Every so often, I come across an article in which a writer seems to lament some aspect of novel writing that troubles them: How do you create this kind of character? How do you world-build? Why is writing a good ending so hard?
This always strikes me as strange, because I imagine any person who tries to write must have done a fair amount of reading and writing as they grew up… probably in school. And I immediately think: Didn’t any of that reading and writing sink in?
Everything I learned about writing came from two specific things: Reading other books; and writing assignments in school. Reading other books (probably thousands of them) taught me story structure, character building, world building, fitting words and style to moment, plots, twists, emoting and description.
Writing assignments taught me how to plan, outline, gather and organize data, decide on an appropriate structure, select my story’s beginning, edit out extraneous material, and wind down my story quickly after the climax. I also learned about sentence structure, grammar, spelling and the literary licenses of storytelling and of certain genres.
Armed with those two sets of skills, I write. And I don’t have a lot of trouble doing it. Sure, I don’t have tight deadlines bearing down on me, which takes a lot of the pressure off. (Writing quickly was also something I learned in school, but I try to conveniently forget that particular lesson.) But once I start the process, developing the aspects of the story into a tight outline, I generally find that I can write like the wind once I have my bits and pieces together.
The use of the word process is important to how I see writing. Some writers would have you believe there’s something magic and transcendental about creating stories out of words. I disagree. Really, we all learn how to tell stories; it’s part of being able to communicate with others. Writing is just a process of combining our natural storytelling skills with the mechanics of turning those stories into words on a page (or screen)… mechanics that we are exposed to in others’ works, and which we practice to do ourselves as we grow and mature.
My process has certain steps that I use to assemble my material and record my story. My process takes from the material I’ve read and the storytelling tricks I’ve learned, and the writing skills I’ve developed through practice, to assemble my pieces and put them down for others to read. And every other writer’s process may be subtly or wildly different… but they all have one.
My feeling is: If you are a writer, and some part of the writing process gives you trouble, you probably need to revise your process; possibly to change the manner in which you break your story down, or build character details, or assemble your story threads, or decide upon your voice. For me, working out the details on my process allows me to work on a book over any period of time, in different working conditions, with any breaks or vacations worked in as required, and still have no trouble creating the finished product.
So get the process down. Everything after that should be cake.