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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Creating a Text – Cynthia Harrison

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

1. The Idea

I myself have noticed a pattern to how a book “starts” to brew in the back of my mind. One thing, a character, a house, a moral question, an incident real or imagined, starts to preoccupy me. If I’m in the midst of a project, I will put it into my writing. If I’m near the end of a project and on the 10th revision or am otherwise ready to let it go, the idea sometimes will keep nagging and thus become my new project.

Often, I’m not quite ready to begin tapping into this new idea. I can be 3/4 of the way through a current project, and by that point I am sooo ready to finish. So I try to hold off or jot notes and not start a new large project like a novel before I end one.

2. First 100 pages

So the initial idea or wisp builds itself up and then pops out onto paper eventually and I follow it where it leads in first draft form, which these days means writing first thing in the morning at least three pages of longhand. I just write whatever comes up and about 100 pages in I read to see if I’ve got anything that resembles a book with a plot and where it should go.

3. Collage

About this time, I make a collage for my corkboard with images that speak to me about the book’s themes and characters. I also make notes and a semi-sort of outline.

4. Finish First Draft

Then I finish the first, uncritical draft. This step takes a few months, unless another project that needs sustained attention interrupts and then it can take up to a year. This step in my process is fun. I love this part best. I type in my handwritten pages daily and print them out as I go. I don’t look at them, though, unless it’s a quick peek at the last paragraph. I need to write every day to keep the story alive, or almost every day.

5. Revision #1

I read through the book and try not to revise or correct on the printed draft but take notes on overall fixes needed to structure, plot, characters. My first revision is about getting some kind of logical structure together. Taking things out that don’t belong and putting in necessary things that were omitted. It’s intuitive and can’t be rushed, but I do love Feminine Journey structure from Victoria Schmidt’s Story Structure Architect. It helps me keep to a pattern.

This is a messy stage for me, I drop and add characters and plots and events and I sometimes feel like I’m losing control of things if I don’t have a pattern or outline to follow.

6. Taking Dictation

This is also the time when fresh ideas and insights pop up almost daily, sometimes hourly. They may not be in order. So I’m working on Chapter Two and I get an idea for Chapter Six and I have to write it down. I use post it notes and stick them at the beginning of the chapter I think the idea will fit into. Sometimes a lot of ideas for different chapters or scenes come fast and I write them all into a notebook.

7. Drawing the Action

I take a day somewhere in the first revision to “draw” the action. The “drawing” consists of key words/phrases/events arranged in boxes with arrows or lines on a big sheet of drawing paper (at least 11X14) I will “draw” each plot and subplot on its own page, and then lay the “drawings” side by side so I can “see” a concrete visual of the whole story.

8. Read, Repeat Revision

After I get the big picture figured out, I pay attention to language, and work on that through another revision or two or however many it takes to get everything right or as long as the new idea/dictation/notes process continues. Then I pass it along to my
critique partners and may do another revision depending on their responses.

Cynthia Harrison is a teacher, writer and critic; she blogs at: A Writer’s Diary.

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