The writing process has some very distinct phases, though they aren’t always sequential. Every writer has a process that is unique to them. In this post, I am attempting to walk the reader through the different ways of building a writing process. Maybe you already use a mixture of them, and maybe you use only one. In any case, it is more food for thought.
Staying true to the theme of your book.
If you find yourself digressing into other themes, make a note of it. If it becomes a pattern, it is a clear indication that you should factor those in with the larger theme. At no point, should you have more than one central theme and two peripheral ones. The chapters in your book shouldn’t be in competition with each other.
I am in the middle of drafting a memoir of sorts, where I am compiling incidents from my own life where I have learnt the most. The first few chapters were easy. The incidents that were the most recent or the most potent stood out and I was able to write on them. Then it became tough.
When you hit a wall, that’s when a process helps.
I divided my life into timelines, and wrote down basic ideas for what transpired in the first 10 years, the next 10 years, the next 10 years and so on. If a particular decade is messier than another, I break it down further into 5 years or even into smaller parts. The theme of this memoir is life learning from life incidents.
A timeline works for a memoir. That gives you the first draft of the chapters. The first draft of the chapters is in no way, the first draft of the flow of the book.
Selecting a hypothesis and working backwards
Another of my current projects is a book on “How to be a great mentor”. Theme wise it is very different from the memoir. So this one I base on research and hypotheses. Here’s how I go about it-
- Understand all the themes that can be explored in the book. Here I am working on- generosity of time, insightful conversations, appreciative enquiry and so on.
- For each theme, decide how you want to structure it. Generosity is best explained through stories and case studies. Insightful conversations work best when there is a framework that can be applied easily.
- Once you decide the structure, figure out what message the chapter should clearly spell out, and then script the flow. I start my chapter on conversations with a story of a bad conversation, and then of a good conversation. Then I explain the framework that one can follow. Each step of the framework is substantiated using examples of conversations. The chapter ends with a perfectly executed conversation. In order to drive home the point, I also make a reference to this conversation as many times as required in the following chapters.
Just letting it flow.
You might think- how is this a process? A client of mine gave me a brief- she wanted to write about racism, but not about black lives matter. She wanted the focus to be on brown skin. The article was supposed to have the feels, the rant and a tiny solution to what she would do differently. There is no other way to do these articles than just pouring your own experience into it. It becomes easier if you don’t stand in your way of doing this.
Letting it flow is the process. Write till you understand that all that you want to say about it has been said. Then. Only then sit back and read and tweak the flow, the words, the format.
Writing is a creative process, and it is technical too. There are certain nuances of writing that you can only explore after you’ve written enough. At times, some parts of written work come alive by chance and other times it needs a whole lot of soul searching. Having a process, or at least being mindful of a process ensures that you can keep course correcting as you progress through your work.