Episode 173: Stupid Shit Other People Pass Off as ‘How to Write’

On January 22, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on the process of writing as taught by the experts found via Google. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Writing Process

Agenda

  • Mechanics & Stages
  • Tools & Must-Haves
  • Some of the worst advice available
Photo by furkanfdemir on Pexels.com

Link to podcast

Segment 1

So last week we worked on what is your writing style – are you a planner? A pantser? Or a plantser? I think we agreed that plantser is the middle-of-the-spectrum norm for a lot of us working writers.

Professional writers who depend on volume for income (like those one-book-a-year professionals John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks) have the creative process down to a science. And all those teachers who teach “How to Write” have also disseminated their craft down to a process. We’re going to work on that today.

Since Rex teaches writing and I used to, many moons ago, we’re uniquely qualified to discuss what total horseshit some of this stuff is. We’ll break down the common elements of the process and some cool tips, tricks, and tools. Plus, we’ll debunk some stupid shit people say when they’re teaching you how to write and why you should ignore that garbage.

Ya’ll in? Let’s do this.

So Charlie’s gone back to school for nursing and he had to write his first paper this weekend and as he was talking about organizing his resources and writing his introduction, I got this weird deja vu from grad school when I had to be all intentional about writing. And then I thought about all the blogs (like this one!) that I write on the regular and whether I was following the tried-and-true or if I’d invented my own work habits around this thing I do for a living.

I consider myself a professional writer. Do you?

What delineates professional from novice? Or hobbyist?

What habits do we keep that support our distinction as “professional” writers?

The other thing that happened this week that made me think about this writing process concept is we hosted through SCWA a Writing Studio write-in on Thursday. The Columbia II chapter brought the prompts and we ran four 10-minute sprints with various prompts and some discussion afterwards.

Everyone thought it was very useful and productive. I used the prompts to think about the revisions I’m doing for the vampire novel. For two reasons: 1) I’m totally preoccupied with the vampire novel revisions right now and 2) I hate to waste my designated writing time on things that won’t move me forward. Meaning: I don’t want to doodle. I want to draw.

So some of the writing process steps include these forced-creativity activities that I can see having a place in a classroom but wonder if they have a place in the real world life of working writers. I wonder if Stephen King pulls out his trusty writing-prompt box of cards and decided to meander through some phrases like, “The thing you still need to know about me is…”

Do you “exercise” your writing? How? When? Where? What becomes of those exercises?

Segment 2/3

Okay, so the process, as it’s taught in elementary, middle and high school is this:

  1. Plan
  2. Research & Collect
  3. Structure
  4. Write
  5. Revise
  6. Edit
  7. Test
  8. Publish

We’ll take these on one-by-one and talk about some actions in each stage. How many of these steps are recursive – meaning you come back to them? I research off-and-on throughout. I revise multiple times. And the Test-Revise-Edit-Test loop can be never ending.

Plan: what are the requirements of the assignment? Length, topic, approach, ideas, etc. Some useful tools in planning include brainstorm exercises like:

  • Freewriting
  • Listing
  • Questions
  • Mindmapping

And then organizing those ideas with an outline or a timeline.

Research & Collect: so when you decided to use the Satanic Panic era, how many YouTube rabbit holes did you go down? This is initial research, right? I read a TON of stuff on Lord Byron and vampires. I’m pretty well versed in that connection. I’ve been known to build Pinterest boards of images that remind me of the book I’m working on. Locations that I’ve neve been to and lately, moon phases and other cosmic events.

Structure: I like to think of myself as a literary fiction writer – someone for whom the structure of the story really matters – but I know the commercial straight-forward it is what it is approach is probably easiest and more common. How much time do you spend thinking about the structure of the story or the book? How do you decide on one or the other approach? This is everything from POV to real-time vs. flashbacks. Will you have alternating narrators (romance genre convention) or stick with one character’s lens (Harry Potter).

Write: I can’t believe it takes this long to get to the creation step. In nonfiction, I can see this. But in fiction? Aren’t we more impulsive? Pants-er-ish? Maybe not. What works on the write step? Teachers used to say to just write and not worry about punctuation or grammar but let’s be real, software won’t let you do that, will it? What tools do you use for the writing? Pat Conroy handwrote all of his novels on legal pads. Our friend Mike Long hand writes his stuff, too. I’m a typer. I type everything. I’ve been using Scrivner for a while but then I move the work into Google Docs for the second round and into Word for the third round.

Okay, more on those other steps during the actual show.

Segment 4

I think the process in segments 2 and 3 will probably take the entirety of the show, but since we usually offer resources beyond just our own experience and expertise, here’s a few:

15 Tips to Improve your Writing:

  1. Write what inspires you.
  2. Establish a writing routine and stick to it.
  3. Become an avid reader.
  4. Start small.
  5. Write, write, write.
  6. See yourself as a writer.
  7. Become a ferocious self-editor.
  8. Join a writers critique group.
  9. Master the craft.
  10. Grab your reader from the get-go.
  11. Search and destroy passive voice.
  12. Use powerful verbs. Avoid adverbs.
  13. Always think reader-first.
  14. See Writer’s Block for the myth it is.
  15. Listen to the experts.

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