I’ve been talking about making this series for about two months now, and I finally got around to making the first episode. Welcoming to Behind The Novel, the series where I’ll share my novel writing process every step of the way.
Originally I was going to just jump into showing you the writing process, but after a little consideration, I thought it best to start with the most prominent tool I use: Scrivener.
So this first episode is a brief introduction to Scrivener. You’ll learn why I like it, what benefits it provides, as well as be reminded that masterpieces are written using everything from Microsoft Word to typewriters to pen and paper.
So if you can’t afford Scrivener, never fear. In this case you’ll be in good company. I don’t think Dante used Scrivener either when he wrote The Devine Comedy.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. There are more on the way.
After roughly a year and a four months, I’ve finished drafting Grim Curio! I climbed the largest mountain on the road to publishing my next work, and I feel thrilled. This is easily my most ambitious project yet, and I’m really proud of it so far.
There’s still a lot of work ahead, but you’ve got to take time to celebrate every accomplishment or you’ll get burned out in this game. I’m celebrating by taking a couple of weeks off writing and playing God of War or something. I’ll probably get antsy before the break is up and start writing again, but that’s the plan anyway.
In its current state, Grim Curio clocks in at 112,000 words. It has 3 parts consisting of 29 chapters. If I were to print it, double spaced sized 12 font, it would be 436 pages.
The first and last 5 chapters easily took up the bulk of the writing time. Beginnings and endings are hard, but beginnings have the advantage of fresh enthusiasm. There were several rewrites of the first 10 chapters before I got the feeling right, and one major revision midway through.
Now I’m going to put Grim Curio aside for a couple of months to let it rest. Then I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and tons of notes from my beta readers. In the meantime, I’m already starting work on my next few projects. I’ll talk a bit more about them later, but they involve a t-shirt, another book, and possibly Patreon.
When will Grim Curio be published?
That’s a big question I get asked often. Unlike Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I don’t plan on publishing Grim Curio myself. Instead I’ll query agents, get representation, find a publisher, then go through the traditional process. This process may take a year or two to complete. We’ll see.
In short, I don’t know when it’ll be published.
In the mean time…
I’ve got a lot of work on other projects ahead of me. I’ll continue to keep you posted on all of the comings and goings here, so stop by often. And sign up for my mailing list if you want to be notified when Grim Curio get’s published.
You’ve come up with the perfect idea for a novel. Now it’s time to sit down and write. You open your word processor, type in your working title and name (can’t start without that), go to page one and…. freeze. What now? Do I just write? Where do I start? How do I know where I’m going? I’m using Word, do other writers use Word? And…. and… and…
Who knows, maybe when you started your first novel it was a breeze. You just started typing and it felt right. But if you’re anything like many new writers out there, you might not be aware of the many ways novels get written. And even if you do know, you probably don’t know what works best for you until you discover them and give each a shot.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve given several writing methodologies a shot. My process is ever evolving as I try to find the balance of several aspects, which we’re about to dive into.
In this blog post we’ll answer the following questions
How can I plan my novel without getting too bogged down in the details?
How can I plan it and still maintain the freedom of free-writing?
How can I create a basic elevator pitch before I’ve even started writing?
How can I plot my novel and ensure my characters have a compelling arc?
How do I make sure each scene feels complete?
What word processor should I use to organize all of this?
This is a medium-depth overview. I’ll expand on each point in future blog posts, but for now this’ll be a great jumping off point if you’re wanting a crash corse in novel-writing.
Last note before we get started: this is my method, and my method is constantly changing as I hone it to suite my needs. Your method may turn out quite different from this. Use this as a jumping off point, and then change it to match your style.
Planning your novel
Gasp! I said ‘plan’. If you’re among those who fear or despise this word, worry not! Read on and you’ll find a most satisfactory compromise. You see, I used to hate planning as much as anyone, I still don’t love it. But I’ve discovered a hybrid method that will work for even the most hardened hater.
Planning vs. Pantsing
For those of you who said, “huh?” to the paragraph above, let’s touch on case of plan v pants for a second.
Planning refers to preparation before writing, often in the form of an outline, sometimes in the form of lore or backstory, etc. You might also see it called plotting or outlining.
Pantsing refers to “writing from the seat of your pants”. It’s also called discovery writing — but really, who uses two words when they could use one. In essence, it’s writing without preparation H… I mean a preparation stage (stupid autocorrect ).
I’m not going to spend too much time exploring planning vs pantsing since it’s already been discussed ad nauseam on every writers blog on the planet. And, frankly, it doesn’t interest me. If you want more a more in-depth study on the subject, google it.
What is interesting to me is why, after years of being a staunch pantser, I’ve become something of a hybrid. So let’s talk about that.
The early years, or writing without a plan
The first three novels I wrote were 100% done without preparation — 2 unpublished, the other is Discovering Aberration which you can get for free in the doobly doo below. It felt great. When others talked about planning, I scoffed. I couldn’t understand how anyone could cage themselves with an outline.
