The Most Common Questions Writers Get: There Are Three
The reason for my inarticulate mumbling to the air is that the real answer is this: Ummmm, welllll, this book took about three years, plus or minus forty years. Maybe I’m overthinking. Perhaps. The thing is, anything I write, while yes, is 1,000% fictional in plot and character, holds an incalculable amount of real-life things I’ve seen, experienced, felt, saw, heard, or sensed over the course of my life. To not include the years in which those items happened and to say that I wrote something in three years is patently false. How could I have included the scene where a nanny rolls an egg on the main character of Method 15/33 (in order to ward of evil) if I hadn’t seen a babysitter do that to my child—blowing my mind, as I’d never heard of such a thing? This happened several years before I even thought of the plot. Or what about the quarry, which plays a central role in the book? The only way I came up with scenes involving the quarry was by being scared out of my 1980’s terry-cloth girl shorts tromping to a quarry on our property in New Hampshire. I just simply have to include all the years leading up to when I started the literal writing of the book.
On the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t write for three years straight either, so to say a book took me three years is disingenuous. In other words, I technically started writing the book three years before finishing, but I absolutely did not write every day—sometimes not even once in one week. A, I have a full time job. B, I was working on two other manuscripts (although not doing well by them) at the same time.
And while I’m already deep down in this hole, let me overthink a little more. When the question is asked, “How long did it take you to write this book,” is the questioner including the part where I murder myself editing, over and over and over—reading passages so much I memorize them and therefore miss glaring errors? Does the question include that zone of insanity?
Maybe I need to carry a visual graph to answer what should be a simple and fair question. For Method 15/33:
(All images licensed off of Fotolia.com)
And the third most common question: What is your writing process? Based on the above answer to the simple number two question, should I even start an answer for this one? Probably not.
I will say this. There are many processes out there for writing and every single one of them is the correct process. I know some writers use detailed outlines before they begin a book. They might use flash cards pinned to a wall or write companion pieces (that never see the light of day) detailing character back-stories. I can see the benefit in all of this.
I do not follow any patterns. No schedule. Nothing. I don’t know what the rules are or if there are any when it comes to process. I just know that all that is important to me is that I enjoy the process. And I enjoy it best when there’s no structure, no expectations, and I can surprise myself with what lands on the page in any given day. I start with an idea and the first sentence. And then I write whatever I want to on the days I sit down to write. Could be a middle chapter, could be the ending. Could be something I never use in the book. I keep going until a picture starts to form, like blocking a painting. Then I get more refined by adding necessary scenes. Then I get even more refined. Add necessary details, tweak dialog. Then I read it, move things around, cut, paste. Then I edit, over and over and over.
In conclusion, by the time I’m done answering the three most common questions, I feel I’m like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, untethered to my spaceship and tumbling in space, which fits pretty well with describing the life of writing.
Shannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son. Method 15/33 is her first novel.