ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

IWSG. Hunting and Gathering..things I wish I'd known about the beginning stage of writing a book.

This is my IWSG post.  Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh and his team this month for all the work they put into this so very useful meme. Click here to read more posts...

The beginning stage of writing a book.
Some authors claim that there are two phases in the book-writing journey--(i) 'Hunting and Gathering' (my term) and then (ii) Building (my term), meaning Structuring. In previous novel-writing attempts, I've spent too little time Hunting and Gathering and too much time developing structure and shuffling deck chairs that would later get blown away in a cyclone of editing. Pure waste of time.

I came across this post by the wonderful Mary Carroll Moore, - artist, author, teacher. She says it's very helpful to know what phase you are currently in, so you are using the appropriate tools. Maybe it'll even stop you from getting discouraged or overwhelmed. Wouldn't that be nice?

Hunting and Gathering Phase - the clues 
  1. You have your story idea, but maybe you still feel unsure about it.
  2. You are enjoying exploring facets of ideas, perhaps freewriting but you're not ready to edit or structure yet.
  3. You have lots more research or interviews to do (maybe you haven't even started this). You need to dig deep into the characters you want to people your book with--profile? backstory for each? character arc? These may change a lot during this stage.
  4. .
    Source *
  5. Brainstorming ideas--this can be the fun part! Let your imagination soar! It is very helpful to brainstorm with a writing group or writing friends. Many brains are better than one!
The Hunting and Gathering phase keeps on happening throughout the book journey. As Moore says: 'We cycle in and out of it, but we always start with it: an idea, a nudge to write, a character that won't leave us alone, a compelling body of information we want to share, an experience that changed our lives.'

 The Three Main Components of Hunting and Gathering (with thanks to Moore): 
  1. Inner and outer story -Inner story is the meaning, the why.  Outer story is the event or what's happening, where, with whom, when.   Most writers naturally excel in one of these. This "outer story" information is crucial, but it's only half the picture. Inner story counts equally-the meaning of the plot (what changes because of what happens) and the meaning of the research (what does it mean to your reader). 
  2. Writing in islands (instead of by outline or chronology).  Islands are single scenes, or snippets of information, or a setting description, or a character sketch. They do not necessarily have a beginning, middle, and end. Writing teachers have discovered that writers who work in islands rather than via an outline often include the inner story more readily. This is because islands are not gathered in a linear fashion. They appear in random bits. I'm finding this a great way to 'discover' my story.
  3. Girl fisher
    Is this a keeper?
  4. Brainstorming list. A primary Hunting and Gathering phase tool. Keeping a brainstorming list is the a very effective way to counteract writer's block-you always have something to write about. And if you can free yourself from having to write your book in sequence, or chronology, islands can be tackled in any order.
After you are satisfied with your Hunting and Gathering, you are then ready to start Building (structuring your novel). I'm looking forward to this! But I'm so enjoying Hunting and Gathering and writing in islands at the present. I think my writerly advice would be: take your time! What's the hurry?





  • How about you? What stage is your writing at? Have you got any pearls of great price to add?
  • If you don't have Mary Carroll Moore on your blogroll, I highly recommend her great writing advice. She also offers online courses.




42 comments:

  1. I guess it's true - no man is an island. Because I am outline all the way and always in order. Although I do plan the ending before anything else.
    Hunting and gathering. I will remember that.

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    1. You don't surprise me at all Alex! I once wrote a story completely in scenes and have never gone back to make sense of it. A pity. Now I'm just finding my new way.

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  2. Odd, I have my Sam McCord think of his memories as islands in the ocean of his life -- it is why I have earlier incidents as prelude to many of his novels that bear on what later happens in his life.

    I write in scenes myself and then work like the devil to link them up! But I always have my ending mapped out. I can then zig-zag all I wish with the ultimate goal in mind. I wish I had read this post years ago. :-)

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    1. As I said to Alex, Roland, when I write in scenes I get a bit lost. I am doing a conglomeration of things this time out.

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  3. I have more sense than any of you, I don't write. However, I admit I am so very glad you all do to keep me entertained LOL.

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    1. No one doubts you're one wise lady Jo! There's a lot of angst you're missing out on, LOL!!

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  4. I tend to write with outlines. The chronology keeps me on track. Of course, having said that, my current book is written in islands for the pure necessity of the type of story it is and how I want to tell it. It's a huge challenge, but thoroughly satisfying.

