“The Process”

processSometimes when I tell people I’m a writer they ask me about my process – how do I write. I find it to be a pretty funny question, and I often tell them that all I do is sit at my computer and type. Like I’m doing just now.

It might sound like me being arrogant, but it’s not. I don’t outline, I don’t make plans. I just write.

It all starts with a vision… can I call it that? An image, a sound, a conversation. A whisper. And that becomes a scene, and I replay it in my head, over and over again, always adding more, until I have something. It’s just a glimpse of something or a glimpse of nothing… only time will tell.

I always write my stories in the way I first imagine them. I don’t write them chronologically, then mix chapters up, I don’t write one point of view after another, then mix them up, I don’t skip chapters to write certain scenes I’d very much love to write (actually this is a nice trick: imagine you’re stuck mid chapter, and there’s this scene that takes place a few chapters after that which you’re dying to write. Don’t. Force yourself to get there… the anticipation of writing that particular scene makes the road less bumpy.)

So, yeah. I often have this vision of where I want my story to go even before I write the first sentence. Most of the times, I already know the ending. Half of those times, the ending is different from what I imagined when I started writing the story.

The thing is… a lot of stuff happens as I write. The journey changes my perception of what the story’s all about. My characters take a life of their own. I get to better understand their motives, and thus the plot takes some unexpected turns.

There’s one more thing here: I’ve been in the business of writing stories in my head for more than 8 years now. I have “completed” several novels this way. Playing with the story, going back and forth, back and forth, until I know everything there is to know. But I never write those stories – the ones I know everything about, because there’s no motivation for me to write them. Like that thing with the roads less traveled, or something like that.

Also, I used to tell people about my ideas… tell them about the plot and characters, and then I’d lose the drive to actually write the story. Why? Because, in a way, I had done my job. I shared the story with someone. Just one or two people, but I had done my work as a storyteller. Might sound strange to you, by I’d say it’s best not to tell too many people what your story is all about. Just tell them enough to make them curious, that way they’ll keep asking you about it, and you’ll keep writing until you finish it.

Someone once asked me for advice on writing, and I said that they should write in the simplest way possible. That doesn’t mean that we should all write like Hemingway. No, because what’s “easy” or “simple” for me might seem like just redundant prose to you.

Two people seeing the same thing will never use the same words to describe it.

So, yeah, I use the first words that come to my mind. Just like Stephen King, I hate thesauruses, and I don’t use them. If I sometimes use certain words that feel, dunno, complex or something like that, it’s just because I use them very often in Romanian and it happens they’re the same in English.

Like me using the word lamentably. I’m not sure if it’s a common word in English, but in Romanian it kind of is.

I strongly believe that with every story we write we learn more and more about the written word and how to use it. We find that we like to use certain words, that we like to write about certain situations or themes. We find a voice of our own. I know I said it before, but I think this is worth repeating: writing is not about saying something no one else has ever thought of saying, but it’s about saying something in your own voice.

So, yeah, if you want to say something… do it like only you can.

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52 comments on ““The Process”

  1. Jess says:

    Sounds like you are a “pantser” — which means you write from the seat of your pants. I do too.

  2. 2dimplzs says:

    I can so relate to this/you!!! I’m the exact same way. I don’t sit and plan out what I’m going to write. I never do that. I write what inspires me and let it take me wherever it takes me. Be it a conversation, a song, the weather, an argument I had with my husband, my kids – it can be ANYTHING. Once the idea or inspiration hits me the writing just flows.

    Great advice too: “If you want to say something… do it like only you can.” Give your writing YOUR voice. I love it! :)

  3. paws2smile says:

    I like to start with pencil and paper, then type it on my computer. I’m somewhat doubling my work but I have found it is just easier (for me) to write when I have a pencil in my hand. I’m a bit of a geek with it. It has to be certain paper with a pencil somewhat sharpened so the words flow naturally with my hand movements. And if I am using a pen, it has to be a certain kind where the ink will flow out. But no gel-pens. Haha.

  4. Thank you for this. I have people ask me that sometimes and I find it quite a flustering question. I don’t get why people try to formulize writing so much.

  5. MissMrs says:

    Thank you for expressing this :). I came across it in my reader and it’s the advice I just needed to hear. I feel like a perfectionist at times, to the point of not being “good enough” because maybe my ideas are not quite original, and it really holds me back.

