09 July, 2014

Guest Post - "Writing Process" by Betsy Dornbusch

I’m asked about process a lot on panels. I get it. People want to know what works, how writers get words on the page. What’s the password to the club? What’s the secret handshake? Is there an elixir? I heard there’s an elixir!!

We’re all granted the same hours in a day but some writers just seem to get more stuff done in less time. I tend to be a slower writer but I generally get more done per pass than others. The idea of doing seventeen passes on a book... ugh. Never. Again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The longer I write, the more I plot. Tagline, flap copy, and synopsis—yeah, just like the market wants. It’s how I toss ideas into the lake to see if they float or swim. I do take them public sometimes, or ask friends. It’s worth it to test salability of ideas, and I’m not precious about them. If there’s an easy part of the process, it’s ideas.

My taglines are usually simple for personal use while it’s a WIP. When it was Exile, it was “Falsely accused for murdering his wife, a middle-aged soldier is exiled to an enemy country.” Last year, when I was working on the sequel, Emissary, I said, because lots of people know what Exile is about,“Draken has to go back to his original country to face a death sentence and a religious revolution.” And now, when I’m working on Enemy, I tell myself, “After a divisive coup Draken has to cobble his country back together to defeat foreign invaders.”

The next thing I write is basic marketing copy. Nothing too fancy, a basic paragraph. A few tent pole scenes, and the climactic cliffhanger with a little internal conflict/motivation thrown in. I’m pretty dependent on this paragraph. I don’t start writing a word until I’ve got at least that much because if it doesn’t read well that means the idea sucks.

I used to totally pantz it. Writing wasn’t FUN unless I didn’t know what was going to happen next. But you know what’s not fun? Rewriting a pantzing disaster. After a couple of these, I decided to remake myself into a plotter. I trained myself to brainstorm with friends and synopsis. At first it’s something like a couple of pages. A list of tent pole scenes, again, but more embellished, and I work harder at motivation. Why does this matter? Why doesn’t s/he just walk away? Why is my character re/acting the way s/he is? What’s the starting point, how does that inform the action, and what’s driving my character to point Z? What’s the worst thing that can happen? I include some internal conflict and drum up as many obstacles as I can. This is an anything-goes time, but I’m trying to work myself to an ending so I know where I’m headed. I’m also drafting during this time because I have no self-control. Also I do rolling revisions while I draft, going back and fixing things.

For my next book, Enemy, which completes the Seven Eyes Books, I’m working on my most detailed synopsis yet. It’s nearly chapter by chapter, though I haven’t designated any in my synopsis. It currently sits at five thousand words and I fully expect to add another thousand as I revise it. There’s a subplot to weave in and a twist to the ending I’m thinking over.

Not all publishers want this. Some want a treatment—a one pager, basically. Some do it on a verbal conversation. But I know to write the book in a timely fashion, I need this level of detail to keep me going from day to day.

And yeah, day to day. Hmm. The process there sometimes falls apart. I have kids in school, a dog, a husband, and a house to keep. I’m still working on my daily process and I think I’m realizing every day is different. I used to write to a scene, but now I tend to write word counts. I’m not sure which works better, though I feel like word counts make me more accountable (literally—haha). As I said before, I’m a pokey drafter, turning out pages as clean as I can make them.

Right now I’d call Facebook my biggest disruption, mostly because it’s the new email. Most of my writer friends contact me via PM. It’s how we organize conventions, appearances, everything. I’m in a few private groups of writers, some public interest groups, and there are always other friends to keep up with. Honestly, I’d dump Facebook if it wasn’t so integral to communicating with fellow writers. Twitter I spend less time on because every time I click it, I start chasing links and getting into conversations. I find it to be more of a timesuck than Facebook, which simply doesn’t move as fast. Twitter is probably one of those things I should be doing more, promotions-wise, but I try to put the majority of my work-time into writing.

I think the biggest part of the professional writing life is that there’s always more to do. It’s overwhelming, which is why I think some writers (coughmeahem) fall down on the day-to-day end of things. If we start thinking macro instead of micro, novel instead of chapter, or even scene, the job quickly overwhelms us.

Then we start to procrastinate. This

Source: http://myjetpack.tumblr.com/image/80457780970
cartoon from Tom Gauld pretty much describes my efforts therein. I’ve never actually been blocked but I have been too twitchy to write. That’s when I know it’s time to get up and do something else. Usually cleaning toilets or pushing the vacuum gets me back to telling stories quick enough. And that, Charlie Brown, is what writing is all about.


Betsy Dornbusch is the author of a dozen short stories, three novellas, and two novels. She also is an editor with the speculative fiction magazine Electric Spec and the longtime proprietress of Sex Scenes at Starbucks (www.betsydornbusch.com).


Check out Exile, published by Night Shade Books, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.