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    1. My natural tendency is to write chronologically, but for me I wonder if this is the best way. This time I'm definitely into islands!

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  5. I often do what you call "writing in islands." It is so easy to put details around those islands. Also, I pick up those islands and thow them into places they fit. It's fun.
    Very informative, Denise.

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  6. Interesting! I like this! I think I tend to THINK in islands as opposed to actually writing it down. Sometimes the people in my stories walk around in my head for a few weeks before I know what they're going to get up to :)

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  7. I'm brainstorming a new book and have already written an opening scene. It just felt natural. I tend to write in scenes and get that (or in islands--love the concept), but I'd like to be more organized this time around. I'm going to try the dreaded outline, because structure is equally important at some stage and I struggle with that. I always thought it went against my nature, but I see now I've just been enjoying the hunting and gathering stage. I'm still trying to balance the two. Thanks, Denise.

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    1. I wish you well Sharon! That dreaded outline, huh? It certainly slows you down at the beginning, but I'm hoping for a reward when I start putting words on the page!

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  8. I never heard it called that but I think I write my romances in islands and my fantasy books I do a rough outline and then fit the islands in. This was very interesting and the closest thing I ever read to the way I write.

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    1. Interesting Susan. Whatever you do it works!

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  9. I use outlines, but to get me started on chapters or to continue, I write in scenes first. Narrative usually comes last. Scenes just get my creative mind to work, and I can visualize the main idea. Dialogue is another tool I use to jumpstart my writing. Problem I have now is: time. Between getting house ready to sell and caregiving to hubs, I come up short on writing time. To compensate, I am working on posts for the AtoZ Challenge. I can do those in bursts.

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  10. Hi Denise - I fall into Jo's slot .. but can quite see why you realised Mary Carroll Moore's ideas make sense ... fascinating to read ... one day I might do something! So I've bookmarked the post - Cheers Hilary

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  11. What an intriguing way to describe the process - hunting/gathering, spot on. Some of the time only the end 'scene' is clear and very fuzzy beginnings, sometimes its the other way around. Islands, certainly. I've rarely had much success when I have tried to force anything into chronological order. I do start out with an outline sometimes but then am rarely able to stick to it :) Poetry is of course another matter altogether. Striving to be in control :))

    Hope all is good and your writing is going well.

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  12. I like this. I'm in the hunting and gathering stage right now and it is extremely difficult. It's definitely my least favorite part of the process, with temptations constantly to just throw it all out.

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  13. Hi, Denise!!!!!!

    Yes, I'm still alive... but just barely. LOL. It's been an INSANE six weeks that I was away in Florida and NYC.

    The conference was AMAZING and I had some very favorable feedback on PORTRAIT. I have another regional SCBWI conference on Saturday. After that I will be ready to tackle the querying again.

    How are you?!!! Hope you are well.

    LOVE your post. I certainly fit into all of that... LOL. Taking time. I'd say FIVE years is a nice and slow way to go. LOL.

    Some wonderful information here. Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Glad, so glad, to hear from you MIchael. You have been busy! Let's hope and pray it's Portrait's time!!

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    2. Thanks... Me, too!

      All is a go... Received good news today! The owners accepted my offer! Yay!!!! Florida, here I come!!!! I hope when you visit you'll be in the Tampa area... On the central west coast. Waiting for the signed contracts now.... Still keeping fingered crossed... Lol

      All the best with your home decisions....

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  14. I like this! I'm the writer who has to outline every little thing about the story, even conversations and then follow what I created, but...sometimes while I'm writing I may cut something out of that outline or move it somewhere else. Right now, I'm in the revising face with one WIP. With the other, I'm in the stalled phase until the other is finished with the rewrites. haha

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  15. Hunting, gathering, and writing on a bunch of interconnected islands . . .my favorite parts of writing! I like the beginnings and the new beginnings. I only use small outlines, normally, although I did use a larger one recently at the request of a small press editor. I like the discovery stage. :)

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  16. I CANNOT write without an outline. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it! But, I do keep a running list of scene ideas or character quirks or quotes (my hunting and gathering, I suppose). You island writers freak me out! :)

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    1. How different we all are. You've no idea how frustrated I feel not writing straight off. Glad you have a method that works for you.

