Note to Self: The Scenic Route is Slow

17 Sep

My daughter and I are on a road trip to the Oregon coast this week. I grew up in mountains and rivers, so I’m not one of those people who yearns for the coast. But I confess, it is a delightful escape from temperatures in the high 90s and fiery smoke-filled air in Boise.

We took a route getting to our favorite coastal spot that we haven’t taken before. So we had no idea what to expect. One road we took looked shorter on the map, but when we turned onto it, the sign indicated it was a “Scenic Byway.” Now, I’ve been around the bend enough times to know that translates as “Slow. Enter only if you time.” Fortunately, we did.

It occurred to me that this is a good metaphor for the way I write. Mostly slowly. Taking lots of time. Enjoying the view. I know others who proceed in a very methodical, planned way, but I tend to turn onto a road and see what it’s like.

My writing process usually looks something like this:

First, the idea hits. I avoid the urge (mostly out of the wisdom of having spent years jumping on each new idea only to have it go nowhere) to start writing. If an idea sticks with me for several months, I know it’s a keeper. I let the idea percolate in my mind, letting details and characters develop, almost as if in utero. Slowly.

Once I am ready to write, I don’t create and outline or a plan. That’s not my style. I often have an idea of the overall arc of the story I’m looking at, which is one reason I let it go through the percolating process. I jump in and start my first draft, following my main character wherever he/she leads me. Sometimes we take detours that don’t really add to the plot, but that I maybe needed to write in order to know something I need to know. I write the first draft all the way through without revising. I know people who revise as they go, but I like to keep my momentum going forward.

Once I have a first draft, I begin showing the manuscript to other readers, such as my trusted and fantastic critique group. (Note: all authors should have a critique group, or at least a few trusted readers who will give you a thorough critique.) I make notes as they critique and they usually write comments on the manuscript. Plus, I generally have a lot of my own changes I want to make. It might take me up to a year to go through a revision. Slowly. I let the story live in my head again, pondering moments that don’t seem to work until a solution comes to me. I write a lot of new scenes, expand scenes that I rushed through in the first draft, and delete a LOT of scenes, or even entire chapters. Sometimes entire characters. To me, one of the most important revision tools is the willingness to cut stuff out. Or “kill your darllings,” as we often hear at writing workshops.

I am not a fast writer. Which isn’t a problem for me. I’m not in a hurry to get to a final destination. I have that luxury at the moment. Several of my published friends live by deadlines and frequently feel pressured to the point of ineptitude. I don’t mind writing to deadlines for short pieces, but I think (ask me later if I still feel this way) the blessing of being “pre-published” in the book industry is that I can take all the time I need. I have several manuscripts that I have done this way, and I’ve noticed the process gets more efficient all the time. What used to take years I can now do in months. I can see more readily what needs to be changed.

This didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t learn it all at one weekend workshop. I have learned my style and my craft through long, slow years of trying, failing, trying again. Learning each step of the way. There is always something around the next bend, but you have to drive slowly enough to see it.


Posted by on September 17, 2013 in readers, Revising, writing, writing craft, writing slow


6 responses to “Note to Self: The Scenic Route is Slow

  1. marsharwest

    September 17, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    Interesting analogy, Neysa. I think you’ve hit on something. Your comment about your pubbed friends being under a different kind of pressure is right on. I was so surprised when one of the first people (non writer friends) said how much they liked my first book and then quickly went on to ask when is the next one coming out. At that point, all I could say was I’ve sent the next one to my publisher, now we wait and see. Tickled now to tell them next spring when TRUTH BE TOLD should be released.
    So it’s not just the pressure of deadlines on edits, but even more is your fan base pushing you to produce the next work. I gotta say, it’s a nice problem to have, but definitely different. I’m rather a slow writer myself–partly because I take so long with the editing process, but I sure feel the pressure to crank it up a notch.
    One of the advantages of not selling my first book (VERMONT ESCAPE is my 4th) is that I’ve got two after it and possibly one before that will help get me some more time. Later this fall, I’ll begin to write number 7. First time I’ve begun a new book in a year and a half or more. Talk about scary. For sure.
    Thanks for encouraging us to remember to smell the flowers along this journey. That will certainly add to the quality of what we write.
    Hang in there, Neysa. You’ll get to the land of pubbed authors.

  2. Janis McCurry

    September 17, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    I believe I am a slow writer. I also don’t immediately write down what pops into my head. I do a lot of “head work” before I put words on a page. As long as a writer figures out the process that works for him/her, it is progress.

  3. Judith Keim

    September 17, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Neysa, I loved your blog! I tend to write fast but during that time I’m living, breathing and sleeping the characters and the story. And then I eagerly await critiques from others and take to heart what they have to say. I’m not a real plotter. Sometimes I think it would be much easier to be one, rather than going on trips with my characters only to see the “errors of their ways”. LOL The process of writing novels is difficult, no getting around it. Why do I do it? Because it fills a need deep inside me to share a story. Even weird ones!

  4. Peggy Staggs

    September 17, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I’m a muller. I don’t outline either, but I toss it around in my brain for a while before I put key stroke to screen. So when I write I go in spurts of speed and periods of crawling. Since I don’t outline I have extensive tracking systems. Something I’ve learned over years trial and error.

  5. Stephanie Berget

    September 18, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    What a great analogy. Taking the scenic route is the way I write, too.

  6. maryvine

    September 19, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    “Turn on a road and see what it’s like”. That’s what I’m doing right now in my wip.


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