Then came revisions… I found my plots meandered. It lingered on some plot threads long past there due, lacked proper foreshadowing, and the pacing was all over the place. In the end I was forced to do several major rewrites. I mean major. It was a bummer and added at least six months to the writing process.
Attempting to outline
Eventually I attempted a full outline for another project, The Gin Thief, but as I wrote the mid to late sections, everything felt like a guess. It’s hard to account for character reactions before your characters are even written.
When it came to drafting, I found I deviated far from my plan and all that work planning seemed wasted. Furthermore, I felt confined by my own preparation. Turns out, plot ideas may sound great in the outline phase but in practice feel forced. There’s too many unaccounted for variables early on.
So I abandoned the hardline planning approach, and today follow a hybrid method that’s working extremely well for me.
The hybrid approach to planning
Today I’m somewhere in the middle. I plan just enough to give me direction, but not enough to box me in. Let’s dive in to what this process looks like.
Acts in bullet point form
First, I break down my novel into three simple lists of arcs organized by Act. Three’s just a number, you can do five or seven or whatever the hell you want. The three act structure is common and it’s what I find myself gravitating to recently, but Shakespeare wrote in five acts and he’s pretty good.
Below is an example. It’s the three acts of my novel Grim Curio, which I’ve nearly completed writing. Spoilers below, but it wont ruin the book even if you know the vague details.
James and Simon save a village from a strange, alien disease which came from another reality. It doesn’t go well.
Nat joins nihilist cult.
Scientists experiment with the nature of reality.
James and Simon struggle to return home. When they arrive their home is drastically changed.
Scientists open a hole in reality.
Cult attacks scientists.
Revolution has broken out. Simon is caught up in it.
Reality is torn, leaking. James tries to fix it.
All hell breaks loose.
Notice how simple it all is. Just the major beats of the story in a loose arrangement. Best of all, before I’ve even written my novel I can give an elevator pitch. It’s not as refined as it will be later in the process, but having these bullet points gives you ammunition when anyone asks you, “so what’s your book about?”
Here’s an elevator pitch built from the bullet point list above: “Grim Curio is about these guys who save a village from an otherworldly disease and get punished for it. When they return home, everything has changed. Reality is torn, and a revolution is on. And that’s not mentioning the nihilist cult in the middle of it all.”
Fleshing out characters
Now we know the basic arc of our novel. You have a lot of options at this point. If you were a hardcore planner, you might start a flowchart of every scene. If you’re a lore geek, you might start nailing down all of the back story. If you’re a pantser at heart, you might just start writing.
As for me, I’m obsessed with character. I believe characters are why we read books. Everything else is just sugar on top, plot included. So my next step is spending some time getting to know them.
A characters beginning and end
First thing I like to do for all major characters is determine their starting and ending state of mind. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Could be, “Jill starts out bad, becomes good,” or “Sam hates dogs, learns dogs are man’s best friend”. That kind of thing.
And then there are characters who don’t change, static characters. There’s nothing wrong with a static character, but you should know before hand if your character is going to be unchanging, and why.
In the case of Simon, from Grim Curio, he starts as a man who believes he understands the world but has little affect on it, and ends as a man who realizes he knows nothing but the masses follow him regardless.
As for James, he’s more static. There are changes, but its much more subtle and internal. James is a man who always needs to be working, being stagnant leads him into depression. He begins believing in himself but even as his successes are marred with terrible consequences. Because of this, he stops believing in himself, continues trying anyway, and finally gets things right.
Creating character arc through sign posts
We now have our major characters beginning and ending state of mind. Time to fill in the rest with sign posts. These are plot points you can aim towards while you’re writing your scenes. If you know that Jaclyn is an asshole who becomes a saint, then each of these sign posts are the moments where small amounts of change occur. By the end of the novel, all of these small moments of change will build up to a big revelation.
If you want more information on this, I recommend reading Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland and watching these two Brandon Sanderson lectures. These resources changed my outlook on crafting character, and I consider them required reading/viewing.
Do I really need to do all this work before I start writing?
HELL NO! You don’t need to do anything you don’t feel like. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road in a single drugged out session, and that’s considered a masterpiece. So go do that if you feel like it. Doesn’t matter how you write it as long as it gets written.
There are zero rules to writing other than you need to put words on paper — or e ink. Don’t let anyone push you around with their rules. Your weird unheard of method may result in a best seller or critical darling. I don’t know, and neither does anybody else.
I don’t even always stick to my own rules. They are there to service me, not the other way around. So I deviate when I feel like it. But I’ve found having these methods in mind greatly helps me, even when I don’t follow them.
Post continues below.
The drafting process
If you’re following along, you’ll have bullet pointed your major arcs, you’ll have created you’re major characters with beginnings and endings in mind, and you’ll have some scenes you can aim towards via character sign posts. Now it’s time to actually write.
