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There is no right way

The one thing I stress above everything else when I give author talks is that there is no one right way to write. Everyone has a different creative process, and different things work for different people, and so when I talk about how I work, it isn’t meant as a guideline or a set of rules, only one example out of many.

It’s tricky trying to make a go of it as a writer. With most professions, there are sets of procedures in place that everyone follows. You go to school for the job you want to do, you learn the correct way to do it, and then you go out and get to it. There are details that differ from person to person, but the basic steps that make up their day to day work stay pretty much the same.

In the creative world, it’s totally different. Some writers swear by outlines, others find them stifling. Some write multiple drafts, others write one and revise as they go. Some need total quiet to get into the zone, others thrive on the bustle of activity around them.

But I think, as human beings, we want guidelines. We want to know there’s a correct way to do things, and that if we follow it, we’ll succeed. Not having that security can be terrifying. And that fear can make it even harder to succeed, because it’s so easy to get stuck in a process that doesn’t work for you, or for this particular book, because you’re afraid to do it some other way that seems unprecedented.

So, to anyone reading this who is involved in any sort of creative occupation, I offer two statements I think every artist should remember:

Just because any given successful author (or other artist) works a certain way, there is no guarantee following their methods will make you successful.

After all, the reason there are so many different methods out there–outline vs. pants it, fast draft vs. revise as you go, etc.–is that creativity functions differently from person to person. Outlining a book makes me even more excited about working on it, but for many other authors, it kills a feeling of spontaneity that they need to stay in love with the book. Whereas if I attempt to jump right into a story without pre-planning, I soon feel lost and unhappy. Neither approach is right or wrong, they’re just right for some people and wrong for others. For every “rule” that one author might insist on, there’s at least one other author who could never finish a story that way.

Which is to say, by all means try out different methods. How are you going to find what works best for you if you don’t? But if one method is making you want to write less, or increasingly unhappy with what you’re writing, don’t keep at it just because a bunch of authors you admire do it. And don’t ditch a method that you enjoy just because you see other writers talking about how impossible it would be for them to write that way. The only correct way to write is the way that sees you eventually writing The End, and feeling good about it.

It’s hard to feel confident when there’s no real right answer. I know–I’ve sold four books now, and I still worry sometimes that maybe I should be doing this or that technique that others swear by, and that if I did my writing would rise to some higher level. But I’m getting better at not listening to that worry, because every time I have, the writing that comes out feels flat or stilted, and I end up going back to my old ways.

That said…

Be flexible in your own process.

Someone (I don’t remember who–if you know, mention it in the comments so I can credit them!) has commented that you don’t learn how to write a book, you learn how to write this book. Every book demands something new from its author–and if a book doesn’t, you’re probably rehashing stories you’ve already told. So it shouldn’t be surprising that now and then a method that you’re used to following just doesn’t feel right for this particular book. Or a given story calls on you to try something you haven’t before.

Again, I think this can be scary. Once you have your system set, the idea of messing with it might seem to spell disaster. But if the feeling that you should change is coming from you and your interaction with the story, not from some outside pressure, my experience is it’s generally best to listen. Creativity is never static: it shifts and evolves as you develop your craft.

I’ve seen my own process change in a couple of ways over the last year. For one, I used to be the queen of fast-drafting. I’ve written a full rough draft in as little as three weeks. I still write comparatively fast, but with my last couple projects, I’ve found myself wanting to take the first draft a little slower, to spend more time thinking scenes through rather than throwing them onto the page as I outlined them and hurrying on. It used to be that if I didn’t get the first draft down ASAP, I’d lose confidence and have trouble reaching the end. But these days, making sure I’m reasonably happy with what I’m writing as I’m writing it keeps that confidence going. And even though it means the first draft takes longer, it means fewer revisions down the road, so I don’t really mind. :)

These days we’re taught more to pay attention to facts than follow our instincts. But as a creative person, I think the best thing you can do is learn to listen to those instincts, and let them lead you to the way that’s right for you.

Originally published at Megan Crewe - another world, not quite ours. You can comment here or there.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
cyn2write
Aug. 5th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, Megan, I totally agree with you. I always scared to answer when people ask me for my advice, like I'm some kind of all-knowing prophet because I'm published. I mean, yes, I may have more experience, but I don't feel like there's only one way, my way, to go about getting published. Breaking the "rules" seems to work for a lot of people.
megancrewe
Aug. 7th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Definitely! I always stress that whenever I'm talking about my process, or how I got published. It drives me a little crazy when I see authors saying, "If you want to make it, you *have* to do _______."
libation
Aug. 6th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
Wonderful post, and so true! Last night I was listening to my writer friends discussing their different methodologies and thinking how it was cool we were all doing the same thing in such different ways.

I think it may have been Elizabeth Bunce who said the thing about writing *this* book?
megancrewe
Aug. 7th, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
It is amazing how many different ways we accomplish approximately the same thing!

I don't think it was Elizabeth... I'm pretty sure I first hear it years ago. I found a quote through Google from a Phillip Roth interview that's sort of close, so maybe it got bastardized from there.
lunalila
Aug. 6th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post! As a not-yet-published struggling with third novel I felt reassured when you said the "there is not one method". Been researching methods because I'm on the second-third draft of this YA I'm working and it seems it's not yet what I really want it to be. But still haven't found mine.
First draft was a NaNoWriMo product I'd outlined scene by scene before Nano began. But then it felt too flat, it wasn't gripping. So, put it away and started writing same story without looking at what I had written.
Now I'm kind of doing a remix of both, and polishing at the same time. But trying to put something more on the page.
Don't know if this will be last version or I'd need another one. Just getting the patience thingie writers need to learn :).
megancrewe
Aug. 7th, 2010 12:52 am (UTC)
Patience is definitely the key! A lot of writers will say "Don't be afraid to write crap" and I think that can be very good advice. Often the only way I can finish a story is by knowing that even though I'm not happy with it right now, I can start fixing it after I have the whole thing down and can see it more clearly. Sometimes the most important thing is just getting it down in one form or another, so you know you have it.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books


Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014


The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012


The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014


Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014


Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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