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  17. Your categories for writing stages are excellent. I never seem to get an order going, but I do all of those things. I'm always surprised when I actually have a story that's readable.

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  18. I resisted the impulse to write a second novel. The first took ten years. I didn't want to disappear from the outside world again. The muse refused to release me. Thus the ground work began. Interviews and collecting resource material. That took a year. Then I dove into the story and built the characters as I wrote. They revealed themselves to me day by day. I could feel them breathing down my neck, rolling their eyes when I strayed from their vision of personality traits, etc. I know many authors have all that ironed out before they begin the first draft. They've got the characters fleshed out so there's no arguments along the way to slow things down. That's the sane way to write. I hope to develop that technique before the muse of novel three climbs aboard my shoulder. LOL.

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    1. I'd be happy to get just one good novel out in my lifetime. And writing that book varies with everyone doesn't it? I've never fleshed out my characters as much as i have this time and I'm amazed how many changes i've made before I've started writing!

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  19. I do my hunting & gathering on the fly. That is, I start writing, when I need to know something I research. That's what works for me. Doesn't work for everyone.

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    1. So true. There are many variations on the same methods. You've obviously found what works for you!

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  20. I've always just simply written down the story as it came. The first draft so rough, no one but me could decipher it. Then it's the second draft, the research, the third draft, more research, and so on and so on. I do get to a point where I think it's complete, but beta readers and editors usually say otherwise. That's when the real work begins! And it's where I am now.

    I completely understand Jean M. Auel, it's not so simple – writing a book!

    My biggest problem, at least right now is the inner story, it too often matches my own, and when chaos is at its height personally, it's not a good time to write - well, not to finish a book anyway. Writing in a journal is good, but I think the chaos, while not yet ended, is becoming manageable. I give this particular situation one more year. As for the book I am making progress - I say that as tonight I rewrote the ending for the third time. Uncertainty - oh yeah! :)

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    1. All I can say Yolanda, is I hope you end up with an amazing third novel!! And I hope those tricky situations which cause such chaos in your life will soon be resolves. :-)

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  21. Research is my passion, so that's always my starting point. I think in islands and write in chapters. The chapters fill the area around the islands. My stories are psychologically driven, so I know the inner story first before I focus on the outer story. The outer story is only there to reflect the inner. No outlines. Never again. I do write to flexible beat points to ensure the story has an arc, but I never know the ending until I get there. If I'm surprised, I figure the reader will be too.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Sounds like you've learned by experience VR. Thanks for sharing.

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  22. I think I'm perpetually stuck in the hunter/gathering phase. Once it all has to be developed, I move on to another project to stay in the research mode. This post sure puts all that into perspective.

    Have a good weekend Girlfriend.

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  23. It amazes me the number of techniques writers can use to get their stories onto the paper (screen). I'd never heard it put as "Hunting/Gathering" then "Structuring" before. Thanks for writing about this! Every writer should know and experiment with different techniques.

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  24. My editor just sent back the final final final edits so I'm wrapping things up and readying for the query process. What a great feeling that is!

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  25. If I ever write a book, I will have to use outlines :)

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  26. Writing in Islands. This to me sounds right on. I keep feeling there is one more memoir I should/could/want-to write (a journey with Jen and my late brother), this one for a "Mormon" audience...and I know the one publisher to target. A long shot, but I know my audience, and in the end, if it isn't accepted, I would have written it for me and my close friends and family. Now I just need the energy to do it LOL. This is the BIGEE.

    Excellent post, Denise aka Sis.

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  27. This is an interesting post for non-writing people. It explains some of the way to write a book or article. I only write posts, so I cannot come up with anything creative about a book. Since English is my 3rd language I often think of the accurate word in French then I have to find an accurate translation so I am very much aware of the meaning of words. Often, during the day I think of a word, or see one on a written page (book, article, etc.) that I like, so I write it down. I have little pieces of papers in my pocket, purse, on the table where I note the words I like for later use. So, I’m not bringing much help for a book, but maybe help for a post.

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  28. It's an intriguing way to describe the process Denise. But yes, it works that way.

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  29. I seem to be permanently stuck in "hunting and gathering" mode. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm lazy or if I have ADHD. I get halfway into a novel and then I see a squirrel or think of something shiny and wander off, never to return.

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