My Writing Process

I have been writing consistently, with a goal toward being a published novelist, for almost ten years. I am in no way an expert, but I’ve written for long enough and have written enough books/stories to have developed a process of how I write, from the initial idea to typing up ‘The End.’ All writers have a process, and all of them are different, unique to the person. A process is developed over time, with many projects, and what works for one writer may not work for someone else. And not every project follows your usual process accordingly, I’ve written most stories starting with a concept (“I want to right a book about witches!”) but I’ve also written stories based on a single character idea, not knowing anything else, not knowing where to put them or what to do with them, and built the story from there. I’ve read and listened to many other writing processes and I thought I’d share my own here for fun.

The Well

Surprise! My writing process (and probably all writing processes) actually start before there’s even an idea. Before the muse inspires, before I can let out a creative breath, I first have to breathe it in. Just like you can’t breathe air out if there’s nothing in your lungs, you can’t create if there’s nothing in your creative well. That’s where inspiration comes from. That’s the muse. If I’m creatively blocked, it’s because my Well has gone dry. I need to experience – I need to read, I need to watch, I need to see, I need to hear, smell, touch, feel. So before anything, I’m constantly taking it all in – with every book, every film, painting, photograph – filling the well from which I can pluck out my favorite bits of everything I’ve ever experienced, scramble it around, spin it my way, and create something entirely new.

The Spark

Here’s where things get interesting. This is where the actual writing process of a story begins for me. Out of nowhere, whether I’m working on something else or searching for an idea, I’ll get a spark of inspiration from that well I’ve been filling. An eerie photograph, a scene in a film, a concept of a book, or a want to delve right in to a genre and do it my way. I’ve been inspired from a dress I’d seen in a magazine, a tree in the woods, an overheard conversation. I don’t plan these “sparks” of inspiration. I get them all the time.

“Oh, that scene between those two characters on Orphan Black would make an interesting dynamic for a pair of demon hunters.”

“That older woman walking by has such a cool coat, she looks like a retired spy…or is she retired…”

“Man, that new Star Wars trailer was good. I want to write an entire YA book series set in space.” (<— This was recent.)

These sparks of inspiration happen to me everyday, all the time. Some are fleeting thoughts, some make me excited enough to jot them down only to forget them or dislike them when read later, and some – very few – become something more.

The Worm

Now the next two stages sometimes don’t happen. Sometimes it goes straight from the Spark to the Flood. But a lot of the time, a single spark will stick with me for a long time. It worms its way in the center of my brain and stays there, poking its head through my thoughts every once in a while. “Hey remember this idea? That’s still a cool idea you should do it.” Often times, I’m working on another project so I let it stay there—mostly because all it does is remind me of that first spark, but nothing comes of it yet as it’s still just a tiny little thought of something that could be a fully formed idea. I keep thinking about that photograph I saw or that scene in a show but there’s no meat to it. No story, no actual idea…until, suddenly, there is.

The Flood

It usually hits like an explosion. One minute all is well with my brain and then I happen to think back on that worm that’s been swimming around my head for a while—BAM! The idea takes shape. I get a flood of characters, story, several scenes, bits of dialogue, the world starts growing. It’s the main bones of a story in my head that forms, the actual idea, much more than the spark. It all comes to me in waves—sometimes it’s an entire day, sometimes an entire week of writing things down, connecting the dots. I usually write a paragraph or two, a list of characters, of scenes, a bit of the world. Whatever comes to my head, I get it down on paper or type it up. And then, the flood is gone. I’ve written all I can for now. Sometimes, this is the end of the road. Usually this is as far as a story gets. I get the idea down and never get back to it—I might go back and revisit and find it’s something good or something terrible. But sometimes…

The Simmer

…I become obsessed. I can’t let it go. This is the stage where I think about everything that didn’t just “come to me” before. All the connective tissue starts forming over the bones of that first idea—it could last a month, a year, several years while working on other things. I’ll think back on the story, maybe think of a few more ideas on plot, character, world—I’ll write it down with the rest and continue to think. It can simmer for a long time—or not at all. Sometimes after the Flood, I have everything I need and I want to start right away, so I essentially skip this step—though the next one takes much longer without it.