    “We find a voice of our own. I know I said it before, but I think this is worth repeating: writing is not about saying something no one else has ever thought of saying, but it’s about saying something in your own voice.”

    This really sank in. Thank you and have a great weekend!

  6. This is so encouraging and insightful. Great stuff. Thanks!

  7. blastedgoat says:

    Totally agree! I do enjoy questions about my ideas I just hate when my fiance/friends tell me to “send it off to an editor” or some other common advice that I can’t imagine taking. That might be the control freak in me but no one is seeing my baby until it has its “face” on so to speak. I can’t explain it to him/them so I just keep my lip zipped about my projects and progress :)

  8. Awesome :) Having another language floating around one’s head creates interesting paradigms, juxtapositions and fresh perspectives.

  9. I write the same way! I remember saying to my daughter, quite seriously one day concerning one of my young characters, “Oh, great! Now he’s started smoking!” Like the characters had taken over the story and I had no control! Just had to sit and laughed when I realized…

  10. This spoke to me. I can honestly say that this might be the first thing I have read every-single-word of all day. I’m not sure if that’s due to business or disinterest…but either way – this has inspired me in a way that I have not yet been inspired. I’m stoked.

    Thank You!

  11. Jimmy Lem says:

    That’s true about telling others, I’ve done that with writing, music, etc…even quitting smoking…I was successful when I kept it a secret.

  12. sanit128 says:

    You are correct. Writing creatively should come from within and not tied to dictates of a pre-made frame. While structure is required, raw writing is the precious gem in the rough of which writers mine constantly. Inspiration to write is everywhere and writers are usually hyper observant people, who use their senses to capture every molecule of data to be had. It is difficult to explain how the flow of ideas is ignited. Sure, many have written texts explaining the writing process and it does provide directions and structure to put the intangible into a form in which others can interact. However, it is clear when you pick up a written work whether or not the writer was impassioned when creating it. It is only when the reader and writer connect through the written word that ideas are freed and breathe life. So, whether it is an instruction manual or a great novel, it will be of little use if others cannot see and feel the idea you are presenting. I appreciate your discourse.

  13. Catherine says:

    I completely agree- although I do struggle quite a bit with not skipping ahead to that part I’m dying to write about. But in one respect, I’m the opposite: I LOVE thesauruses. They are my best friends! But I love reading simple works, too. One needs a good mix of both.
    Great post! Loved it:)

  14. cardamone5 says:

    I love what you say about writing simply will be different for different people. So true. I write because I love words. I love the way they sound, their meanings, the way they can change other words when combined. It’s what keeps me writing: the words. And, I never thought of the challenge/interesting aspect of word usage from different languages. Fascinating.

  15. Why am I reading this despite the fact that I write in the same way? Oh yeah, I believe that you’ve found your voice. And it is wonderful to listen to. I don’t know how you do it but you connect with others in such a way that they can’t ignore.

    I’m on my way to finding mine. Meet you there my friend.

    – BS

  16. I have been like this for all my years of tinkering with words. Only recently have I been able to carry through with something I have shared part of before finishing the piece.

    Most of the time I write ias a discovery writer. I discover the story as I write it. Most of the time all I have to start with is a title or a character, maybe a bit of dialogue.

  17. AMcGowan says:

    So true. I wrote the synopsis for my second novel’s proposal at the halfway point so I could pitch it at a conference. Then when I went to finish it, it was awful. I was bored- I knew what would happen next, there was no discovery left, no twists or surprises by the characters. So, I killed someone off and shifted the perspective. It was still hard, but I finished it! Ugh. Never doing that again.

  18. The question seems to be asked by people who see writing a book as both daunting and mystical. To me the process does not seem daunting because It envelopes and possesses me. It then becomes mystical, leaving me spellbound. That is why I continue to do it.

  19. Leslie says:

    So well expressed. Thank you for the enjoyable reminder!

  20. You are so write about not verbalizing to people. When I speak my story ideas aloud, they never sound as good as they were in my head and I immediately abandon them. Better to just go from Mind to Paper.

  21. the_artist says:

    You have such a strong voice. That’s one of the great beauties in your work, you know. Even just the blogging, people know it’s Christian’s voice…and every entry is like picking up a new favorite book where you left off – familiar yet you’re not sure what’s to come on the next page.

  22. Great post – Everyone has their own voice, of course, that also speaks ‘loud and clear’ in their writing.

  23. alh387 says:

    Love this whole post, but especially the last sentence. Thanks for keeping the motivation up!