If you’re brave, you can start by writing scene one all the way through and then move on to scene two. This is the most straight forward approach. But I’ve found simply drafting an entire scene from scratch is fraught with flaws. It takes too long, has too many uncertainties, requires too much mental gymnastics as I attempt to account for later scenes, and is prone to unexpected bouts of writers block.
But I made a brilliant discovery. Write descriptions of scenes before writing the scenes themselves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with this. It’s been a long time since I read Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, but as I recall they have a similar method.
Before we talk about that, let’s take a look at our most potent weapon, the word processor
Sorry. This bit sort of comes out of nowhere, but I want to make sure I include it because it’s such a fundamental part of my process these days. Let’s talk about Scrivener for a sec.
Scrivener is a word processor that’s built with novel-writing in mind. You can organize things by act, scene, character, tag, and so much more. Drag and drop whole chapters at a time. It’s well worth the $45, and is by far my tool of choice.
Above is an older version of Scrivener (I need to upgrade to version 3). What you see is Grim Curio broken up by act, and each act broken up by chapter, and each chapter broken up by scene. This is how I write, and I find it invaluable. You’ll see why next.
Creating scene descriptions
Let’s say today is the first day of drafting for my new project. I have my characters in mind with some sign posts to aim for. What I do now is create a new scene file, but rather than start writing a fully fleshed out scene, I write a very short description of the scene I’ll eventually write. My goal is a rough idea of the scene in a couple of paragraphs.
Here’s a contrived example:
James enters the village, and immediately is struck by their strange customs. Everyone is gathered around a great dead tree that’s scorched black. The people are coated in mud and dirt, and as they work they toss more dirt on their skin. Their homes are burrows in the ground.
As James approaches, they notice him and send someone to intercept/question him. He makes some basic mistakes, but recovers a little. They lead him to talk to the village elders, but their conversation is interrupted by screams.
I’m not trying to write well here. I’m just getting a basic idea of how the scene will progress. When that’s done, I create the next scene file and do it again. I’ll do this as far as I possibly can before it feels like I’m forcing it. Usually this is a few chapters worth of scene descriptions.
As I read through the descriptions, using Scrivener I can rearrange them easily if needed. Later I’ll come back, go back to scene 1, and start fleshing it out.
Writing the scene
From here, it’s pretty straight forward. Go through your description and expand. Don’t worry about writing perfect prose. Just get the scene done and feeling pretty good. Then move on to the next scene description and expand that. Do this over and over until you reach the end of your written scene descriptions.
Now that we have a series of drafted scenes, I go through several passthroughs to improve them.
Phases of rewriting
I tend to go through my scenes at least four times. Each time, I focus on a different element of storytelling.
First passthrough I focus on character. I make sure motivations feel legit, make sure dialog feels real, and generally just try to keep each character inline with their personalities.
Second passthrough I focus on descriptions. The best narration engages the senses, so I try to mimic what I consider the best. That means making sure every scene not only has a look, but a feel, a sound, a scent. If a character touches a wall, I want a line about the texture. If they enter a kitchen, I want a line about the scent.
Third passthrough I focus on prose. That’s the words themselves. I like books with good word economy, meaning never using two words where one will do. This doesn’t necessarily mean using big words all the time, but I also don’t shy away from big words if they feel right.
Forth passthrough I just refine and cut. If there’s anything extra that doesn’t service the characters or the plot, I cut it. Even if it’s really good on its own. Doesn’t matter. Cut mercilessly. After all this work, you’re gonna have paragraphs that you labored over that don’t fit right. Don’t be sentimental. Cut the shit out of them.
Bear in mind that four passthroughs is on the low end for me. That’s a straight forward scene without too many complications. The first and last chapters of Grim Curio both had at least 10-15 passthroughs, as well as some all out rewrites. Keep massaging it til it feels right.
Continue this cycle over an over again for about a year, and you’ll have a damn fine novel. When you’ve written up to the end of your scene descriptions, start writing descriptions again and write towards your sign posts. Then expand and refine. And again and again.
That’s it. That’s my process. If you want me to get more granular on any topic, let me know and I’ll make time to do so. If you like this post and want more like it, then please share through your favorite social network. If you want to support my work, buy a novel using a link to the right, or sign up for my mailing list in the doobly doo above. Until next time, I’ll see you around.
I’ve nearly finished writing Grim Curio. 92,000 words written, and when it’s done it’ll be just shy of 100,000. That’s pretty damn close.
I’m a little sad to be at this point. Grim Curio has been a very rewarding book to write. I’ve expanded my skills and pushed myself as far as I can.
Even so, I’m ready finish. Writing Grim Curio has been exhausting. So while I’m sad to see the experience drawing to an end, I’m also relieved.
To celebrate this milestone, here’s three takeaways from my writing process.
I found my own voice
It seems to me that a writers voice is always evolving. But for the first time I feel the voice I’m writing in is my own.
While I enjoy the narration of Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I think it’s fairly obvious that I was emulating the style of the Victorian Era (drawing heavily from Jules Verne).
With Grim Curio, it was just me.