The Outline

Next comes the outline. If I haven’t let the story simmer, this stage could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Usually, if I have, it takes about a week—maybe two. Now I write the outline in one of two ways. The first way: I write an outline, a list of short sentences (sometimes only a few words or, if I’ll know what I’m talking about, one word, like “Tunnel” or “Murder”) and string together the story that way—these end up usually as either scenes or chapters. These are easy to rearrange if I need and I can look at the story from a bird’s eye view in a very simple format (I use Scrivener sometimes for this, but more on that later). The second way: I write less of an outline and more of a summary. I write two to three paragraphs of everything that happens from beginning to end. This is what I do normally when I’ve skipped the “simmer” step, though not always.

After, I write the fully-formed outline. If I’d started the first way, I take that list and bulk it up to a paragraph per chapter with notes for what I want to add or specifically show. If I’d started the second way, I take that summary and break it down into the same thing, one paragraph per chapter with notes. It ends up looking like this:

Chapter 10
Here is what happens to the character in this chapter. Then the character makes a decision, which makes a secondary character feel something. The two characters discuss what had happened but it is clear that it will come up again later. Then, a twist! (Add in the subtle hint about an object that is possibly important.)

Chapter 11
More stuff happens and then…

Now, I’m not a “pantser,” as evidenced by the fact that I outline to begin with, but I’m even more of a Type A mega-planner. Depending on the story, I use charts and spreadsheets and a whole lot of outlining techniques. I have spreadsheets about the days of the week, weather in the scene, time of year, month, all things that I would write in the story so that I don’t accidentally make it a hot, perfect-for-swimming day when it’s supposed to be January—unless it’s in set in Australia. One of my favorite things to do, especially to make sure the pace of the plot if working well, I set up a chart using this technique written about by a favorite author of mine, Carrie Ryan:

Slide1

Depending on the story, I might add another column to create a five-act structure with a midpoint adjusted to be in the actual middle, which is sometimes needed, but mostly I use this as is. It has helped my plotting so much.

The Draft

After the outline is complete, the stars have aligned, I start the drafting process. Sometimes I start on Page 1 and sometimes I start in the middle of Chapter 21. Wherever the winds take me, I start—usually this is because one scene (often one of the first that I envisioned) is really vivid in my head and I’m excited about it. It’s also hard starting at the very beginning. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die and never want to write another thing ever again because Chapter One followed by an empty void is terrifying. The first draft is the most inconsistent part of writing for me, time wise. I’ve written a first draft in two and a half months, three years, and even 30 days (NaNoWriMo). It’s never the same. The drafting stage is usually when I change a lot, too. And often times, the first draft is incredibly short—I’ve had a 90,000+ word final book started as a 59,000 word completed first draft. I just worry about getting all I need to get down on the page and worry about the rest later. With rewrites, I bulk up scenes, add more entirely new scenes, sometimes entirely new chapters (sometimes I cut a lot out, but there’s mostly adding). The first draft is my second favorite part (first favorite is outlining, when anything could happen) because it’s the easy part, the fun part. I’m just writing whatever I want without thinking about if it’s good or not—because it isn’t, it’s a first draft. I’ll fix it later, right now it’s time to enjoy the story and the characters and the world.

The Break

After the first draft, I take a break. I put the project away and never look at it and think about something else—usually this is a time for refilling my depleted well of creativity. I always make sure that there’s a break between the first draft and the rewriting process. Fresh eyes are best. This break between can last a long time—sometimes I wrote an entirely different first draft of a new story between finishing a draft and returning to it.

