The only constant truth about the way I write is that it is going to change with every project. This is equal parts frustrating and exciting. It's frustrating because I feel like if I had one tried and true method, the whole process would go a lot faster. It's exciting because I discover something new every time.
This is how my writing process has gone for the books I've written/worked on so far.
With I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I wrote it in pieces, out of order, completely non-linear until about 2/3rds of the way through when I realized I needed an outline and a sense of direction to finish the first draft. I was in grad school at the time. I wrote what took my attention whenever I was in workshop. I spent a semester honing 2 or 3 chapters. It took three years to write the full first draft. Then there were several revisions that probably add up to a year.
With Ballads of Suburbia, I wrote a crappy first draft in a summer. In less than a summer actually. I wrote linearly. It turned out to be thinly veiled autobiography and after some half-assed revising I knew it was not the book I wanted to write. It had some of the themes and some of the characters, but it was not right. So began four years of pondering. Putting it in the back of my head and letting ideas for it come out in fits and spurts. I wrote the epilogue (which is the first chapter of the book) in my last class of grad school. Conveniently this chapter gave me both the beginning and the end. I knew what I was striving for. There were fictional bits in my crappy earlier version I could pull. It allowed me to write linearly. I didn't make an outline, but I had notes upon notes and knew what was happening. I took my time with the first half of the book. Then after 10 months of dilly-dallying, I took a writing retreat and wrote the second half in a few days. Then I did another draft because it wasn't quite right. I sent it to my agent though things were still bugging me about it. Even though she didn't have a ton of notes, I would still do a major revision again before I let her send to my editor and honestly I still wasn't happy then. There were things about the flow of the plot in that book that honestly bugged me up until a few days before I handed in the revisions to my editor two years after finishing the version I came up with at that writing retreat.
With my Zoe book, it's an idea I've been mulling since 2007 when I had a tiny window of time in between handing in Ballads to my agent and getting IWBYJR revisions from my editor. I've been toying with three different ideas since that time period. This one came together first and it came together during workshop sessions with my writing group from grad school. But unlike while I was in grad school, I wrote those scenes at least kind of linearly in that they all take place in the first fifty pages or so of the book. I got attached to an initial idea about the book that just wasn't working. It took a lot of back and forth with my agent about that and a lot of attempts at outlining to straighten that out.
The one thing these three projects have had in common is I wrote quite a bit before I mapped out any sort of outline. I certainly had a roadmap in my head, but I just plunged in. And with all the books, I ended up stuck at one point or another.
This current project, I've decided to take a different approach. Well, sort of. It is loosely based on something I submitted 50 pages of to my agent back in February, so I have written a bit about the characters. But my agent felt there was an element missing. I agreed, but I wasn't ready to go there yet. Things needed to stew more. So I worked on Zoe. Zoe was a comfort zone, realistic YA fiction. The element that my agent and I agreed was missing for this other project was a fantastical one. I needed to build a world. I have no fucking idea how to approach this.
So for the past couple weeks, I've been thinking instead of writing, plotting instead of plunging and it feels weird as hell. For most of last week was it satisfying. I figured out my world, my myth, my rules. Awesome, surely this meant I was almost there! But then I realized plot, I need to figure out plot. As usual I know the beginning and the end (actually, that was the anomaly with the Zoe book, I still don't have a solid sense of the end), I have some ideas for plot points, but I can't really figure it out. I want to see the big picture and string things together. I have this really cool worksheet that a fellow author gave me for outlining and plotting and world building, which has been super helpful, but... still stuck on outlining that middle. Oh and I have a few different structure and POV ideas and am not sure which to settle on. I'm honestly beginning to think that the only way to figure things out is go back to the faithful plunging. We'll see I have a lot of time to brainstorm while my hair is being done, but tonight I have writer's group so I'm sure I'll end up writing something. Hopefully it will trigger some direction, but if not there is a phone call with the agent tomorrow to try talking it through.
It'll come together eventually, I'm sure of it. I'm incredibly excited about this idea, possibly more excited than I have been about any idea I've had, so I think I'm just in a rush to figure the whole thing out.
So writer friends, are you plotters, plungers, or a mixture of both? Any particular advice for being stuck mid-outline in the plotting phase? Teach me, I'm still learning!