Apologies everyone – I know this was supposed to be posted yesterday, but with job interviews, work hours and a headache, it just didn’t happen. But here is the moment you’ve been waiting for – Deborah Biancotti’s thoughts on her writing processes, follow Monday’s great post on her writing habits.
1) Do you have a different process for writing short stories versus
Definitely, though I notice my novel-writing process is informing my short story-writing process more and more. The most obvious change: I now always, always draft from beginning to end, on everything.
Short stories are much more ‘inspiration based’. I write them when the idea occurs to me, I write until I’ve figured out an ending, then I let them sit in the subconsciousness. Sometimes for years. Because I’m so invested in the styles of my short stories, I find it works better to let them ‘grow’ organically (assuming there’s no deadline, of course). Then I edit-sit-repeat until I figure I have something worth sending into the world. It’s similar for the novellas I’m working on.
For novels, I write to the end, I stick to one project, I research BETWEEN drafts, not during – if I can. Then I start again, edit from top to tail. Once I’ve edited as much as I can on-screen, I print out the manuscript & do what Holly Lisle calls a ‘write in’: a long-hand edit of the printed novel (with pen, scissors and tape, if necessary). Once that edit’s complete, I do the ‘type in’, where I type the edited manuscript back into a Scrivener file. This suits me, I’d guess, largely because I’m attempting a thriller-style structure, where the order of the events matters to the resolution of the puzzle. Trying to write out of order means I forget which clue is revealed when.
2) Do you plan out your stories, or do you write organically?
For short stories, I plan on the fly. As a question, scene or idea occurs to me, I note it at the bottom of the page & then write towards it.
For novels, I start by writing a few initial scenes and then spend a day purely in outlining/planning. This is my ‘tentative plan’. I always have an idea of where I think a story’s going nowdays, but I’m also always willing to let it go someplace else.
For a recent story, I accidentally killed a character & then liked the result so much (other characters FREAKED OUT!), I had to spend another day in planning in order to write her entirely out of all the plans I had for her during the second half.
I find the planning process reassuring, because it at least lets me know I have *somewhere* I can go with this thing. There’s nothing more frightening to me now then being stranded halfway with a story, with no idea how to get ‘home’.
3) Do you wait to finish the draft before revising, or do you revise
as you go? If when you finish – how do you approach it? If as you go – how do you approach that?
I now write from start to finish & revise start to finish. It lets me get closer to the actual reader’s experience, since they’ll largely be reading in order. In between drafts I give myself licence to write paragraphs, ideas, moments & add those in sub-files to the appropriate scene, for collation in the next round of revision. There are exceptions to this, of course (in my current draft there is one scene – so far – that is nagging at me. I find myself returning to it again & again, trying to tease out what the problem is). But usually anything that occurs to me that relates to a scene I’m *not* currently working on simply becomes a note attached to that other scene, ready to be addressed in the next draft.
4) How many times do you revise before you submit?
Gah, who knows? To be determined.
5) How has your process changed over the course of your career?
It’s changed with the different needs, the different projects. It’s emerged as it’s had to. Sometimes after it should, admittedly, as I’ve learned new ways to do things that have given me better outcomes.
I’ve found, for example, that I enjoy what I’m doing more if I can make it more physical and more visual. I use index cards, I use print-outs, I use colour-coding – and I use Scrivener so I can switch between macro- and micro-level work. All these things help me to imagine my story as real and beautiful. And I’m much happier now that I can be so hands-on. Short stories, which don’t usually warrant that level of hands-on work, have become less satisfying to me as a result. Novellas are beginning to fill the need that short stories once fulfilled for me – but I say that as someone who has a lot of writing time just now. In a year it could be different again.
The index cards I make for my scenes are a personal delight of mine. They list out every meta-textual detail of the scene I can think of, that I feel I need in order to make the scene successful: who’s in it, where it is, what the dramatic point of that scene is – whether to advance the plot or reveal character (or both) – what the protagonist is feeling & thinking & wanting, what her objective, obstacles & outcomes are, what the tone of the scene needs to be. Those cards are packed with information (I get the BIG index cards). Once I have those in hand, I feel like I have a real book with a shape and a purpose.
6) If you’ve mentioned previously (or haven’t but think it’s true)
that the process is different for each book, can you give some more details on how this is the case?
I’m sure that’s true for different kinds of books. BAD POWER I wrote as a set of short stories, so I wrote that book quite differently from this Big Project, say, which is a thriller-style SF novel.
But I think most importantly that there are techniques that I’ve used for both despite their differences: the Pomodoro Technique, the printing & colouring, the use of Scrivener for structuring so as to get that macro-level view, the logging of words/hours/effort. I now know I have the skills to tackle almost any kind of book that interests me – to varying degrees.
7) What’s the most difficult part of the book for you? Why do you
Oh, I should think all of it. But one thing I’ve learned is the value of setting boundaries & treating the writing as a negotiation between you & your story. The story will want to be one thing (I never really wanted to write an SF novel, for example) & you may wish it were something else entirely. But there’s no point trying to dominate it, trying to force it to be a quirky fairy tale if what it’s really demanding to be is a noir-ish thriller. But if you negotiate just right, if you work within its constraints rather than against them, you might be able to make it a noir-ish fairy tale or a quirky thriller. Just don’t try to make it all those things all at once, not unless you’re an awesome storyteller with a huge experience in your craft. You will do yourself some damage.
Deborah Biancotti writes in & around Sydney. Her first story won an Aurealis Award, her first collection was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award (Best First Fantasy Book) and her first novella has been recently nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her newest collection, BAD POWER, is available from Twelfth Planet Press. Deborah is currently working on her first novel series.
You can read more habits and processes here: http://nicolermurphy.com/writers-habits-and-processes/