Sunday, March 13, 2011

Things I Know About My Writing Process by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2010.  Her next release is in June--Finger Lickin' Dead, part of the Memphis BBQ series.

 As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as Girl Scout leader, referees play dates, drives carpools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.
Elizabeth Spann Craig (Riley Adams)
Twitter: @elizabethscraig


Things I Know About My Writing Process
by  Elizabeth Spann Craig

As hard as it is for me to believe, I’m about to start working on my eighth manuscript.  I used to be a lot shakier when I started out on a project—it was almost like I was trying to remember how to do it all again.

I guess writing is one of those things that gets easier as you go. Well….no, I’ll take that back. But I do think the writing process is something that gets easier, simply because you have a better understanding of what will happen as you write.  The process is completely individual to each writer, of course.  This is what I know about mine:

Before I start, I’ll make a Word folder labeled with the working title of the WIP.  I’ll also go ahead and make several files to go in that main folder:  one will be “characters,” one will be “random ideas,” one will be “brainstorming,” and one will be the actual first draft.

I’ll start out with my characters.  Actually, I’ll start out with my victim, to be exact.  This victim will be an amalgam of various unpleasant types that I’ve had personal contact with or seen on the television news shows. J

I’ll think of all the possible reasons why someone would want to kill someone like my victim.  This gets me started with my suspects.

I’ll come up with a list of traits for my protagonist.  I’ll also come up with ways I want the character to grow.

I’ll start writing and will write half a chapter a day, if possible, and I’ll work straight through the manuscript (leaving out descriptions, settings, and subplots)…unless I get stuck.

If I do get stuck or don’t feel like writing a particular scene, I’ll skip ahead to a different part of the book and write it, instead.

I’ll add the character descriptions, setting details, and subplots after the first draft is finished.  

I’ll frequently talk to myself as I write.  If I’m in public at the time, people will stare. J  If I’m at home, my corgi, Chloe, will look concerned. 

I’ll reach a point in my first draft where I feel absolutely ecstatic about my story, characters, and subplots.

I’ll reach a point in my first draft where I consider starting over with a different idea. 

At some point in my first draft, I’ll be surprised by where I am in the story—either that I have fewer words or more.

I’ll read a book while I’m writing my book and wistfully think that I’ll never write that well.

I’ll choose a different book to read while writing my book and feel confident that I could have written it better.

When I get really into the writing groove, one of my cats (Mr. Smoke by name), will inexplicably choose to walk over my laptop keyboard.  He will only do this when he observes me in the writing zone.

I won’t want to stop messing with my manuscript and will continue tweaking it right up to deadline.  My misguided sense of perfectionism will put me on top of a deadline every time.

I’ll feel an intense feeling of satisfaction and joy in both the writing process and then in seeing the finished product. 

How about you?  What have you learned about yourself and your writing process?


Mason Canyon said...

I love the fact that it sounds like you have about 15 or 20 different balls juggling at all times and then at the end they all come together to create a beautifully written novel. Wishing you much success on your eighth run.

Kaye, another wonderful interview.

Thoughts in Progress

zz said...

Thanks for sharing this! It's always encouraging to see that even established authors have their highs and lows during the writing process.

I'm an amateur novelist, on my second draft of my first novel, so I don't have a hard and fast process. But based on my what do with my short stories, I think I like to write wild (terrible) rough drafts that I don't feel too attached to and then rewrite them until it looks like something I could be proud of :)

Mallory Snow said...

Chloe actually does look concerned in that picture. Hilarious!

It's reassuring to know that even though you have done this so many times, you still have doubts about your writing sometimes. It makes me feel better about my own!

Thanks for sharing your process with us!

Megan M. said...

You just made me feel so much better about what I used to think of as my "haphazard" writing process. Now I know it's actually professional. ;) And I love Mystery Writing is Murder!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to read your process! I am so relieved to hear that you leave descriptions and settings out the first time, as I tend to do that too. But don’t you think this results in a fairly low word count after the first draft?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Mason--Thanks so much! It's a lot like juggling, actually, good point! :)

zz --I would never show anyone my first drafts! My beta readers (well, that's really just my mom and my agent) don't get the manuscript until it's almost ready to turn in. The first draft, honestly, doesn't even really make SENSE to anyone but me. I don't even put in chapter breaks until several drafts in.

Mallory--Chloe was wondering why I had that thing (camera) on my face. :) Oh, I doubt myself every single day. And when I hear about someone else's writing process, I'll doubt my own again! But ultimately, I stick with what works for me.

Megan--Thanks! :) To me, writing in layers makes the process both less intimidating and more enjoyable. It's just something I can wrap my head around better.

gargimehra--My first draft needs an additional 25-30% more text, almost every time. I've got one of those now! When I add the subplots, it somehow always puts me at 100%--I think that's because I get additional ideas and character quirks as I write subplots. I write really sparsely for my 1st drafts. :)

Diane said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. It's so reassuring when someone of your experience still goes through all those ups and downs. I have started a new manuscript and had to leave it while I went back to work and now inexplicably, I'm too afraid to open it and start writing again. Hopefully this too will pass.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A lot of good tips there, Elizabeth. And now I know who owns the beautiful Corgi!

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - Thanks for sharing the way you go about the writing process. What you and I have in common is that we start with the victim. That's the focus of a good mystery story and often something about the victim is the reason she or he gets killed.

...and I'm always tweaking my manuscript, too! I'm a perfectionist, I guess...

The Old Silly said...

