This Metaphorical Bar ep. 17: Writing Process

Who We Are

I’m Robyn Fleming, a writer and parent in Tucson, Arizona. I threw a birthday party with 28 children in attendance last weekend, and I am still recovering.

Carla: I’m Carla M. Lee, an author, artist, and attorney in the Midwest USA, and I once answered a question Karen asked me and then told her she’d interrupted make-outs. She thought I meant real make-outs. I meant writing make-outs. I can safely say I would not interrupt real make-outs to answer a text.

Karen: I’m Karen Healey, a writer and teacher in Christchurch New Zealand, and I once punched myself in the throat while trying to choreograph a fight scene.

What We’re Drinking

Carla: Ice water

Robyn: Mountain Dew

Karen: Blue Kool Aid

Episode Summary

Topic: Writing Process

  • Biggest takeaway: There is no one way to write. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do X or Y thing to be a writer.
  • Carla’s solo work process
    • Writes daily
    • Almost exclusively writes long-form fiction (novels, etc.), but goes through same process with almost everything she writes (novels, poetry, short stories, fic, whatever)
    • Outlines extensively, sometimes two or three, one skeletal, then more detailed
    • Writes multiple drafts, first is more skeletal, second is more detailed
    • Generally goes to early readers after the second draft
    • With that feedback, writes third or fourth draft
    • Likes having a map of where she’s going, hence the outlining
    • Deviates from outlines but then will update the outline to fit the new path
  • Robyn’s solo work process
    • Does not outline
    • Mostly writes short stories
    • Part of the fun of writing the first draft is discovering where the story is going to go
    • Usually knows the ending before she’s too far into the short story and generally writes straight through without skipping around
    • Her short stories are almost fully complete by the time she finishes writing the first draft, because she revises as she goes, e.g., comes up with language choices in the shower, etc.
    • Early readers do minor tweaks, but it’s almost ready to submit — a lot of her process is done before it hits the page
  • Karen’s solo work process
    • In between no outline and extensive outlining
    • Often uses color-coded Post-It notes with brief scenes or things she thinks will be cool in the setting or story idea or theme or whatever
      • Sometimes is slightly detailed conversation, sometimes is just kisses go here, explosions!!
    • Puts notes in vague order, sometimes pinned to wall, and then starts writing
    • Leaves notes for herself as she writes, e.g. [transition here] or [write conversation that does this thing] or [research something]
    • Karen writes fic in a similar way to how Robyn writes short stories, but for long-form fiction, she’ll write whatever to get it onto the page so the words are there because she hates the blank page
  • Karen and Robyn cowriting process
    • When she’s writing alone, Robyn usually doesn’t do the skip ahead thing, but cowriting means she can drop a bracket and say that Karen needs to make it happen
    • This is both useful and a fun game for them
    • Actual act of writing is faster for Robyn when she’s cowriting because she can leave some notes like that
  • Karen and Carla cowriting process
    • They outline much less intensely than Carla does on her own but more than Karen does
    • Can’t tell you the name of it though because it’s written under a pseudonym, SORRY!
  • All three of them talk out their writing ideas with their writing group — not just formal critique, but a sounding board and feedback during the process
  • Can be difficult for all three of them to write without being online at the same time
    • Robyn because she writes historical fiction and needs etymology, etc.
    • Carla and Karen both come back to research later, but having access allows them to talk things through with other people
    • Robyn also finds it very difficult to write if none of the writing group is online because she likes being able to send a bit of writing for cheerleading feedback
    • Internet chatting allows for conversations whenever they’re ready to listen but without feeling distracted or pressure to talk, and it’s great
  • Robyn and Carla roomed together at Wiscon 42 and it was similar to having the chatting, they could write or read or whatever in silence and then talk a little when they were ready and then go back to their solo work
  • Some people really benefit from a regular writing group where they meet up with other people
    • Carla does write every day (for more than 2 years at the time of recording) because that sort of hard scheduling works for her and how she treats her mental health, but the pressure of the idea that they need to write every day can be damaging to people’s writing
      • Could not write every day while at the law firm because of the daily pressure, so adjusted writing process to fit life around different jobs
    • Karen does not write every day because her day job (teaching and pastoral care) leaves her drained by the end of the day – the only time she writes after work is when she can get a nap and then write after
      • Karen has had times when she was writing full-time and she did write almost every day then, but if she can’t support herself entirely writing, then she won’t write every day
        • And it’s just fine to not support yourself entirely by writing
    • Robyn also does not write every day, because stay-at-home parent and while she has flexibility in her schedule, she has a lot of sudden interruptions and she never goes off the clock entirely unless she’s traveling
      • Had a great experience writing once a week when she went to a writing-only space but then it closed and she is looking for another way to make that happen – before kids that sort of structure didn’t work for her but it does after kids
  • A process that worked for you at one point might not work at a different point, so if what you’re doing is not working for you, then try something else
  • There are some people for whom writing goes quickly and easily and smoothly
    • e.g. John Scalzi and Seanan McGuire are very fast writers and it’s great because we get more of their work
    • compare to Zen Cho, readers must wait awhile between their books, but it is great because it is worth the wait
  • Marianne Kirby writing process
    • If she gets stuck in a chapter, she’ll go back and rewrite everything from the beginning to fix where she’s stuck
  • Holly Black writing process
    • Used to write first chapter, then the second chapter, then go back and revise the first chapter, write the third chapter, go back and revise the second chapter, etc.
  • Writers who feel like characters are speaking through them
    • e.g., Anne Rice is an extreme example of this
    • Carla worries about this leading to “Oh, I don’t control what they do” and therefore anything shitty or damaging in the book isn’t their fault as an excuse
      • Has a friend who feels like the entire story is there and they view the story as coming through them, and talking this through helped Carla stop judging authors who feel that way – it’s a little like transcribing a movie they’re watching
  • Some writers do surveys for their characters, character sheets, etc.
    • Robyn has almost never found it helpful, but when she met Marianne through an RP game on Livejournal, they used to respond to posts in-character as a part of the game, and it was like writing micro-fiction and it was fun and weird and helped Robyn realize what she wanted to do plot-wise with the character
      • Has considered doing it for original work
  • Lois McMaster Bujold used writing letters for the Letter Game to find the voice of her character
  • Free writing, e.g., write three pages with nothing planned at all, just off the top of the head
    • Robyn has done it for poetry but doesn’t find it very useful

Things Mentioned in the Episode

  • John Scalzi
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Zen Cho
  • Marianne Kirby
  • Anne Rice
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month
  • Jupiter Ascending
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Boondock Saints
  • Fight Club
  • Die Hard
  • Jurassic Park fan vid: “I Want More” by bironic link: 

Ask your friendly neighbourhood bartender

Anonymous: What movie would be greatly improved if it was made into a musical?

Karen: Jupiter Ascending in all its ridiculousness would be greatly improved by incredible choreography and singing. The heart of musicals is that the characters hit a point where they feel so much they can’t help but break into song. And now she wants Die Hard the Musical.

Robyn: Came to the conversation with no example but after Karen’s answer, wants Thor: Ragnarok to be a music, which would be AMAZING. Would also try a movie she hates and try to make it better, e.g., she doesn’t like Boondock Saints or Fight Club, movies where the plot is too continental and heighten it with song and dance numbers

Carla: Die Hard the Musical made her want Jurassic Park the Musical with dancing raptors. 

Find Us Online

Carla: @carlamlee on TwitterTumblrInstagram
Karen: @kehealey on Twitter, @karenhealey on Tumblr, and
Robyn: @robyn_writing on Twitter

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