Thursday, December 6, 2007

Q&A: The Writing Process

The next question in the queue (could someone please explain to me why that word has the letters "ue" in it twice?) comes from Rachelle. She asked about the writing process, how much do I get absorbed into it, stuff like that. Well, sometimes it feels like this picture, but for the most part I absolutely love writing and I'm happy to talk about it.

It's a good time to answer this question because I am completely immersed in writing the sequel to my book that comes out in March. I should've been writing it since last spring, but I found it really hard to do that and work with my editor on Book 1 at the same time. Plus, I work much better under pressure. And I've been plotting it out for months and months.

Here's how I write a book:

I'm a very all-or-nothing kind of guy. For example, I like soda. Drinking water with meals is about as exciting as watching quilting shows with my wife. But soda is bad for you. So I've tried many times to quit drinking it, sometimes holding myself to one a week or some lame program like that. It never works. I either don't drink it at all or I drink it like a thirsty man in the desert. I've done pretty well recently.

Same with writing. When I'm into a story, I need to write, write, write. I'm very streaky. I'll go weeks doing very little writing, then write a whole bunch for 2 or 3 months. If you remember, I wrote the first draft of THE JOURNAL OF CURIOUS LETTERS in 7 weeks. That was partly because I had a sudden and unexpected deadline, but mainly because I got so absorbed into the story I spent every spare second writing.

Before I begin a book, I've thought about it for a very long time, jotting down notes when really cool things pop into my head. I also do a simple outline, 1 or 2 pages where I have a bullet point list of the main events. That's the extent of my prework.

One note here: it is VERY important to me to know how my book ends before I begin writing it. I know a lot of authors don't do this. They say the characters whisk them away and decide the ending for them. That's great. For them.

But not me. In my opinion, every word of the book is setting up the ending. How can you do this if you don't know how it ends? It's not like I have it exactly detailed, but I always know the general climax and all that, including what happens to each character. Some say this impedes your creativity because you can't change things.

Hogwash. I can change whatever I want, and do it all the time. Nothing is sacred. But at least I start with what I think will be the ending and go from there. To me, that's better than nothing.

Stephen King says he doesn't plot. And he's pretty much The Master, so I'm probably wrong. But, and I'm so scared to say this because I worry that I might spontaneously combust, if there is one teensy tiny thing I sometimes don't like about The Master, it's his endings. They are often anticlimactic. (please, dear Lord, do not let him read this, please do not let him read this) He is the most gifted author I know, but sometimes his endings leave me wanting. Okay, I'm just going to shut up about that.

Anyway, so I start writing the book. I don't know what to say about that part. It's an indescribable thing, and I know why so many people think authors are nut jobs. It's because we sometimes TRY to describe it and sound like psychos.

The story consumes me, the characters become real, it becomes my life. It's all I think about 99% of the time, no matter what I'm doing. Even when I put it aside to play with my kids, work, whatever, the book still hangs there in my brain, begging me to give it more thought. It becomes so real and takes over my life so much that maybe I am ready to admit I'm crazy.

Oh well. There you have it. I'm looney. But I have a hot wife, four awesome kids, and a lot of good friends and family. So I'm happily insane.

Just a couple more things. I do not edit as I go. Never, never, never. I write the whole thing in one long burst of creativity, not worrying about how good or how cruddy the writing may be. During the first draft, the STORY is the ONLY thing that matters. And the characters. When that first draft is done, then I go back and rework it, recraft it, rewrite it. But I rarely change anything major relating to the story itself after the first draft is complete.

Next, I go through the book from beginning to end, probably four or five times, cleaning as I go. Then I give it to my wife and sit on pins and needles hoping she likes it. She usually does and gives great feedback. Then I give it to my critique group and other close friends.

The part I hate is going through all of their stuff, deciding what to accept and what to reject. Mainly because by that point I am sick to death of the book. Imagine reading the same book nine or ten times within the span of a few weeks. Do ya think you'd get a little sick of it?

Finally, after all of that exhaustive work, I turn it in to my editor, dreading the prospect of getting HER suggested rewrites back. And that, my friends, is just about enough for today. For those keeping score, I'm at 32,262 words on Book 2 and still on track to be done by February.


Rachelle Christensen said...

Thanks for answering my question. It's refreshing to know that I'm not the only crazy person about writing. I've actually woke up in the middle of the night to scrawl something about a character or plot. I like the idea of not editing the first draft, for some reason that is hard to resist but I can see how it helps things flow to just write it out and worry about editing later.
As for soda, ditch it Dashner Dude, you can do it! I've been soda free for so long that if I take a sip it burns my nose. :) And because my husband and I don't drink any, when our kids are offered the poisonous substance by relatives they say "It's hot, I don't like it."
Queue: it means line and when you look at it, the letters look like they're in some sort of line. That's why they spell it that way. Really, I have no idea but I think you figured that out. :)

Luisa Perkins said...

This was so fun to read: so many similarities, so many differences. Your paragraph about The Master made me laugh VERY hard.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Some fascinating insights here. Especially to someone like me who's still finding their way. I can definitely identify with working well under pressure. NaNoWriMo definitely taught me that!

Annie Bailey said...

Very interesting post. I'm curious about the word length of your drafts. How does the first draft compare to later drafts? Do you find yourself adding, taking away?

Annette Lyon said...

I'm so with you on the endings thing.

And I hope you dearly appreciate your wife in those 7 week streaks of insanity. (Hmm . . . Wish I could hire someone to play the mommy so I could have one of those. :D) By default, mommies generally have to draft at a slower pace, darn it.

Congrats on the progress!Can't wait to read the rest of the sequel. (That's right, people, I've gotten to read a couple of chapters of book 2. I feel so cool.)

Matt McFarland Photography said...

Sir Dashner, I agree with you about knowing your ending before you start writing. I've run into some problems with that while making videos. I'll have some good ideas, start making a video, come to the ending, and quickly make something up or not finish it because I wasn't completely prepared going into it. You are a good man, but I'm afraid your football team's ex-head coach is an absolute coward. What were he and Arkansas thinking?

Anonymous said...

hahaha, this article makes me wonder if, by writing the synopsis really wordy and long and detailed, I'm killing my novel in embryonic form. I actually still haven't decided the ending (have an idea and I know 1001 things it's not) and I haven't managed to get myself to finish writing the synopsis. nnnnnnnnneway, I was wondering, how much of the sequel you have planned out before writing the first book? (not really in quesiton form is it?) I'm hoping for a trilogy and I know 1001 events I want in between THE ending and what I have but where they go and which ones I'll keep, is still a mystery.

Mary H said...

Thank you for sharing your insights on the writing process. It is very helpful to me to read another truthful description of the writing process from another talented author.

My 13-year-old daughter just finished your book 'Mazerunner' and cried at the ending, waking me up at 11:30 at night, the characters were so real to her, she needed to be with someone--so your endings work!

I admire you for having the courage to write what you did and I think that if SK ever runs across this post that he will admire you for having the courage to speak the truth, something that he encourages over and over and over in 'On Writing.' Best wishes for your continued success.

Alex said...

I know that this is a post from 2007, but I had to say that I can completely relate. I'm halfway through rewriting my novel and I'm sick of the same story! I just go back and look at the original story that I wrote a year ago and say "holy crap, that's awful writing" and then go back and rewrite chapter by chapter.

Trish said...

I know this is an old post but i just wanted to say how much I appreciated it! I'm glad there's someone else who doesn't believe in over-extensive prework in a book. :)
One other thing. When you begin working on a trilogy (The Maze Runner for example) did you know how the third book was going to end when you were writing the first book?