Steve Liskow  
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Steve's Writing Process

Little has changed since Professor Joseph Reed helped me struggle through the (still) unpublished novel that became my sixth year thesis at Wesleyan University 30 years ago. Since I was teaching full-time and only had nine months to complete the project, Joe forced me to compose my first drafts at the typewriter instead of writing them out longhand and then re-typing. He figured I would have to rewrite everything anyway (he was right, of course), so save time.

I needed an outline then, and I still do, but it's very flexible. I take two or three months creating my characters and bio, and putting at least 50 scenes into what I think is the right order before I start writing. Technically, it's not really an outline, it's more like a storyboard for screenwriting.

When that's ready, I try to write the scenes in order, each as a separate word document. That's so I can switch the order if necessary later. I almost always discover that I've left out scenes, have extra scenes, or need to change the POV, so it's easier to find a 6 or 7 page file than it is to scroll through 250 pages of rough draft. I try to write quickly. That helps me find the rhythm of the story, which helps point out when something is in the wrong place.

That outline is not sacred. It may change from day to day. My most recent WIP was on the 23rd scene list when I finished the first draft. I need to add several scene, cut four or five, and change the POV in several other. They ALL need more description and placement, but that's normal. My only concern in a first draft is can I get from the beginning to the end with some kind of logical connection.

For about 6 years, I forced myself to write 2000 words a day, no matter how I felt. Now, I may write a few hundred words, or even a couple of paragraphs, and go over to the health club. Once I've started, I can work the scene over in my mind while I do hard physical exercise. It helps a lot. Then I come back and finish the scene during the rest of the day. That's my only rule now: Don't leave a scene incomplete at the end of the day. I need to complete the rhythm. The length doesn't matter. My normal scene is 5 or 6 pages, but some are only a page or two. Some are 10 or 12. They show me what they need.

Because of those six years of enforced writing, now I can write more or less on demand. If I sit down at the desk, I know I will produce words. They may be lousy, but I can fix them later. That's what revision is for, and I know that I will write AT LEAST six complete drafts. The first draft takes about two months, then I leave it alone for a month. After that, I go faster and faster as the story shows me what I've left out or stuffed into it. The characters get deeper, and the dialogue gets sharper as I know the people better.

I don't even print it out until the fourth or fifth draft because it's still such a mess. Then I walk around the room and read every word OUT LOUD while I walk. That's how I hear what doesn't work. So I fix it.

There's no such thing as a time limit. There's only getting it RIGHT.

 

Steve Liskow editing

Steve editing.