It's always interesting to read about another writer's process. Being semi-retired and an "empty nester" without the parenting melee to deal with my regimen has a few less distractions to deal with, lol, but a lot of what you do, I do as well. The Word Folder, with several files in it, for instance. I have the ms itself, an outline (that I refuse to be bound by as I write, but it gives me a framework to get started with), a character journal, a "possible ending scenes" file, like you I have a "bright ideas" file, and depending on the story I might even have a folder within the main folder titled "research" - where I put files on details and data on places, dialects, anything unique to the story that I have to go online and bone up on to add realism to the story.

Marvin D Wilson

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've learned that I have to have an outline before I begin, or I get lost.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Diane--It can be intimidating to open up an old project. I've had to do it once, and it ended up being a book that I really struggled with. My only advice along those lines is to consider opening up a completely new Word document, calling it "WIP, Part II," and just picking up with where the story left off. You can always connect the documents later with transitions. This made it almost a new project in my head (I can trick's very sad, really, how *easily* I can trick my own brain.) Also, I always tell myself that I start every day fresh--I'm *never* trying to play catch-up. If I think that I'm trying to catch up with where I should be, I'm going to be too intimidated by the amount I have to write. So I just pick up with my regular, daily goal and won't go above that.

Diane--The funny thing is that Kaye has a corgi, too! Chloe and Harley need to play together sometime. :) We're both North Carolinian, too. And so are you!

Margot--I think the victim is really *almost* the most important person in the story. Which is a funny thing, because most of the story, they're dead. :)

Oh, perfectionism. It's annoying. And futile, since I can never attain perfection!

The Old Silly--I'm like you with that, too--I like having a planned 'roadmap' for the story (in the most general sense), but give myself complete permission to disregard it at any time. Right now I'm working with an editor who requests outlines in advance, so I'm having to try a bit of a different process--but still, the outline isn't written in stone, even for the editor. A file titled 'research' in my Word folder would be a good one to have, I think. Right now, I just mark the part of my manuscript that I need to research by opening a comment in the margins with Track Changes. A file might be nice.

Alex--And getting lost isn't a fun feeling!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Wow - you guys got started early!!

Welcome everyone, and thank you, Elizabeth, for being here. Harley sends Chloe a smooch. They look so much alike they could be brother and sister, but Harley insists that's not so.

I'm enjoying everyone's comments on their writing process very much.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I always love your advice and perspective, Elizabeth, and, of course,your books. I am a major Corgi fan - hello to Cloe! And Harley too, Kaye! I know he hangs out here.

Carol Kilgore said...

I love, love, love this. I'm printing it out. I posted on Hannah Kincaide's blog a bit ago about being a recovering pantser. My WiP has been a ride through hell. So I'm already in the gathering information part for my next project. This post gives me definite guidelines. Thank you!

Maryannwrites said...

I write much the same way you do, Elizabeth, just run with the story and work in the details later. Sort of starting with a skeleton of a story and adding the flesh later. Since structure is so important, I think it works well for me to get that structure nailed down.

I smiled when you said you read a book and wonder if you will ever write that well, then you read a different book. I'll have to try that.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Kaye--Chloe says there's no WAY she and Harley are related, considering she comes from a farm in SC. And she's glad, because Harley is her favorite pin-up!

Mary Jane--Chloe says hi to you! She's a fan of Truffle and Sweet Marie in your Charlotte Adams series. :)

Carol--I had one particular WIP that was a disaster from start to finish! I wrote most of that book out of order, actually, because I kept getting stuck and writing myself into plot holes. A real mess. I'm a pantster, but I also outline if requested (and my new series, I'm asked to get the outline approved ahead of time.) Even so, I still follow the same process--after all, the outline doesn't have subplots, description, etc., in it, either.

Maryann--Exactly! It's sort of like coloring in the lines--I just get the structure on the page to give myself a guideline, then fill in the insides.

I'd recommend any book that was written by a celebrity and any book that is over-hyped but gets bad reader reviews.:) Those always tend to make me feel smug!

Dorte H said...

Actually, I’ll start out with my victim, to be exact. This victim will be an amalgam of various unpleasant types that I’ve had personal contact with or seen on the television news shows.

LOL! I love that!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Dorte--It's a great way of working out frustrations with people one might not see eye to eye with, too. :) Ha!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elizabeth .. thanks for an insight into how you write or put together the WIP .. seems to make sense .. especially love the people watching you do!! Remind me not to come in your direction .. I really don't want to be number one on your list!!

Cheers and thanks to Kaye for hosting you ..

Kaye - love the pictures .. beautiful part of the world even if cold!! Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hilary--I love watching people and fitting them into stories. :) To me, it's one of the most enjoyable things about writing. And because the characters are a Frankenstein whole of small parts of different people, the real people never seem to recognize themselves in my writing.

Jan Morrison said...

this was wonderful to read, Elizabeth! thanks so much for sharing so fearlessly. And I love that you don't put scene descriptions and subplots in til after the first draft. Man we are SOOOOOOO different. And I love it!

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Busy, busy gal. Ya sound like me. I find I work best with all the balls in the air at once!!!

Thanks for sharin' this was great!

From the cold snowy hills and hollers of the Missouri Ponderosa, ya'll have a wonderfully blessed day!!! :o)

Sharon Ricklin said...

Thanks for another great post, Elizabeth!

Your comment: "I’ll read a book while I’m writing my book and wistfully think that I’ll never write that well."

I've felt this exact feeling so many's nice to know I am not alone!

Sharon :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jan--I think it's your photographer's eye that takes such excellent notice of setting and description and uses it to such great effect. :)

Nezzy--Thanks so much for coming by!

Sharon--You're definitely not alone. :)