Why Your Writing Process Shouldn’t Be Sacred
Our guest blogger, Roni Loren, wrote her first romance novel at age 15 when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that’s it. She is the National Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat. Visit her website, www.roniloren.com
We writers tend to be very superstitious about our Process. Yes, a capital P because the Process requires respect and reverence. We aren’t supposed to question it or poke it. If we do (we’ve all heard the horror stories), that fickle muse may go catatonic on us and we’ll never be able to write another word. Right?
There’s enough of those Process rumors floating around to scare even the bravest of writers. I know I bought into it. I started this journey as a total pantser. I’d get an idea for a story, flesh out the character backstories and my set-up, then I was off to the races. In fact, I wrote my debut romance Crash Into You that way.
I always chuckle when someone reads my book and says–wow, I was totally surprised by who the villain turned out to be. The reason it’s so well hidden is because I didn’t know who the villain was until halfway through writing the book, lol. And that novel landed me an agent and a book deal, so I must have been doing something right you would think. So I shouldn’t mess with my Process, right?
Well, fast forward to me writing book two in my series and getting completely and totally stuck. Suddenly, I was writing under a deadline and felt this pressure to make this one even better than the first. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with the book. The thought of outlining and messing with my Process gave me heart palpitations. In fact, I still get a little panicky when I see other writers’ 20-page detailed outlines. That will probably never be me. (I say probably because I’ve learned not to say never anymore.)
But because I was so stuck, I started sifting through all my writing craft books. (I have a bit of an addiction.) The ones on outlining and structure didn’t resonate with me. I couldn’t wrap my brain around fleshing out each chapter or scene before I write a book. That would suck all the fun out of writing it for me.
But around this same time as this wicked writer’s block I went to a Romance Writers of America workshop about using screenwriting techniques for novel writing. The class inspired me, and I went out and bought Save the Cat! Well, when I got to the chapter about the beats, it was like an angels singing, clouds parting moment. THIS made sense to me. My pantser brain could work with these broad strokes.
I used the beat sheet to plot that second novel and haven’t looked back. I’m now working on the fourth book in my series, and my Process has changed a lot from that first book. I don’t start anything until I have my beat sheet done. It’s what I use to put together my synopsis for my editor.
When I first started writing, I would’ve fainted at the idea of having to write a synopsis BEFORE I wrote the book. But now I actually enjoy writing synopses. (Please don’t throw things at me.) I haven’t graduated to the index cards and the board on my wall, but you never know.
So, don’t put your Process in a glass case to be revered and preserved. Always challenge yourself to try new methods even if you think–oh, that would never work for me. You never know when you might come across a technique that completely speaks to you.
So thank you Blake Snyder and Save the Cat!, you saved me.
Anyone else ever afraid to mess with their writing process? Has your process changed over time? Any angels-singing moments for you?
Check out our other novel-writing blog posts.
- Martha Ramirez
I am a HUGE STC fan! I refuse to write any novel without it. I had written two novels after I discovered Blake and I went back and applied the beats. To my surprise I already had a lot of them in place. Deep down I am a panster but applying Blake’s brilliance really helps a ton.
Go Save the cat!!!!
- S. J. Maylee
My Process is currently evolving and I’m taking this all in and saying click, click, click. Thanks, Roni :)
- Cynthia Berst
HI – I too am an author (book one done of the series), which is why this article caught my eye! After reading (and relating) about how you felt, you wanted your second book to be even better than the first, I now will embark on a journey to learn more about STC. I do own the book, I just haven’t touched it, feeling it may jinx me! But now, after knowing I too may find my angel-singing moments, I will begin with great confidence! ~ Cynthia Berst
- Melody Lopez
I am a lucky hopeful writer in that I was introduced to SAVE THE CAT! principles before I ever tried to muddle through story telling on my own! And I did the beat sheet and wrote a draft..got to page 90…realized it sucked… started again…got to page 90…realized it sucked… did that three more times (including a trip to GA to see a Colonel to help me with plot details= which resulted in draft number 5)…
until I attended a Screening of Braveheart and Randall Wallace, the screenwriter, was available for Q&A… and I got to ask a question after the movie- “how did you get it so layered?”.. he told me… he wrote many (about 12 drafts) before he ever shared his work with anyone…and he summed it up, “You don’t give birth to an adult”…
after that… I started to watch the YAKUZA written by Robert Towne and directed by Sydney Pollack.. I am not just beating that out…I’m dissecting it to learn the timing of reveals… and I’m so in love with Robert Towne that I googled about him…and learned that he writes 20 drafts of his OUTLINE before he even starts the screenplay.
has my process changed? Yes… no more… beat sheet and redrafting…
I’m carefully beating out and outlining.. and being methodical…and if I succeed…I’ll let ya’ll know…
- Roni Loren
Angela, I agree. I think the screenwriting techniques break it down into much simpler components. At least for me, it was a lot easier to wrap my head around.
Martha, Same thing happened to me. If I look back at CRASH, I can see the beats, but I did it without realizing it. And that made it a lot harder, lol.
SJ, Good luck with that ever evolving process. :)
Cynthia, Good luck. I hope it helps you as much as it did me. :)
Melody, Lol, lucky you to discover it beforehand. And I hear you on hitting that spot where it feels like everything sucks. My advice on that is power through and finish the draft. Seriously, I hit the middle of EVERY book I’ve written (I’m now writing number 7) and I begin to hate it. I want to scratch everything and start over. BUT it’s just a phase. There are certain spots in a story that get really hard and it seems like you’ll never fix it, but keep going. If I stopped each time I hit that dreaded middle, I’d never have a completed novel. So maybe try pushing through to finish a draft (even if you think you hate it) and then see how it turns out once you go back to edit. Good luck!
I just read Chapter 3 again in “The Cat Strikes Back” pages 54-64, awesome! And I got to acknowledge because it’s you, that the good stuff is in a book.
There are three words that I’m writing on my forhead backwards and putting a mirror by my writing place. THESIS ANTITHESIS SYNTHESIS and I’m going to apply this to my main character so she can jump into the transformation Machine.
I never thought I would outline my stories either. When I was younger, I actually had a very hard time writing outlines because I wasn’t used to them. I found it difficult figuring out the story before I actually wrote it. Luckily, over the years, outlining has been less of a chore and more of an interesting way to discover the story for me, saving me time in the long run.
Thanks for all the resources, Roni. I am a late-comer to the publishing game (with an e-book out there) who recently discovered you through another blog about your experience posting photos. Yours was sage advice, for sure and lucky, because I followed all the links en route to your website, then to this one and I’ve learned tons in the past several hours. I thank you for putting it out there so generously and will be back after I track down Cat and play some serious catch-up.
PS: Melody, I love the painfully graphic comment about ‘not giving birth to an adult.’ This is a great blog with lots of helpful writers…thanks to all.
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I LOVE Save The Cat. I think that no matter what lever a writer is at, screenwriting technique can boost their craft to a whole new level. I’m a pantser, but STC’s note card system showed me just how incredibly important structure is to a novel’s success.