Home » Writers' Minds » A Paradox in the Writing Process

A Paradox in the Writing Process

A Paradox in the Writing ProcessI’ve written novels that pulled me relentlessly to the keyboard to write from waking until sleep. I’ve written novels for which I had to wrestle resistance to the ground before each reluctant session. I wish everything I wrote was more of the former. Alas, that’s not the case.

Every novel comes onto paper in its own way. No two novels are alike, and I had to write half a dozen before I understood. So far, it’s been a paradox. The stories that keep me writing, that wed me to the page, are the most satisfying to write. Word counts are high and the characters rush on as fast as I can write them. For others there’s resistance, no sense of flow, no pull. Word counts are sufficient, they just lack eagerness.

Oh yes, the paradox. It’s simply this: the stories that fall out of me need a lot of work after the draft is complete. The story is intact (usually) but the scenes are out of order, all my tics and bad habits are clearly present, and there’s usually a plot hole. The stories that require work to produce tend to be cleaner in the draft and require fewer additions during revision. You’d think I’d prefer the second scenario. Not so. I love the pull to the keyboard and the discovery of the story as it unfolds.

I’ve only written six novels. So far, it’s 50/50 on how they are written. I’d be interested to see how that percentage changes when I’ve written twenty or thirty. What I think about often is that I’d only have three novels if I didn’t have a daily writing practice. Habit wrote half of them. Ultimately there’s no time savings for one over the other after revisions. The difference is mostly perception and feeling.

The major difference between the two processes, I think, is whether I start warm with a fresh idea and develop as I write, or start cold with a story idea that I’ve developed and then set aside until I had time. I’m not totally sold on the theory because I sometimes get that magnetic pull after starting cold. But not always.

Most of us have experienced good writing days and bad writing days within a single draft, and can’t tell the difference in the prose when we’re done. Maybe this isn’t much different. It feels similar. Perhaps it’s just me, but somehow I don’t think I’m alone.

How often do novelists push words instead of being pulled by them? What’s normal? IS there a normal?


 What do you think? From your own experience, are some novels just more work?

11 thoughts on “A Paradox in the Writing Process

  1. I’ve definitely felt that before. (My first drafts tend to be a mess no matter what category I fall into though). But yeah, some books are just more ‘inspiring’ than others, which I used to think was an indication of whether the book was any good, but I’m not so sure anymore.

  2. I’m not a novelist, not yet at least. But, I have composed a dozen or so short stories, and I believe the same principle applies (on a much smaller scale of course) if you are writing a 50,000 word novel, or a 1,500 word short story.

    I have had stories that just spill out of my head in one big mess. And there have been those that I fight with tooth and nail to get finished. I, too, enjoy the former much more. It’s not so much because I get a first draft written faster (although that certainly is a nice side effect), it’s more about the endorphin flow I experience when I find myself absorbed by the characters and interactions between them in the moment of discovery. It is magical and every writer deserves to feel that pull towards the pure genius of the creative muse.

    Like anything else in life, I appreciate the good days more because I have some of those bad days. However, I’d still like the problem of having to “deal” with the good days more often than not 😉

    • Discovery writers (pantsers, organic writers, whatever you want to call us) like to watch things unfold. There’s excitement in it. I’m beginning to think this has something to do with working out all the details beforehand perhaps. It’s great to appreciate the good days! I sure do!

  3. I’ve certainly experienced this difference in the way different pieces of writing get down and get finished. Certainly the sense of “being in the flow” makes it easier to get myself to sit down and write. But beyond that, I’m trying not to make any judgments about how my process goes. I avoid attributing my writing to inspiration or a muse because I think it would make me more passive than is good for my work. Instead, try to think of each piece as something with its own intentions that will arrive in its own way, and that there’s a logic to that arrival that I may never understand. Or, when I’m feeling less esoteric, I believe that my mind will release the piece of writing when it’s ready. When it goes more slowly, it may be that there’s something in the piece I’m not ready to look at, some strategy I don’t feel ready to try, or that I’m sick of using and don’t want to use again even though it’s perfect for the occasion. My task isn’t to control the process; it’s to show up habitually and to accept what the story (or the part of my mind that generates the story) is willing to give me that day or that session. If I can let go of my need to control how it goes, I can enjoy whatever the process looks like that day and be productive. When I insist on deciding how it’s going to go, I usually get frustrated and stuck. So I’m trying to get to the place where I don’t treat writing as an act of will but an act of discovery that I accept then develop. Of course, I’m not at that place a good bit of the time. But if I keep showing up, I eventually get there.

    • “Instead, try to think of each piece as something with its own intentions that will arrive in its own way, and that there’s a logic to that arrival that I may never understand.” Oh I love that sentence. It’s so true! I totally identify with the whole of your comment. Deadlines make that control thing more sticky, I think.

  4. I have started several novels, but only finished two. The first, I set aside because I did not like the way I ended it. The second, I self published without having it professionally edited. Big mistake. Both of those where free written with no plotting or outlining. A writing friend called them ‘Mind dumps’. The project I am currently working on has been carefully outlined and I am presenting it to a critique group and having editing done. I hope it makes for a better finished product.

    • Outlining isn’t required by every writer, but the revisions and edits, oh yes. My least favorite part, but the results are so worth it. Best to you on your current project! I love my critique group. They catch all my bad stuff. 🙂

  5. I’ve only written four novels and it’s been 50/50 in the process you described, except ALL were painful to produce. I think writing everyday whether you feel like it or not it 99% of the battle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s