I improved my pacing
Pacing is critical. Bad pacing can cripple an otherwise great novel. I’ve struggled with pacing before, especially with Discovering Aberration‘s drawn out introduction and drastic shift in tone.
But with Grim Curio I feel like I nailed it. Beta readers seemed to agree. Now I’ve got to carry that structure to future works.
While my other novels are straight forward adventures without too much subtext to dive into, I feel like I’ve added a depth to Grim Curio I’ve never written before.
Grim Curio can be read as a straightforward post apocalyptic story, but there are layers and layers here that I weaved into the narrative. Some of my beta readers picked up on these deeper themes, others were content to read it at a surface level.
The fact that both were possible and both sets of readers reported high levels of enjoyment tell me I did something right there. Go me. Gotta pat myself on the back sometimes. God knows I pile on the criticism enough.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Lot’s more coming in the weeks ahead. I’m getting back into my regular blogging schedule again now that things are calming down. Keep an eye out, and if you want to be notified of any future releases, sign up for my mailing list.
It’s been a while since I shared anything from Grim Curio. There have been some significant updates since the last scene I shared a couple of months back. My dad is about to head out on a three-week business trip for Boeing and before he left he asked if there was anything ready to read yet. So I figure now’s a good time to share something. This one’s for you dad, the first scene from Grim Curio.
This is the story of how the world ends. It’s not pretty or even necessary, but it happens and so it will be told. It begins and ends with James, who walks along the narrow empty streets of Refuge, the last city on earth. He breaths through a filter on his mask, the sound rushing in his ears, mingling with his footfalls against the disintegrated road. Black lenses block out his eyes. On either side of him are patchworks of rusted steel walls welded together with thick seams like veins. On some walls, groaning air filtration systems struggle and cough. On others, the systems aren’t more than dead metal boxes, tombstones.
James marches a fixed path toward Grievances with a few ill earned dollars in his pocket. He never set out to con anyone, not originally. But things happen and a guy’s gotta make a buck. Guilt isn’t an emotion he feels anymore, or so he lies to himself, hurrying his pace.
At night, streets are usually empty, so when he passes three figures — each masked, carrying heavy duffel bags — he passes on the far side of the street. The black, emotionless masks follow him as he passes. Before rounding a corner he pauses, looks over his shoulder. They stare intently. What mischief are they up to? Doesn’t matter. Not tonight. Tonight he has only one goal, to drink and forget for a little while. He continues on.
He arrives. A hand drawn sign next to the entrance chamber reads “Grievances”. The last few letters are squished together as the artist ran out of space. Below a smudged charcoal sketch of a masked stability officer pointing a sting box at the viewer has been ineffectively erased.
James knocks against the thick steel door. It clicks. He spins the hatch, pulls it open, and enters. Air is sucked out in a rush and his ears pop. A fine mist coats his clothing for a second, then the next door clicks open. Entering anywhere is always uncomfortable.
The room is dim, the air thick with fungal smoke rising off steel pipes. Sweet sounds of the beautiful Astira Lockhart’s crooning makes James smile. He removes his mask, takes in a deep breath and sighs. Graying stubble, wrinkles around his eyes. He’s not old, but he looks it. Sometimes he feels it. He takes an empty seat, places a couple bucks on the table, and watches Astira sing.
James nods. A cup of frothy brown wine is set before him. He drinks, savoring the mossy flavor. He listens and time melts. The mild hallucinations make his brown and gray surroundings shimmer at the corners of his eyes.
Mal takes a seat next to him. Light brown-red hair and skin off-white with freckles, and a hawkish nose. She’s cute if you don’t know better. But James knows her, so he tenses and ignores her. She looks at him, savors the discomfort for a second. “Haven’t seen you in a while, James,” she says in a matter of fact way. James nods. “Things must be good for you lately.”
“Yup,” he says humorlessly.
“I bet. Guy with your credibility, you’ll be doing well for yourself by now. Business treating you well?”
James lets the question hang, tries to focus on the way Astira swivels her hips and winks from time to time as she sings, but Mal lingers like a cancer so he turns to her and says, “Is there something you want?”
She smiles, leans back and puffs on her pipe. The smoke is thick, rising to mingle with the rest of the haze. “Solve any doozies lately?” Mal holds a straight face for a few seconds before she snorts. “I have a hot tip for you. I hear North Commune has ghosts. How much do you charge to take care of ghosts?”
“More than you can afford.”
“Ha, I bet.”
“Look, you need something or are you just here to be a nuisance?”
“Yes actually,” she replies. “You owe money to Silke Thomas.”
“So. What’s that got to do with you?”
“A lot actually. Hired me last week to settle his debts. Your name’s on his list. You might be a small fry compared to some of the communes, but you know me. Thorough. Lucky for you I’m off duty. I’ll give you another day before I collect.”
“If you buy me a drink.”
James laughs, looks at her sideways. “I’ve got two bucks and change.”
