by Cynthia Hilston
How many of you remember the dreaded research papers you had to write in high school? Raise your hand. Better off, don’t raise your hand. That’s too reminiscent of being back in school. But anyway, I’ll tell you this: if I never have to write another research paper in my life, I won’t complain.
What I hated the most about the process was how formal and rigid it was. When I was in school, the Internet was still pretty new, so we, the unfortunate victims, spent hours in libraries using dusty reference books that served better as paper weights and taking notes from pages with tiny print. We had to write on 3×5 notecards in pencil. We needed to come up with an outline, and this was to be done the proper way with the numbers, letters, Roman numerals, and I don’t even know what. The rough draft was written in pencil, and yes, written by hand. The final draft was then typed up. I used my mom’s electric typewriter, as we didn’t have a computer with that now-antique Windows 95 on it.
At the end of it all, we turned the bulk of it in. Of course, along the way, there were deadlines for each step of the process. It was like pulling an abscessed tooth.
Not only was there a process, but the whole thing was laid out in a certain way, the quotes cited correctly, and the works cited at the end. Who remembers when this was called a bibliography? It was never okay to use “I” when writing a formal paper.
Much of this process has faded into the past like the Grunge look and slap bracelets, being twenty years ago for me, but I still cringe when I think about writing research papers. When it comes to creative writing, I am of the mindset that while there should be some guidelines for how to write a book, it makes about as much sense to force people to all follow the same rules as it does for everyone to wear the same size shoes. We have different sized feet. We have different methods that work for us when we write.
There are many writers who sit down and plan out (outline in depth) their novels before they even take up the pen…or, more likely, tap away at the keyboard. They write up every character in excruciating detail. They cannot write until they know every scene in that novel.
For me, this process would be hell. Plain and utter torture. Talk about tooth-pulling again.
I always know my beginning and my ending. I do draft a basic outline and character profiles, but I am not afraid to waver from the path. It’s fun and exciting to me to see how I will get to my destination. My characters usually seem to direct a large portion of the story for me, so forcing them into a mould that doesn’t fit them is just plain idiotic.
I often have scenes play out in my head of a dialogue exchange between two characters. When I start writing a scene like this, I just write. The conversation between character A and character B flows naturally, as if I were listening to real chitchat.
For me, to just sit down and start writing is how I operate. I may not write the story in order, but it comes together in the end. The way I figure, the first draft is going to go through many edits before it’s published, anyway. Getting the story down is my first priority, and then I go back and clean it up a lot. With the help of others, the finished product is ready.
I’ve had enough experience over the years to know that my ability to tell a story is good. My writing is far from perfect, but by doing it a little every day (even if it’s just for ten minutes), I stick to my goals. Because writing is so important to me, I use a few minutes here or there to compose a half a page or even just a couple of lines.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re new to writing, don’t be discouraged, feeling that you must follow some sort of formula, set of rules, or incant some magic words. Many other writers and authors I’ve spoken with operate in the same zany manner that I do. I don’t know if we’re in the majority, but we do what we do because we love it, not because we wish to suffer writing another research paper.
Alternately titled My Wonky Writing Procedure…Or Lack Thereof.
Guest post contributed by Cynthia Hilston. Cynthia is a 30-something-year-old mom of three whose writing is her fourth child. You can find her website at www.cynthiahilston.com. She has two published books available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow and Lorna versus Laura.