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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Having Faith In the Writing Process by Marilyn Levinson

Developing one's writing skills as a novelist is an ongoing process. I'm discovering that the way I write a novel is undergoing a process as well. In previous books, I always wrote as a plotter. I worked from an extensive outline, while allowing for changes as they arose to better suit my storyline. But with each book in my current series, I find myself becoming more of a pantser. Writing the most recent book, I have even become more daring. I outlined what would be the beginning chapters and I knew how I wanted the book to end, with the murderer firmly in my mind. This is especially important as I usually have two plotlines that converge at the end.

But I found myself doing things differently this time around. When I got beyond the opening chapters that I'd outlined, I mentally plotted out the next two or three scenes, which I then wrote. And so I continued.  It was kind of like swinging on a trapeze with no safety net below, but oddly enough it didn't make me anxious. 

A new character appeared, then another, and I found myself in the middle of the book with plenty of activity and no sagging middle in sight. New characters brought new elements to the book, and before long I found myself changing the identity of the murderer.

Why this growing confidence in the writing process? Partly, I suspect it's due to the fact that the more we write, the better we get at it. Not that it's easier, but we're honing skills that develop well below the surface of our minds. Another reason is my editor trusts me. I tell her what my next book is going to be about. Just to check in, not because she asks me to. And I've a wonderful group of mystery-writing friends who I can turn to whenever I get stuck. Even if I don't take any of their suggestions, somehow the act of asking for help and writing out the problem brings me the very answer I need to resolve my problem.

And then, of course, writing a series makes things easier. I know my protagonist well, along with her friends and family and the town they live in. Yes, I write cozies, but I deal with less-than-cozy issues like abandonment and dysfunctional families. I feel free to explore my characters' thoughts and feelings, without worrying about restrictions. All of these factors allow me to write more freely and to have faith in the writing process.


Jim Jackson said...

My motto for the writing process is "whatever works."

As a pantser, I periodically try to plot more, and that doesn't work, so I revert to pantsing.

Kait said...

Wonderful blog, Marilyn. Writing is organic and never static. It’s what makes it fun. Well done.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I'm currently using the 50 pages at a time method, reverting to the headlights method (what I can see as far as the car headlights shine). I agree it's easier to write with characters you know well.

Annette said...

My process is in constant flux from book to book, but I think my favorite method is what you've just described, Marilyn.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Jim, Kait, Margaret, and Annette,
I think we all use plotting and pantsing methods to varous degrees. And clearly it works for us since we manage to get the books and stories out.

Saralyn said...

Kudos to you, Marilyn, for allowing yourself to grow and change as an author, and to take that one step further to reflect on the process. That "lifelong learning" makes you top-notch in my book!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks so much, Saralyn. The change came about naturally.

Shari Randall said...

As I read this I thought of artists who have perfected their craft through years of work, trial, and error. Their hands and minds seem to be on auto pilot, but it's the years of experience that give them confidence to trust the process, just as you do now. It's wonderful to reach the point of knowing the characters so well that they tell you what to do, instead of the other way around! Kudos to you, Marilyn. Terrific post!

KM Rockwood said...

How wonderful that your writing is becoming more comfortable for you and that you are feeling more confident. I'm sure the hard work of writing is paying off for you.

Tammy Euliano said...

I'm jealous! Mine is evolving too, but when I tried to move forward w/o a plot I ended up rewriting quite a bit...but your post is inspirational and I'll keep letting the process evolve!

Marilyn Levinson said...

It's never easy—at least it isn't for me. Each book has its own demands. But once I'm in the actual writing, it goes smoothly. And so far, the only edits I have are minor ones, never large or structural ones. (so far)

Marilyn Levinson said...

For years I pretty much stuck to my outlines while allowing for some changes. Over time you'll develop this interior plotter that will keep you on track without having to rewrite..