The Rewrite

And when I do return to it, I read it and weep. “Oh yeah,” I think. “First drafts suck. That’s right.” After crying about how terrible it is, I immediately get to work on the fixing. Starting with the major plot problems and subplots that don’t work in hindsight and eliminating characters, pulling all their threads out of the story, or adding characters and working them into it. Then I get into the small stuff, the chapter by chapter rewriting, then the scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. I often open a second window or split the window (I love Scrivener a lot, y’all) and actually rewrite the entire thing while following along. Sometimes I just cut the bad, rewrite to make it better or delete it completely, and add some new. The rewriting is the hard stuff. It’s the work. It’s the reason I cry a lot. And then…

The Rewrite

I bet you’ve heard the phrase, “Writing is rewriting.” That’s why there’s two of this stage—there’s actually a lot of this stage. It takes a long time. It’s hard. It’s work. I cry a lot.

The End

After all the revising is done, I write “The End” on the bottom of the last page and sleep for a while. Then, I start all over again.

Bonus: The Where/When/How

Where: I write in several places. If it’s nice out, sometimes I’ll sit outside on my deck. Sometimes I sit at my desk. Sometimes in a car, the couch, a coffee shop, my bed, the bathroom (I’m not kidding), my other desk at work, the dining room table. Mostly, I sit on the couch with a laptop table and the dining room table—for some reason, I end up in those two places the most. The dining room table especially if I’m outlining—remember, I’m a mega-planner, so I have charts and maps all on paper all over the surface of the table.

When: In a perfect world, I’d write every day starting at 12pm and ending at 5pm, non-stop and perfectly with a Coke and some snacks on hand. But it’s not a perfect world, Coke is full of sugar, I have other jobs and responsibilities. But usually, I try to write in the afternoon (that’s when I write the best, I’ve found, and most excited to write) and sometimes I’m just drinking water or tea (thanks, diet plan). Because of all my other work I do, I have to carve out time when I can—which is usually in the afternoons on weekends like I love and at 8pm for only an hour on weekdays, which isn’t ideal, but I make it work.

How: I use a lot of the old staples, like a million notebooks and pencils and pens, but the one thing I absolutely need to write: Scrivener. It’s changed my life. It’s the best writing app for a computer ever. I don’t know how anyone can just use Word. Inside the file set up for your project, you have more text files with folders that can easily be rearranged. Sometimes I have a folder for each chapter with many text files inside for each scene, sometimes I just have a text file for each chapter. And the folders can go inside other folders so I can have several parts, chapters, scenes, separated however I want and all of it is still in one document one the “draft” view. It has a “composition mode” that helps eliminate distractions. It has a virtual cork board to help with outlining and brainstorming. It has everything. It is everything.

And that’s my writing process! Never exactly the same, never deviating too far from what I’ve explained. Again, it works for me, it may not work for everyone—and I love hearing about different processes, so I’ve read many that are similar to mine and some that are different. Like a “pantser”…I just don’t understand how they can do it so well without planning ahead. That’s some of the fun about talking to other writers—we all have our own way of doing it!

Let’s Call It Book E – Writing Update

Over the last two months of the new year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my writing. I set out this year with a goal in mind and it has already changed. Partly because of weeks and weeks of thought and partly because of a post by Morgan York that solidified my feelings on what I should be writing and what I should focus on to become a published author.

I’ve been writing several projects since I first started taking writing seriously. The first book I ever wrote and finished the first draft of (but definitely not the first book I ever started) is the first in a series of eight books (let’s call it Book A and Series 1). The second book I wrote, was a standalone (Book B). The following, the first book in a series of five (Book C and Series 2). And then, another standalone (though not quite finished) (Book D). My plan has been to work on both Book A and Book C and whichever I deemed the strongest, I would query with. (Book B is terrible, and I think I’ll be shelving it forever, and Book D is the book I won NaNoWriMo and want to finish writing this year, just on the side when I feel stuck on the others, a thing I do often. It’s actually how Book B and Book C were written in the first place, as side projects I worked on when I was stuck on Book A.)

For a while now, I’ve been thinking that trying to query the first book in a series is a bad idea. Almost every author and agent and editor that spreads their knowledge on the internet says it’s better to start with a standalone, but I’ve been stubborn, too attached to the story and characters, too attached to the idea that Book A, and Series 1, would be my first books published. And it didn’t really sink in until I read Morgan’s post, even though I’ve known it for years.

