Process

I was recently asked to participate in a blog hop by Laureen Marchand of Val Marie, Sask.

Laureen Marchand is an artist, the owner of Grasslands Gallery in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, Canada and an artist mentor who helps artists navigate through all kinds of stuckness and find the next direction in their artistic careers. From her home near Grasslands National Park in one of Canada’s most remote and beautiful regions, Laureen brings over 25 years and the experience of dozens of exhibitions to her practice. Laureen can be found at www.grasslandsgallery.com and www.laureenmarchand.com .

Usually blog hops set out specific questions, but I decided to focus on the writing process.

I spent the first week of June at Spring Valley Guest Ranch, a B&B tucked away in a coulee north-west (I think) of Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan.

I spent the biggest chunk of my days writing. By hand (because I forgot the power cord for my laptop). In a rather rustic cabin or sometimes outside while seated at a plastic patio set. I started to set the bones of my next novel, wrote thousands of words, and got a pretty good look at the characters who would occupy that world.

There were other guests there, and I’d come up for air regularly, stopping in at the main house for tea or food. A couple from Japan, who were both avid readers, both asked me how I went about writing a novel. Did I, for example, already have it all in my head?

The short answer to that is no.

But this is a question I’ve often wondered myself. How exactly am I going to write this first, or second, novel?

My first novel was a hot mess for a long time. Then I enrolled in a creative writing program through Humber College. I sent what I had to my assigned mentor, Susan Swan, and she set me on course. She had me do an outline, and showed me how to bring my protagonist closer to the heart of the story. Deadlines helped tremendously, too. I revised the first few chapters several times before writing the last few.

After that program ended, I had something that resembled a novel, but it wasn’t there yet. I worked with Edna Alford, my long-time mentor and friend. I revised it twice more with her. The ending was hard for me to nail down. I didn’t get that right until the last revision.

And now I’m going to be working with Leslie Vermeer, who teaches at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton and is a board member with NeWest Press, my publisher (yay!). Leslie and I will be doing one substantive edit (the big stuff), followed by a copy edit (fine-tuning).

I am a writer who is not afraid to revise.

While I was writing in Ravenscrag, I was also going through Fred Stenson’s book on writing fiction, Things Feigned or Imagined. He mentions that there are fiction writers who barely edit their stories or novels, and those, like me, who revise, revise, revise. This blew me away. Fred’s first novel poured out of him at the rate of 10,000 words a day, which also blew me away.

This isn’t to say that typing out a near-finished first draft is preferable to revising heavily, but simply that everyone has a different process. I was comparing notes with another writer on Twitter recently, and we work very differently:

  1. I need to write to discover the story before making an outline, whereas she likes to create the outline first (the outline will change, though).
  2. I prefer big chunks of time to write manically, but she writes nearly every day, often for brief periods.
  3. She gets a little itchy if she doesn’t write one day. I feel the same after a couple weeks.

I don’t have the time to go on self-imposed writing retreats often enough to finish this next novel in a timely manner, but it was a good way to kick-start things. But it’s probably better to write every day. I tried to force myself to do it first thing every morning, but when I sat at my computer, I just started working (my day job is as a farm journalist).

But I did find writing that first draft by hand, in a notebook, worked really well for me. A notebook is way more portable than even the lightest laptop, so I could work outside in the summer, or at least get away from my day-job desk.

Process is always changing. I never know where my fiction is going to go. That is one of the best parts of it.