  24. ahealthybean says:

    I think I so needed to read this at this exact moment – thank you! I have a story rattling round in my head – I dreamed the beginning and “day dreamed” the rest but have resisted sitting down and typing it out, because I don’t have the right training, software, etc. You’re 100% right though – I don’t need that, I just need my laptop (or pen and paper!). Thank you again.

  25. praw27 says:

    I, too, have learned the lesson about not telling others my “story” as it loses its power/need to be told. now when others ask me what I am working on, I say a “story” and they do not ask any more. Great advice!

  26. I do a combination of planning and the free form writing you describe. I start writing, then when I get stuck, I try to make an over aching plan, and then I go back to writing, and often change my plan and so on and so forth. I like having a malleable plan to give myself a little structure, but also to allow some freedom.

  27. Great post as usual. I’ll also add that based on my experience, I’ve come to learn that writing can evolve. You’ve got to be sensitive to the twist and turns of the scenes in your mind… and at the same time silencing the voice of the literary critic within.

    After all… writing is called art.

    With your own voice, you’re original.

  28. Sona Rulz says:

    ya.. I can understand.. similar stimulation triggers when I get a paper and colours and brushes right infront

  29. Peace Jaway says:

    “… [I]magine you’re stuck mid chapter, and there’s this scene that takes place a few chapters after that which you’re dying to write. Don’t. Force yourself to get there… the anticipation of writing that particular scene makes the road less bumpy.”

    “… [A] lot of stuff happens as I write. The journey changes my perception of what the story’s all about. My characters take a life of their own. I get to better understand their motives, and thus the plot takes some unexpected turns.”

    I have nothing to add. I apologize if it’s rude to simply quote you back at yourself, but that’s… well, perhaps what strikes me is that you do indeed have a writing process. And the way you write, meandering along a path and letting it take (us all) you where it will, allows your readers to ‘walk with you’, so to speak. To connect, I suppose, is what I mean to say.

    I hope you’re feeling better, and thanks for sharing your journey.

  30. W. K. Tucker says:

    I’m a “pantser” also. An idea for a story–for me–usually starts with the opening sentence. And where that comes from, I’ve no idea. It just pops into my head and I run with it, which means I let my characters do the talking. I just write down what they say.

  31. multichic says:

    Thanks! Great learning point for me

  32. I hate it when people ask about my writing process, because like you, I don’t have much to say about it. I just sit at my computer and write with only a basic idea in my head as to where I’m going with whatever I’m writing.

  33. tnwjackson says:

    Everyone certainly works differently! I recently read Umberto Eco’s essay “How I Write”, which was very interesting, as was this post. Personally I like to combine research and planning with stream of consciousness writing – ultimately it depends on what it is I’m writing.

  34. “…writing is not about saying something no one else has ever thought of saying, but it’s about saying something in your own voice.” Love that!! So true!

  35. Jo says:

    I enjoyed reading that. You’ve certainly found ‘your voice’.

  36. ” Most of the times, I already know the ending. Half of those times, the ending is different from what I imagined when I started writing the story.” This is what happens to me also. I really hate outlining what I write. But that’s just me.. I know it works very well for others! Let’s just do whatever works, i guess. :)

  37. adamcutlip says:

    Good piece. I am also an extemporaneous writer. I seem to have writer’s block when I cannot just vomit words on paper… or on screen for that matter. Drink coffee, log on, write. If it doesn’t flow out it wasn’t meant to be.

    Nice blog, too!

  38. I had to chuckle when you mentioned not writing the book you already shared verbally with your friends. I suffer the same problem. When I write it is my dirty little secret. I tell no one. I am completely absorbed by it nearly all my waking moments, but always in my own head. I work out scenes in the shower, while cooking dinner, I even wander off in my brain during conversations with people thinking how I could write regarding this or that. The ideas and words bubbling in my brain. Then when I sit down to my morning appointment with my computer the ideas and phrases spill out. It is fun to hear the creative process of others. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Ken Gwira says:

    Thanks for your helpful points Cristian, as I continue writing. I also read from Jeff Boss a Navy Seal, that when it comes to motivation, purpose pulls and passion drives.

  40. asmukti says:

    Thanks for this Cristian. Very helpful and supportive.

  41. I struggled to find a muse until I got my dog!

  42. leefeller says:

    NIce lamination on writing, for me my writing is like my painting, I feel the need to express something.

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