“Put it on the table, I’ll cover the rest.”
James shakes his head, unsure if she’s extorting him or coming on to him. Either way, he’s not in the mood for a fight. He puts the money up, she tosses a couple more dollars down. Wine comes and she raises the glass. Mal talks occasionally, and James answers when prompted, but the conversation is stilted. He can’t remove that barrier he’s built up over the years, that distrust. Eventually she quits and they both just listen to the music with tension between them.
She leaves and James grows agitated. Did he want her to stay? Not really, but he didn’t want her to go either. He downs the last of his wine, then rises, puts on his mask, and exits in a bad mood. Outside, the wind blows, the gusts cut through his jacket. He curses his rotten luck as he walks back in the direction of home. His eyes adjust to the night and soon he see’s them again, three masked figures with duffle bags hovering around the walls of Grievances. They pause, watch him, and this time a shiver runs up his spine. He ignores it, continues on till they’re out of sight.
Then it hits. From a quarter-mile away, James hears the boom! He spins around in time to see the glow, a plumb of smoke. Eyes wide behind his mask, he stumbles, breath caught in his throat. He rushes back to Grievances, see’s the twisted metal, the still standing hatch, rubble strewn about his feet. It’s eerily quiet, only the sound of flames.
He looks for anyone. Beyond the flames, a glint catches his eye, and there they are slinking away. He’s alone with the wreckage, the too afraid to see the bodies inside but he steps forward anyway. He stops short when he realizes what will happen if he’s found here by the officers. Stability must be preserved, the city survives on a knifes edge, and he’ll feel the edge of that knife if he’s implicated with this. He turns and hurries back towards home.
Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. Even a short one will consume hundreds, if not thousands of hours of your life. So it’s no surprise that so many people look for effective novel-writing strategies. What follows is the first post in my series on novel-writing. Through this series we’ll explore my current novel-writing process from conception to wherever the future takes us.
Writers write because they are inspired, don’t they? In film, writers struggle for that perfect idea, for that flash of inspiration. They struggle over a blank page, cursed with genius yet a lack of inspiration for they’re next novel. If we take movies at their word, no writer would ever write until they discovered the perfect, world shattering idea.
Lucky for us, writing doesn’t actually work that way. Good ideas are important, but they aren’t the crux that every novel depends on. Moreover, while inspiration may simply strike some people, most of us have to fashion habits that will coax ideas out of the back of our minds on a regular basis.
So how important is the inspiration behind your next (or first) novel? How do you create habits that ensure ideas come freely and with relative ease? Read on to dispel some common myths, learn a bit about the nature of inspiration, and build the habits that nurture ideas, generating them on a near daily basis.
The Prefect Concept
Do I need the perfect idea before I start writing?
You’re about to devote months, perhaps years to writing your masterpiece but it all starts with an idea. One bud of a thought can fuel countless hours of your life as you tackle the thankless task of sitting in a room, alone, writing. So you should wait to begin until you have the best idea ever, right?
No. In my experience, aspiring writers place too much importance on the idea behind their story. They seem to believe that if they think and think and think, they’ll come up with the perfect concept, and a book will eventually form. They will often say, “I’ve been working on a story for years.” But when it comes down to it, no words have been written.
What’s the issue with placing too much emphasis on the idea?
Some people will build their ideas for years. They may even change from one concept to another, developing ideas so thoroughly that they may as well have written their novel to completion. People I know and love have developed tons of ideas but have nothing to show for it. What they don’t realize is that an idea is only a fraction of the work involved when writing.
In reality there’s no need to labor over an idea until it’s perfect. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Even a really solid idea is worthless without the right amount of ass in chair time.
Let’s consider Tim. Tim spent years developing his idea, and it’s damn near perfect. If you could see the visions inside his head, you’d be brought to tears for it brilliance. When Tim finally sat down to write, an awful thing happened. The words didn’t sound right. They felt amateurish and sloppy.
The trouble is, Tim knows what good writing is. He’s read it over and over again. But Tim never practiced the actual craft of writing. He’s read great novels, read amazing books on story structure and character arcs. He knows when writing is good or bad, but he hasn’t spent enough time practicing the craft, so his perfect idea in theory is now a mess in execution.
Had Tim settled on a half-formed idea, wrote it out, and admitted it was bad, he would have had hundreds of hours of experience writing. Maybe his first effort will never get published, but by the time he gets to his second or third novel, his writing will be leaps and bounds better, the ideas will come easier, and his ability to communicate through text will mature.
In other words, don’t put too much emphasis on the idea of your book, especially your first book. Find something that interests you and start writing. The more you do this, the easier the entire process will become.
Fostering Habits to Encourage Constant Inspiration
Now that I’ve spent roughly 1000 words downplaying the spark that incites your novel, I’m going to admit that ideas are kind of important after all. Before you sit down to a blank screen and flashing cursor, you’ll want to start somewhere. So where does the inspiration come from?
