On The Process

By on July 20, 2011 in Writing

When I first considered changing my process for writing my novel – because, to be completely honest, the other way damn well wasn’t working – I don’t think I had any inking of the surprises that a rather simple change in routine and methodology would have in store for me. And thankfully all were rather good, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some apprehensions at the onset.


The rules were straightforward:

* Write for a minimum of one hour each weekday (excluding production week at Rue Morgue)

* Write the novel from beginning to end (no jumping around aside from making short notes or sketching out specific flashes of inspiration for later scenes/conversations)

* No going back and tinkering (apart from correcting major continuity errors that can be addressed quickly and succinctly – thankfully, since the whole book is vigorously outlined most of that stuff falls into this category)

* Post daily word counts to the social networks (for accountability, it’s harder to quit when everyone’s watching)


When first embarking on the new routine my biggest fear was writing front to back. I’d tried to write books in sequence before and it had ended terribly each and every time. BUT this time was different for one key reason: I knew the story. I had an eight-page, chapter-by-chapter comprehensive outline. When I thought back to my previous failures – got too busy, writer’s block, got stuck on a plot point, got distracted by a shiny new project – most were not at play this time out. Well, except for the writer’s block one, that was big fear number two.

Now you may be wondering just how I could get writer’s block when I have a rock-solid outline, but the thing is, the big emotional scenes and action sequences are easy, the connective tissue is often not. For instance, the early chapters where it is all-important to set up the world that you will eventually fracture, to introduce the characters that the readers will hopefully root for and loathe, and to drop the first guarded yet delicious hints that something sinister is brewing. This kind of stuff requires finesse – at a time when your characters may not yet have fully formed personalities. (While I certainly knew who my characters were when I started writing, it wasn’t until some time later that I truly understood them, and now more times than not they tell me what they should be doing/thinking/saying.)

While you may personally disagree, for me, first sentences are easy, but first chapters are hard. How many times have I reworked the first chapter of The Cold Ones since I first conceived the story a couple years ago? More than a dozen easily. Will I do it again? Maybe. But hopefully not.

This was another valuable lesson learned here. If something isn’t coming out smooth, get it done as best as possible and then move along with the book. This is a first draft. The story may – hell, it will – evolve as you are telling it. Getting hung up on the minutia at this stage is helping nothing and no one. In fact, it’s impeding progress. It’s surprising how easy it is to keep moving forward when you no longer allow yourself to go back. (Perhaps this could also be a bigger life lesson as well??)

So how do I prevent the writer’s block? Mostly via one handy little trick. At the end of each day of writing I leave myself on a cliffhanger – not necessarily a big one, could be something as simple as a line of dialogue that sets up a heated confrontation – so that when I sit down at my computer the next morning, I know immediately what happens next. I rarely stop writing at the end of chapter, or at any other place in the story that naturally gives pause.

Among the other things I’ve discovered along the way: I’ve really grown to cherish and look forward to that hour of writing each day and I miss it terribly the week my responsibilities lay elsewhere; the further I get into the story the easier it becomes to write; while I’ve had to revise my outline several times (once removing an entire character from the book’s climax) I feel strongly that each change has only made the narrative more potent; the deeper I submerge myself in this novel, the more the plot lines for the next two books in the series continue to develop and solidify; and lastly, that the daily public word counts definitely keep me honest.

I’m at 170 pages now. Yes, that’s right. Twenty pages past the rough halfway mark. And even if I never manage to sell this novel to a publisher, I still consider it one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I’m not even talking about the story here. The sense of fulfillment doing this has given me and the vivid return of my creativity are worth it in and of themselves.

If the series does take wing and fly. Well, it’ll begin with this book, The Cold Ones. And continue with Feral and The Blood Sorceress and perhaps others. But those next two already have functional outlines. That’s surprising too, and so are the different ways the stories are shaping up to intertwine – all things that weren’t there yet just a month ago. Who’d have known? Certainly not me. But I’ll tell you something, I’m absolutely having one helluva great time discovering.

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