With a sample size of only one and a half novels, I can’t confidently say how my writing process works. I know what I’ve done, but I haven’t tried enough variations to see if how I’m currently working is the most effective method for me. Maybe in ten years I’ll have a better idea.
In the meantime, if I had to put words to it, when writing my one finished work, I did research when necessary, wrote an outline when it came to me, and tried to let the characters’ voices speak to me without letting them take my plotline too far away from the themes I’d hoped to create. Nothing too novel there, really (put intended, of course).
In college, I had a chance to hear Edward P. Jones speak about his wildly different approach. The quotes in this post are from an interview in the Washington Post, but the same ideas were there when he came to Boston College.
“I started thinking about the novel [The Known World, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction] and I just sort of took my own time. I didn’t have any sort of deadline. And I didn’t have a problem with sustaining any inspiration. It was always there. I took ten years or so thinking it up, and I only had 12 pages of hard copy. So when I first sat down to write, the first draft took 2 1/2 months. That’s the physical part of writing, but the ten years thinking it through counts as writing as well.”
I’m not sure his process is something I can emulate—when there’s an idea rolling around in my head, I’m nervous until I get it on paper, and it always turns out to be much less substantial by the time it hits the page—but for once I find an author’s perspective on the “how” of writing fascinating.
Here’s more, on researching historical fact for his fiction:
“ . . . I started out thinking I would read a whole bunch of books about slavery. But I never got around to doing that. I kept putting it all off. I started thinking about reading the books in ’92, but while I was putting off the research, I was also crafting the novel in my head. So in 2001, after almost 10 years of thinking about the novel, I had about five weeks of vacation with the day job I had then, and I decided, I could either spend that vacation time and the next year or so reading all those books, and I decided not to do that. I decided just to go with the novel that was in my head. Everything was in my head except for about 12 pages.”
I don’t think I have even 12 pages in my head, but there is something I’m playing around with up there. I really just want to read, read, read, but my submission to my writers’ group is due this Sunday. Something’s got to find its way to paper soon. With Mr. Jones in the back of my mind, I’m trying to give myself room to just let it be what it is and leave it at that. Maybe I’ll surprise myself. And isn’t that half of the fun of writing anyway?
P.S. Here’s another great interview with Jones: http://therumpus.net/2011/05/it-gets-you-through-the-rumpus-interview-with-edward-p-jones/