Idea’s can come from anywhere, you just need to condition yourself to generate them. I’m a firm believer that anyone can be a good writer, talent be damned. Sure, in every walk of life there are some people who are inherently talented, but there are far more people who simply worked really hard to get what they want. Everything about the writing process will come easier if you put the hours in. That includes finding inspiration.
The three B’s
I once had a professor tell me that inspiration comes from the three B’s: bathroom, bedroom, and bus. What he meant was, there are certain points of the day where you’re doing nothing, and it’s these moments where you’ll find yourself inspired. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s likely while you’re commuting, falling asleep, or doing your bathroom business.
But if you’re a writer, you probably need more than that. You’ll want to create habits that insure you have constant moments to think, explore ideas, and hopefully be inspired.
Make time for contemplation
All of my best ideas come in times of quiet contemplation, which for most people doesn’t just happen. You need to create the times to think, which can unfortunately be quickly overrun by the busy world, much like a gym membership. This in turn forces you to be ever vigilant in protecting you thinking time, deliberately setting aside regular time for it.
Most people only reserve this kind of thinking time for the three B’s — and bathroom has now become the place of the smartphone so maybe the B’s are down to two. To be in a state of constant inspiration, or to at least aspire to that state, you need to consciously develop a habit of turning off distractions (including other people) and just think.
For me, habits are easiest to maintain when they easily fit into my schedule. Let’s be honest here, creating new habits is hard, especially with my busy schedule filled with family, work, writing, reading, Muay Thai, video games, Harmonquest, Rick and Morty, and anime. You likely have things you’re passionate about too, so tailor your novel meditation schedule to work best with everything else you’ve got going on.
Driving – At least a few days per week I spend my 40 minute commute to work listening to this playlist and just thinking. No audiobooks, no podcasts, no damn commercials. Just me and my thoughts for 40 minutes straight. It’s amazing how much will come out of these driving sessions once you make a habit of it.
If you have the privilege of a long commute, this is a viable option for you. It’s time you wont get back anyway, might as well invest is as a thinker rather than a passive talk radio listener. But if you don’t commute, find time where you’re doing constant, mindless things, and inject your mind into the equation. Walking, running, shopping, and for some people maybe while working.
Bed – About twice per week I’ll go to bed an hour early. I know that I can rarely actually fall asleep before 10:30pm, so I go to bed with the goal of mulling over current project. Since I’m already in the middle of writing Grim Curio (sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss it’s release) I’ll spend that time thinking on character motivations and arcs, plot points, and themes.
When one of the ideas feel particularly good, I’ll find a way of putting it to paper. Later I’ll work it into my book summary so when I get to the applicable point in the novel, I’ll remember exactly what I was thinking.
I feel like this is an easy option for most people. Do what you have to so you’re in a thinking mindset, lay down, close your eyes, and just think.
Writing – To be honest, a lot of great ideas and sparks of inspiration come in the moment during the writing process. Sometimes it relates to the current scene, but just as often what I’m writing will spark an idea for a future scene. These ideas can disappear quickly, so make a note of it right away.
These ideas tend to be on the details and continuity level for me, so their different from what I think of in the previous strategies. Because of this, I would not rely on this time to be your only time to think on your book. At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of simply writing, even if you have no direction at all. Ideas will come to you as you work through all the threads in your mind. So, even when nothing else is working, sit down and write.
With their powers combined
Don’t rely on just one of these times to contemplate your novel. Try a combination or come up with a few of your own. Best results come when taken together.
The personal risks of living in constant pursuit of inspiration
I’m not normal. You probably figured this out already. I’m pretty aloof, I forget a lot of important things, and I have a hard time maintaining relationships with many people outside my family — even inside my family if I’m being honest. For a normal person, this might sound lonely, but for me, it’s what I crave.
This personality flaw, as some might call it, is likely a result of my own pursuit crafting the perfect piece of fiction. I spend so much time thinking about my writing — and other creative projects — that when it comes time for the real world, often I’m a step behind.
For me, that’s ok. I enjoy being alone and spending time simply thinking on things. This is where my inspiration comes from. So be warned, transitioning into a life in constant pursuit of inspiration may come at a cost. Or you might already be an outcast, nerd, or other form of standoffish enthusiast. My people!
Don’t put too much pressure on your ideas
The idea generating phase never ends, so try not to stress about it. The more you allow yourself to think on things, the easier it becomes. Remember, it takes years to become good at anything. Don’t expect the first manuscript you write to be your masterpiece. You could be one of the lucky one’s who writes a classic on their first go, and to you I say fuck off.
It takes most people years to become great at manipulating a thousand ideas into a novel, so just make time for thinking and writing and let everything else go. There’s too much stress in the world already. Don’t make the creative process into a stressful one. Enjoy the struggle, take pride in your mistakes, at least you’re creating something out of nothing! Later on, those early mistakes will be obvious and you’ll find all new weaknesses to strengthen. So it goes.
