After much trial and error, I think I’ve finally found the writing method that works the best for me. At least, for short stories. It blends elements of both pantsing and plotting, providing structure and freedom at the same time. It’s not wholly original, but rather an amalgam of different advice I’ve been given over the years. I thought I’d share it with you in the hope that it may help you too.
My Writing Process
- Take an image, thought, character, etc. and write it down on the top of the page. Below that, write down every idea that pops into your head regarding it.
- Read over these notes and mark the ones that have potential. Organize these chronologically based on the story (as close as you can). Your final notes needn’t be more than half a page.
- Leave the ending out. Preferably, end the notes two-thirds of the way through the story.
- Write. Rather than beginning at the start of the chronological notes, start somewhere in the middle, as close to the climax as you can. (This doesn’t work for all stories.)
- See where your mind takes you. You don’t need to constantly check the notes. They are more of a jumping-off point. All you need is a gist and your subconscious to guide you.
- Feel free to read over past sections as you go. By jumping back and forth to fix contradictions, change details, etc, it will save you hours of editing, especially if you can catch these things early.
- If everything worked right, you should reach the climax knowing exactly where it’s heading. If not, try another brainstorming session. Your notes serve as a compass, but it’s up to you to find the destination.
- Set the story aside for a month to 6 weeks and then edit. Only then do you start worrying about theme.
That’s how I do it. I don’t know why I wrote it in second person.
Update: Stories From the Infinite City
I must admit that I came close to abandoning this project despite last month’s talk of “maintaining momentum.” I had spent 3 months planning it meticulously without much real progress. It was wearing me down. I even began brainstorming a new project instead.
As I was about to give up, I decided I just needed to write the stories and forget the planning. I sat down at my desk and wrote (using the above method). In 4 weeks, I penned 5 short stories. As I chugged along, I remembered how much I love this process. This past month has been invigorating and exhausting at the same time.
I have 5 more stories to write (including what may turn out to be a novella). At my rate, the rough draft should be ready to go by mid-January. If I’m efficient with my edits, I imagine the final draft will be ready in early March.
Arithmetic shows me that I’ll have more stories than I have room for in the collection. This isn’t too much work (I love extra credit), and the pleasure I get in writing them means the discarded stories are not a waste. The hard part will be deciding which ones to axe. Kill your darlings, they say.
As I mentioned earlier in the month, my story “The Installation” was accepted. The anthology will come out in July of 2023. The other story I submitted–“Slime is a Dish Best Served Cold”–was not accepted. This was partially due to the fact that it didn’t fit the theme of the anthology as well as it could have. My brief disappointment was replaced with excitement when I found a new magazine that would be perfect for it.
Next week, I’ll post my resolutions for next year as well as my top 10 books.