Last week, I got an assignment from Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids to write a story for their September issue. I’ve been given a topic and a deadline: May 25th. It’s not a lot of time, and I need to get the outline or a draft to the editor by 18th. Now I’ve written a few of these stories before, and I’ve noticed that I follow a similar pattern with all of them.
I’m the kind of person who starts by stewing about a project, then I do the research, stew some more, and do a lot of staring out of windows. Eventually, the characters start talking, or sentences starts running through my brain like strips of ticker tape. But I still don’t start writing. The story is still in snippets at that point–just bits like jigsaw puzzle pieces lying on a table.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I work on a puzzle, I always make the border first. It turns out that I can’t write my story until it has a frame either. I need to know the beginning, middle and end of it before I can move on to the first paragraph. Thankfully, when it’s finally time to get to the keyboard, out the story pours. Oh it’s full of holes, of course, and there are lots of places where I type xxx rather than stop typing and look something up, but I get the bones down in one go. The first draft is always far over the required word count, but I love the editing process, so I don’t worry too much about that part.
What is worrisome is that sometimes the staring-out-of-windows part can take a very long time. So long, in fact, that the due date can be way too close for comfort and I start to get a little panicky. I wrote a 7000-word Sherlock Holmes story for JLS Storybook Project and was very worried about hitting my target date on that one; however, so far, I’ve never missed a deadline. Though I have had some scary moments!
I’ve just begun the stewing, researching, stewing, staring-out-of-windows stage for a novel. And once again I’m working on building the frame—but I’m taking my time. I’ve often just started writing a novel without building the framework as thoroughly as I should have at the beginning. I’m going to try a different approach with this one. Feels good so far.
How do you write? Do you just jump in and let things evolve as you go along, or do you plan, or do you do a bit of both?