When your expectations are too high, nothing feels good enough. Accept that not all of your ideas will be perfect. Some may feel average at best but will create a compelling story in execution. Others may feel great and in execution you’ll realize that they weren’t all you thought they were. It’s all ok. Pivot. Come up with new ideas. Think and think on it, massage it, and eventually something good will come.
Recognize that the initial idea will likely get left in the dust
When I wrote Discovering Aberration, my initial idea was inspired by a dream of a mysterious island with some hidden technology submerged under a lake protected by a dragon. The island and the ancient technology made it to the final draft. All the rest got written out. In the end I wrote a story involving gang wars, evil archeologists, a lost civilization, and characters driven to madness. Idea’s change, and that’s ok. Let them take on their own life, coax them along, adjusting when you need to.
Ideas and inspiration don’t strike anyone not actively looking for it. The right mindset, discipline, and practice will cause ideas to flow. If you aspire to being a great writer, then the best advice I can give you is to write and never stop. I hope you found this first post in my novel-writing series useful. If you did, I would very much appreciate it if you would be kind enough to share. I’ll see you next time.
“And doing what we do, it makes us big. Just like you said, alone you can’t do anything. Nobody listens, nobody cares, everyone is dying and everyone knows it. I’ve seen people dying everywhere in slow and ugly ways. Nothing I can do about it. What I do now makes a difference. Makes a big difference. People all over are scared of me. They don’t know it’s me they’re scared of, but they’re all frightened of my shadow, of my influence, of the threat that my existence brings. Not just the surface dwellers, not just the undercity, all of ‘em. You, the girls, everyone. And if you don’t think so, it’s because I haven’t had a reason to show you yet.”
Above is a snippet from a recent scene written in Grim Curio. It’s been a while since I shared a properupdate, so let’s dive in.
Threads are Coming Together
Grim Curio has a decently complex narrative. There are three separate threads that affect each other both directly and indirectly as the story progresses, eventually all merging into a single thread. At times it gets difficult to write in a way that everything makes logical sense and is fun to read, so the further I get, the slower progress is coming. Right not I’m in the thick of it as all three narratives are coming together, but once that’s complete I expect my progress to pick up again.
I’ve also shared the first four chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, a subreddit I frequent in order to improve my writing and get feedback from readers while the book is still in progress. Feedback has been great!
Three or four months ago I shared these same chapters in an earlier form, and the critiques prompted me to overhaul the style (you can read about the decision to rewrite everything I’d written here). I’m glad I did because readers are responding much more favorably to GC now, with feedback focusing on specific elements rather than the broad strokes.
Some readers have approached me with a desire to become part of my writing process. There are actually lots of ways to do this, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Become an alpha reader
You may have heard of beta readers, but with my GC I’ve been taking it one step further with alpha readers. While beta reading is a structured process with a predefined set of readers giving regular feedback, alpha reading more free form. You can learn the differences here.
I share chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, and you read and either leave comments in the Google Doc, and/or write a short summary of your thoughts. If you want to be notified whenever a new chapter is released, go to the contact page and send me a message. I’ll email you whenever a I share a new chapter.
Behind the scenes of favorite books can be a complicated place, especially when you’re talking about editors. There are so many stages of editing, so many kinds of editors as well as generous readers who give up their time to offer their opinion on works in progress. So if you’re among the many readers who doesn’t know the difference between a Developmental Editor, Proofreader and Beta Reader, this post is for you.
We’re going to break down editors into three categories, Editors, Beta Readers, and Alpha Readers. Editors are your professional brand of book doctors who get paid the big bucks to gut manuscripts before their published. They come in many varieties, and we’ll address the nuances below. Then there’s Beta Readers who are more or less hobby editors who volunteer their time to read manuscripts before they reach Editors and offer their advice. Finally, there are Alpha Readers who come early in the process often in the form of critique groups, writing workshops, etc.
For a more detailed overview on these publishing heroes, read on.
Editors are professional readers, critiquer’s and proofreader’s. They are paid to offer their expert advice to an author in order to make the authors work more marketable (also better).
There are many kinds of editors including: acquisition editors, copy editors, line editors, content editors, and more. Rather than rewriting what’s already been written hundreds of times online, I’ve founds another source to do that work for me. Below is a quote from a blog post from The Helpful Writer. They do a great job of calling out the differences without diving too deep. You can read their complete, original post here.
Most of you already know, or at least heard of, the AE. Generally, they are the ones picking up the books for a publisher, and the go-to for the author while prepping a book for publication.
Used by big publishing houses, and often ghost writers. You can find a few freelancing DEs. They are best with non-fiction writing, but can be hired by fiction writers. Their primary function is to ensure a book moves in a forward motion, watching plot and characterization. Think writing coach.
The very big publishing houses have Content Editors, the one overlooking all the plot, characterization, voice, and setting.
The copy editor specializes in grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. The Copy Editor is used most often in journalism publications, but utilized by some smaller publishers.