For many reasons, I’ve decided to move on. First, there’s the fact that Book A is going to need a lot more work. As it was the first book I wrote (started in high school and finished in college) it’s not the best. But I have a soft spot for it, it’s my passion project. I’ve rewritten it several times over the years, trying to get it just right, and last fall I realized the major problems with it—which means another rewrite, a realization that came partway through a different rewrite. It’s a mess. I still love the series, I still love the world, but I know it’s just not right. Second, as Morgan states in her post, it’s super hard getting a series published and it’s a lot of work once it is. (Though, I never wrote the sequels of said books, having previous advice to just focus on the first one and try to get that one published first. But it’s hard selling books as a series, especially as a first time author.)

After reading Morgan’s post (and eerily similar writing histories, especially because we’re almost the same age) I realized that maybe the universe wasn’t allowing my books to work quite right because I should be focusing on something else. So I decided to move on from Book A and Book C, shelve both series and work on something new—not just revamping Book B or finish Book D—but something completely new.

Uh…but work on what? I spent the last week or so of January and most of February searching through my ideas folder and disliking everything. I felt like I was in limbo—it’s the first time I’ve never been actively working on a book. So I stopped looking for ideas I’d already had and started trying to think of a new one.

And you know what happened? I ended up thinking about Book A and the entire Series 1 and the world I’d created. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, something blipped on my creative radar. It was too far away to see what it was yet, but that first spark of an idea is often shy at first. And then it slams into you and you have to spend a solid day writing and thinking and getting everything down that you can. That’s how it happens sometimes. And that’s how it happened for me with the new book.

Let’s call it Book E.

Book E isn’t new, exactly. That’s why it took a while for me to figure it out. Partway through figuring out the idea, I realized that it was connected to Book A and Series 1. It’s in the same book-universe. It even shares a character. But the best part about it, it’s entirely different from Book A, though threads of that world are woven in. And the best part? It’s completely contained. It’s one book, a standalone. A story that starts and finishes all between two covers. Book E could be published and Book A and Series 1 could never be, and it wouldn’t matter (except I’d be sad, because I still love Series 1) but the point is, it’s a better book to query with.

I did it! I practically ran up and down the road screaming with excitement. But I was too busy with that second phase of an idea: Writing everything down before I forget it. Characters, names, places, plot—everything on paper. The last part of February and all of this month has been full of plotting and outlining, piecing together a coherent story from all the ideas that I’d written earlier. And I’m in love with the story and have started drafting. I’m nearly 4k words in and wrote just 1.6k today, the day I posted this.

So now, with Book E in the works, I have new writing goals for the year:

  • Finish drafting Book E and begin revising/editing.
  • Possibly query? Probably begin in 2018.
  • Finish first draft of Book D (NaNoWriMo 2016 Book).
  • Complete NaNoWriMo 2017
  • And maybe, possibly, probably, work more on Book A and Series 1, even just on the side. [insert Brokeback Mountain ‘I wish I knew how to quit you’ gif here]

In all honesty, I think this is for the best. Book E is making me incredibly happy and I think it’s the smartest thing to do going forward on my path to becoming published.

(PS I’m not being secretive with all the Book A, Book B business, most of them don’t have titles yet and it was just easier this way. Book A is tentatively called The Infinite Light and Book C is called Thoughtless.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Update #4

Last week I said if I could get to 40,000 by the 26th, I’d be in the clear. Well. I didn’t do that. I’m 12,000 shy of that. But! I still have faith! I’m still going! On the 26th, I wrote the most I have all month with 3,778 words. So I know that I can do it, I just have to focus all my time on writing on the last few days where I can write. I’ve written 6,000 words in a day before, so if I can just knock out the last few days, I can still win this!

I’m still optimistic even though I’m only just passed the halfway mark! I can do this! I can do this! I can do this! (I probably won’t.)

Words Written:
November 20th 0
November 21st 1,703
November 22nd 314
November 23rd 1,780
November 24th 532
November 25th 1,258
November 26th 3,778

Total Weekly Words: 9,365
Running Total: 28,215
Where I Should Be: 43,342

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Update #3

This past week of NaNoWriMo has gone better than last week, but since I’d fallen so far behind last week, I didn’t write as much as I should have. It would have been a short week anyway, but now it’s put me well passed the halfway mark of the month and I’ve yet to reach half the words.

