The Art of Mirriam Neal

Do you need a writing ‘process’?

Occasionally I get asked things like, “What’s your writing process?” or, “How do you plan a novel?” I assume ‘plan’ is different than ‘plot’ because I could talk about how bad I am at plotting all day long. My writing process – in which a novel comes together and I decide to write it – is, on the list of processes I would have chosen for myself, about seventy-eight options down.

Why? Because it’s tremendously awkward and manages to get the better of me every time. How? I’ll tell you.

Step One: I realize I’m in a writing slump and haven’t written anything for several months. My soul needs to be writing, but my heart hasn’t attached itself to a project.

Step Two: The Head comes in and suggests I think up an entirely new novel to write, even if I don’t finish it. After all, writing something is better than doing nothing, right?

Step Three: I create a new novel, fully aware it probably won’t work. Why? Because it isn’t my usual process – which is take three different novel ideas from the past two years and combine them all into a working novel. This time, I think, I’ll circumvent that. How hard can it be to get excited for a brand-new novel?

Step Four: Pretty hard, apparently. I work to psych myself up for the idea. I cast everyone, I make a playlist, I watch movies and read books in the genre I want to write (or as close as I can find, since usually my novels tend to fall outside the realms of a typical genre). Pretty soon, I’m excited! I can do this.

Step Five: I start to write the new book. I have faint flickers of enjoyment between longer stretches of, if I just keep pushing, I’ll break through to the place where I love this book. My writing muscles are out of shape; I just need to work them back up again.

Step Six: I admit to myself that, while I love all these ideas, I’m not enjoying writing the book. I proceed to have a literary crisis for up to a week.

Step Seven: Out of the blue, I’m struck with the culmination of three past novel ideas and how beautifully they might all work as the same book if I just added a few more things. Suddenly I’m incredibly inspired for the first time in months – and incredibly guilty to the novel I began, got people excited for, and am now tossing aside

Step Eight: I place previous book in the pile of books To Be Assimilated With Their Brethren Into a New Book someday. I write the new book with gusto, from beginning to end, enjoying (almost) every minute.

Step Nine: I don’t write for a few months, and it begins all over again.

This probably sounds horribly disorganized and possibly painful – and it is. It sounds flimsy and ridiculous (especially to me) but it’s been this way for years. And you know what? It works. It’s not easy and it’s not smooth, but for now, it’s what I have. You don’t need to feel pressured to have a perfect writing process. Your process is unique to you. Maybe you do gobs of research and have Dictionary-sized stacks of notes before you begin a novel; maybe you just sit down one day and write a first chapter. Whatever it is, a process is something to be honed over time – I’ve been writing books for a decade, and my process is far from perfect.

And it’s okay to answer the question, “What’s your writing process?” with, “You don’t want to know.”

In the end, it’s really about whether or not you sit down and write the book.

P.S. I’m back.

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