Also known as a Copy/Content Editor, often employed by the small – medium publishers, and self-published authors. They do it all – grammar, fact-checking, spelling, formatting, plot, sentences, characterization, setting, punctualization, and voice. They go through every inch of an MS, word by word, line by line.
Many get a proofreader and an editor confused. A proofreader is the one who goes over your MS after an editor. They look for the glaring mistakes missed, generally in punctuation, spelling, and formatting. They look for the glaring mistakes that may have been missed during edits.
Hey guys, I’m back! Let’s talk about beta readers. Beta readers are the salt of the earth readers who want to be a part of the process. And they’re awesome. They volunteer their time to read early access, unkempt, unpublished manuscripts. They then share their thoughts with the author in the form of notes and/or interviews. If all goes well, a better book is birthed kicking and screaming into this cruel world.
The beta reading process for me is a structured, chapter by chapter read through. My beta readers are given chapter deadlines and are asked to answer a series of questions to send back to me. Occasionally we may have one on one conversations where they share their deepest, darkest secrets… ahem, thoughts on my novel. It’s the semi casual version of Editing!
Want to become a Beta Reader? Send me a message through my contact form, and let me know. I’ll add ask you a few questions and potentially add you to the list.
To boil it down, Alpha Readers are to Beta Readers what Beta Readers are to Editors. Hows that for a flashback to the SAT’s? To clarify: Editors are a professional grade arsenal of long-range weapons. They get paid to read at a professional level. Beta readers are avid readers willing to share their thoughts. They’re your infantry.
Alpha readers, on the other hand, have access to some or all of the early versions of chapters, they may read it in order or random bits and pieces, and they are not beholden to schedules or deadlines. They come earlier in the process than Beta Readers, often before much of the book is even written. They are your spies.
For me, Alpha Readers help determine aspects of the novel while I am writing it. They share input during the drafting process.You can include in this group writing partners or workshops. Lately I’ve been using /r/DestructiveReaders for my alpha reading process (learn about how I used this community to improve my writing skills). Some readers there are professional writers, other amateurs, still others just readers wanting to share their input.
If you want to be notified when chapters are available for alpha reading, reach out to me through my contact form and let me know. I’ll email you whenever a new chapter is available to alpha read.
So there you have it. In short, all forms of editors are great but each serves a very different purpose. If you’re a reader who wants to get involved, find what works best for you and offer your services to an up and coming writers. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. If you’re an up and coming writer, keep an eye out for these kinds of readers and learn how to utilize them. It’ll be highly worth your time.
I’ve been building a killer writing playlist on Spotify for a year. I somehow created a 19 hour behemoth of music I can reliably count on whenever I need to get into the writing mood. Shuffle play, and instantly I get pulled into a more contemplative piece of mind.
It’s a mix of chill out, down tempo electronic, psychedelic post-rock, and movie and video game soundtracks. Almost all of the songs have a steady but relaxing beet and trance inducing rhythms. Few have any singing, and those that do feature the kind of vocals that blend with the music rather than drive it.
Below is the playlist. I called it Creativity Juice – A Writers Playlist. Look down further for a sample of some of the artists included. And if that doesn’t float your boat, scroll way down past that where I share some of my playlist creation wizardry tips. So good.
Listen to The Playlist
The artists include:
Want to give this playlist a test drive? Check out some of the artists.
The Album Leaf
Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon
And Many, Many More.
What if you hate my taste in writing music?
Make it yourself! Below are some thing’s I’ve learned building a the perfect writing playlist for me. Feel free to give it a shot and before you know it, you’re going to be rocking your own masterpiece.
Add Songs Liberally
I like to add liberally. I start by picking an artist I like, listen to an album or two and add a song to the playlist every time I’m compelled to. Usually my criteria is to answer “will I ever like to hear this again while writing?” with maybe or greater. This builds your playlist quick, especially in the beginning.
Remove Songs Liberally
Once you’re listening to your playlist, you’ll quickly find that some of the songs that you thought would work just don’t strike the tone you want. Cut it as soon as you notice. Nothing is worse than listening to a playlist and skipping every other track. If you ever feel like skipping, just remove it instead. If you want, you can add it to another track later.
Utilize Recommended Artists
Once you’ve had your fill of any one artist, jump on a few of the related artists. I’ll generally give an artist I’ve never heard before a three song test. If I only skip one out of three songs in a row (adding songs I liked along the way), I’ll pick an album and listen to it from the beginning, otherwise I go back and pick again. Don’t just listen to their most popular tracks. Instead, pick an album and start from the beginning, adding songs you like as you go.
Listen While Your Not Writing
When you’re writing, the last thing you want to do is stop writing to manage a playlist. If a song comes on that you want to skip, if you’re like me you’ll just suffer through it unless it’s really grating. Instead, listen to your writing playlist when you’re not writing and remove the songs that aren’t working.
That’s all I’ve got. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a method that works for me. So what do you think of the playlist? If you listen to it during a drafting session, let me know how it went in the comments. If you’ve created your own writing playlist, feel free to share a link.