But we move forward! I plan on writing a lot over Thanksgiving weekend, having two whole days off plus two half days. If I can get to 40,000 by the 26th, I know I can cram in 10,000 words in the last few days. I need to focus on writing when I can instead of just in one long session at the end of the day—50 to 100 words here and there will add up on top of that.

Words Written:
November 13th – 296
November 14th – 1,828
November 15th – 359
November 16th – 2.083
November 17th – 702
November 18th – 1,704
November 19th – 1,729

Total Weekly Words: 8,701
Running Total: 18,850
Where I Should Be: 31,673

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Update #1

First (sort of) week of NaNoWriMo is complete! And I didn’t totally fail yet!

With an easy start to the week, I was able to write a lot on the first day, which brought me about half a day ahead right away. But with a busier mid-week (out of town on the 2nd, working on the 3rd) I wrote almost nothing. Then on Friday, I had some time after working on school assignment and wrote over my daily 1,667, then dominated today and almost caught myself up to the 8,335 I should be at.

As a writer, I’ve been able to write at a pretty consistent 500-1,000 word session on the regular, with my record being 6,000 in a day (maybe I can do that again on a nice long day off this month???). I knew that I could do 1,667 words in a day easily, but having the time to do so is the trick with a busy schedule. So knowing that I would have days with 0 words, I knew I’d have to make it up with higher word counts on days that I could write. Hopefully this strategy will get me to 50,000 by the 30th—so far, I’m not too far behind.

Words Written:

November 1st 2,257
November 2nd 0
November 3rd 520
November 4th 1,862
November 5th 2,479

Total Weekly Words: 7,108
Where I Should Be: 8,335

My novel is about a girl going missing and a town (told from seven perspectives) in search of her, alternating between two timelines: one before she went missing and one after she’s been missing a while and a second event shakes the town once again. So far it’s been going well, the only trick is keeping the timelines straight and making it all work in one coherent story. Outlining all October really helps with that.

Anyway, I’m having a great time with NaNoWriMo and I’m excited it’s going well so far!

NaNoWriMo 2016

I first heard of NaNoWriMo a several years ago, possibly while still in high school, and tried writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I failed miserably. But I had a lot of fun. I think I might of tried a few years later, but never got back into doing it. I love the concept and I think it’s really fantastic that so many people write during a single month. There’s something about it that adds a word-and-magic-filled excitement to the air. It makes you want to write, to reach your daily goal, just knowing that thousands of others are doing the same thing.

Because I’ve been struggling with my writing projects lately, I’ve decided that, even though I don’t have any extra time next month, I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve been working on the same few projects for the last few years, struggling with both of them, and I just want to have some fun. I want to start a fresh, new project, and just go for it.

I’ve been outlining my novel for the last week in preparation (I’m a planner when it comes to writing) and I’m really liking where it’s going. The book is about a missing teenager and an entire town looking for her. There’s multiple points of view, a dual structure with different timelines (a “before” she went missing and an “after”). I’m really getting excited to start writing it!

So I’ll be busy all of November writing my 1,667 daily words when I can and posting my weekly progress here! 50,000 words. Let’s do this.

What I’m Working on Now

In an earlier post from January, I talked about why I write and what I’ve written. In it, I mentioned the book I’m currently working on and that I would expand a bit more about it in another post. That’s this post. The post is happening now. Right now. Here it goes.

(I should mention, I don’t do the greatest of jobs making this book sound like an actual book right now—because it isn’t. It is not a concise, “back of the book” type explanation. I’m just rambling about it. First draft, people, we’re at a FIRST DRAFT LEVEL of description.)

