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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Advantages to Patterns

While I’m in edits on two separate projects, I’ve also begun working on a third book, the sequel to Red in the Wolf, coming April 2013. The other day, I expressed my fears to my husband that it wasn’t any good and that I wasn’t good enough to write it. He just smiled and said, “That’s step three of your usual pattern.”

Yes, I have patterns when I write. The main one goes something like this:

1. I struggle to find a concept solid enough to build a story on and wrestle with frustration.

2. Out of the blue, something finally clicks and I write between 5,000-10,000 words before momentum dies and I falter.

3. My confidence plummets, and all my usual doubts emerge. Left with no other alternatives, I return to digging into character psyches and building plot. This is where I utilize a lot of my writing worksheets and books. Something in this process, or some things, start to click.

4. More ploddingly and purposefully, I write again.

5. At about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the story, about the first major turning point, I wonder if I’m going in the right direction and struggle with pieces not falling into place as smoothly as I first imagined. Usually at this point, if there’s something fundamentally off about the story, I can feel it, and it irritates until I figure it out.

6. I go back and fiddle with the first few chapters, often rewriting until they flow more like how I imagined. I analyze, pour through notes, and fantasize. At some point, either through revelation or my husband pointing it out to me, I uncover something deep and compelling about one or more of the characters.

7. I rush ahead, emboldened by this new stream of ideas, which carries me to about the midpoint of the book.

8. I stop, struggle with the story, review, ponder, fiddle, doubt. Often a vision of a key element of the ending or a major character arc becomes clear, and I rush ahead.

9. By this point, usually, I write very quickly. All the pieces of the story start falling into place. I slow a bit at the 3/4 mark, but push through.

10. The climax comes quickly, and I usually figure out half of it as I write at a feverish pace.

11. Suddenly, the story is over. I’m filled with relief and exhilaration. Another book is done!

12. Usually within hours, doubt settles back in. I have to edit the story now, but I have to give myself distance so that I can be objective. I don’t want to, though. I want to rush through the edits, get them done, be satisfied with a final product. But I make myself wait.

13. I set the story aside for at least two weeks, often a month. Part of my mind gets very anxious about it, but I delve into another project, often struggling because only half my focus is on it.

14. At last, I unearth the story and begin edits, systematically. Sometimes, I grin at my own cleverness. Many more times, I groan at the sheer absurdity of what I put on the page.

15. I begin allowing others to look at the work and turn my stomach in knots with worry over what they’ll think. One of two things happens then. They love it, and I’m hit with such utter relief that the next few days of editing goes by easier. Or they like parts but have big issues with others. I groan, doubt, break my rules on my number of caffeinated beverages and chocolates, and dive back in, determined to fix the story, determined to make it the best I can no matter how much effort it takes because being an author is in my blood and bones.

As a writer, in knowing I go through some version of this process every time I write a book, I can predict what’s going to happen. I can say, “Oh, well I’m at about the 1/4 point, but since this is where I usually doubt myself and the story, I know, if I just push through, I’ll be fine.” Knowing my process is comforting and it allows me to work with it rather than be subject to it. Also, it allows me opportunity to prepare for common glitches that I might lessen or, perhaps, completely eliminate.

This isn’t just true with writing. The concept of knowing how we work and understanding our patterns is useful in any aspect of life. Self-awareness is a huge part of self-control and confidence.


  1. So right there with you, girl.

  2. I think we all go through, at the very minimum, a story infatuation phase and a story disillusionment phase.