in the woods with no map and no compass, I just pick a path and hope. But gradually things start to make sense. Certain threads become clearer and others get dropped, the tangled mess of story begins to weave itself into something coherent. Every now and then I get a magical moment when I pick up a new thread and realise it fits perfectly with something that’s already in the mix. So I keep going. When I (inevitably) get stuck, I try not to freak out. I take a break and wait. My favourite fix for this stage is to go for a walk or a run. When my body is moving, my mind gets freed up and wanders too. That usually results in a eureka moment, and when I get home, I know how to fix whatever hole I’d written myself into.
Finally, miraculously, it comes together into something coherent and all is right in my world.
And then I have to start all over again with a new tangle and no knitting pattern….
 
 

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