Future Book—as I call it, since there is no title—is set in the, you guessed it, future. How far into the future? The year 2334. Or 2234. I haven’t decided. The book’s set in a very different U.S. from today. Over the last 200/300 years, the cities have grown to become enormous, limits blurring, and there are now only seven Great Cities, broken into sectors. Some states are viewed by locals as regions, containing a handful of sectors, but for the most part, they’re gone. A lot has happened to shift this—war, politics, rising sea levels. There are some sectors that are more well-off than others, with its residents being the richest in the world, and some are incredibly poor and rundown. There’s also a lot of new technology—there are some new providences on the Moon and a colony on Mars. In this future, people have become more evolved and have a telepathic ability. Everyone has it, everyone uses it, but it’s hard to control. And it’s caused problems—war, for one—and remains an affliction rather than a useful tool for most people. No one really knows why it happened—technology effecting our minds, a dormant gene that started to show up over a long period of time, or that it started from scientific experiments and it started to naturally trigger itself in offspring and surrounding people, passing it on for the last few centuries. For the rich and people who can afford it, a device can be implanted in the brain to control it. For the poor, there’s nothing. In less-off sectors, crime is low—no secrets, no hiding. In the rich sectors, crime is incredibly high in comparison to the poor (about the same as it is now)—secrets can be kept and crimes committed without anyone knowing.

AND HERE COMES THE STORY PART. God, I need to work on my elevator pitch. Good thing this is a first draft. And I’m not on an elevator pitching to an editor or agent.

Lily is seventeen (did I mention this is YA?) and is at the top of her training class, aspiring to be a Force—the police/law enforcement in the future—detective like her father. She’s the youngest ever to graduate. After she escapes an attack by a mysterious terror group, she develops PTSD and struggles with her first murder investigation. There’s a lot of DETECTIVE STUFF and TELEPORTING and MURDER and CONSPIRACIES and TELEPATHY and FUTURE THINGS.

Basically, I’m in love with it and am excited to work on it every chance I have.

For the most part, I got the idea of Future Book because I was thinking a lot about evolution and wondering how much change humans have gone through, how much more change there could be, and how technology will change. Then I read an article about experimenting with mice and telepathic connections between them and I thought about if humans could communicate telepathically, and how cool that would be. And how awful that would be. Would it be constantly on? Would we be able to control it? How could we control it? That’s where the device came in. How expensive would it be? What about the procedure? Could poorer people afford it? How would that effect people with less income? Would that effect whole areas with a lot of poor people? With a lot of wealthy people? What about the middle class? Would there be a big change in the US and there wouldn’t be wealthy/poor/middle distinction? How would we change as a society? What else would be effected? How would the country run? How many US Presidents would the country have in a few hundred years? I’m tired just thinking about all this?

Crime would probably decrease if there were no secrets. That thought started it. I thought about how the police system would shift, focusing more on the wealthy because crime in poor areas would nearly come to an end. It all started from that idea, and then Lily came in saying, “Give me a murder case to solve. I’m good at solving those.” And that’s that.

There’s a lot of work in writing about the future, though. Research on technology growth: how things work now will be different. Will we have cell phones? An equivalent to them? Cars? Trains? Planes? TVs? Computers? What will be new, what will just be different? There’s a lot of making stuff up. I can’t predict the future. A lot of the time I think, “Is that how police stations work? Is that how law enforcement works at all?” I usually just say, “Who knows? 300 years is a long way away. Do what you want, self.”

And there’s a lot of things to consider with fiction set in the future. Look at Back to the Future: Part II—October 2015 came around and we had no hoverboards, no flying cars, no more sequels to Jaws than we had before. The future isn’t always what we think it will be. That’s how I’m approaching this book: it’s probably not going to be as advanced as we think. Though, 300 years is much more than the 30 years from 1985 and 2015. Exactly 10 times more, actually. But there’s also other things to consider that could set us back: war, natural disasters, literally anything could change at any time to thwart technology from advancing anymore. Who knows? Within a 200/300 year time frame, society could collapse and we’ll have to start over again, and by 2234/2334, it might look exactly as I imagined or exactly as it does today, or it will be much more advanced than I wrote, or everyone will be dead. Either way, it’s just fun making it all up.

Anyway, that’s my current WIP! I’m having a blast writing it.

That’s all for now!