My website bears the tagline: Writer, Mom, Geek & Superhero, which leads to the inevitable question, “What’s your superpower?”.
Since 2003, I’ve written eight novels, two novellas, contributed to the Geek Mom book, and composed countless blog posts on GeekMom and GeekDad. I also have four kids, two of them on the autism spectrum. So I’m frequently asked, “How do you get all that writing done?”.
The quickest answer is that I write because I love to write, so it’s not a chore for me. But for those doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), especially for the first time, I have compiled a list of some things that work for me. Every writer has a different process but these help me and, hopefully, will help some of you.
The only guarantee you ever have with your writing is pleasing yourself. There’s no guarantee anyone will read your book, never mind like it or love it, no guarantee a publisher will buy it, no guarantee that you’ll gain fame and fortune from it.
But you can be sure of pleasing yourself. Do it! Pick whatever genre you want. Mash up several genres! Write an entire novel in one room! Write in iambic pentameter! Write it in all dialogue! Or all letters! Just write what’s fun for the first draft. Revisions are different but we’re talking first drafts.
Writing is my happy place, it’s where I relax. When I sit down to write that first draft, my primary goal is to pick something fun to explore, something I haven’t written about yet. My way into steampunk was to view it as an alternate universe Sherlock Holmes story and I’ve always wanted to write a Holmes story.
Fun is likely something different for you. Whatever it is, pick something you’re excited about including in your writing, whether it be a particular setting, time period, or type of character.
Worrying about selling or how the book will eventually be received will kill your writing fun. It can stop writing cold for some writers.
I’ve been actively writing since 2003 and after a particularly bad few months of rejection after rejection, I stopped. I was too discouraged. To get the fun back, I put away all my submissions and decided to write something I knew had no chance of selling. My thinking was along the lines of “You want unmarketable? I’ll give you unmarketable!”.
The result was a book set in ancient North America about 900 AD and featured an alternate history where Romans and Vikings had colonized North America. I wrote it in six months and then revised it. Why? Because I love stories of the Roman Empire, I loved Viking stories, and I thought it would be fun to put them in conflict in the New World, like the French and the English were in conflict, along with the added complication of hostile (who could blame them?) Native American tribes.
When I finally started submitting the novel, I learned to watch for the deer-in-the-headlights look that came over an agent or editor’s face when I described the premise to them. The look that said: this will never, ever sell.
Still, the book re-energized me about writing and I learned a ton while finishing it. Writing it accomplished exactly what I wanted. It was fun again.
And it also became my first sale. Dinah of Seneca sold to a small press to an editor that loved it as much as I did. It has not sold a ton of copies or turned into a pop culture craze like 50 Shades of Grey but the publication gave me a confidence boost, it allowed me to work with a terrific editor who taught me more about writing, and I had tangible proof of my hard work: a book in my hand.
In my files, there exists an as-yet unpublished romance novel about a ghost hunter, Persephone Hawthorne, set in my hometown of Bennington, Vermont. It was my first attempt at a paranormal/psychic book. I picked ghosts as the focus because while I know vampires and werewolves are big, I just wasn’t psyched about writing them. But ghosts fascinate me, so I went with that.
It was the only book I finished and thought didn’t work. I liked the ghosts, I liked the way the psychic abilities worked, and I loved the other characters. But I didn’t like my main character. Oops.
So I put the book aside and wrote Phoenix Rising, my first superhero romance story. I used what I’d learned about depicting psychic powers from my ghost hunter book in PR and it was a tremendous help.
I sold Phoenix Rising. It’s been my biggest success so far as a fiction writer. It wouldn’t be half as good if I hadn’t had the practice of writing a book that didn’t quite work.
I have since revised the ghost hunter book and believe it works now. I just needed time away from it to find the right voice. Still haven’t sold it yet. Possibly I will someday but if I don’t, that’s okay. Fixing it taught me how to fix a manuscript that isn’t working the next time it happens.
This will only work for some people. I can already hear all those of you who are planners and outliners shaking your heads. “Out of order!! NOOO!! We must be linear.” And some writers have great success and swear by outlines and plans. Awesome for them.
I wrote linearly for a while until I found I was rushing to get to the scenes in my head I really wanted to write. That meant the scenes in between were not so great and my first drafts came up short a great deal, such as 50,000 words when I was going for 70,000 words.
So I started writing the scenes already clear in my head and filling in the blanks between them. The disadvantage is that sometimes those original scenes have to be changed as I fill in the blanks. It’s an inefficient process but it results in a finished book. I figure whatever gets me to a finished manuscript is a good thing. I always know the ending to my book and usually one or two big scenes. I start there and fill in the puzzle pieces as I go.
For Phoenix Rising, the first scene – which I originally intended to be the first scene – ended up being on page 100. I simply started with a scene that called to me the strongest. Basically, I started in the middle and worked forwards and backwards from what I wrote first.
I wrote Phoenix Legacy during NaNo a few years back. I wrote it entirely out of order, last scene first, action scenes in the middle, etc. In one month, I had 60,000 words. Those words were a mess but, as Nora Roberts says, “I can’t fix a blank page.”
Phoenix Legacy comes out as an ebook next month. It feels like the most emotional thing I’ve ever written. It was the first book where I gave myself permission to do the out-of-order thing to my heart’s content.
Everyone has ten minutes free at some point during the day. That’s a perfect time to write. No computer needed, even. A pad and a pen/pencil will do. Take those ten minutes and use them. Chances are once you get rolling, the writing will last longer than ten minutes but if it doesn’t, that’s okay. You’re still ahead of where you’d be if you hadn’t taken those ten minutes.
The idea is to create a habit. And ten minutes a day is the beginning of that. On days when I despair because I have accomplished nothing, I take those ten minutes and feel much better afterward.
I wrote Dinah of Seneca in a journal with a pen one summer during my twins’ swimming lessons. There are still splatters on the journal from the pool. I kept an eye on the kids most of the time but as they were doing their laps, I finished off a scene or two.
I’m also constantly writing scenes in my head so when I have a chance to finally sit at the computer, they flow easily. That means I space out a little bit when standing in line or waiting in the car to pick up my son from school or (bad!) when driving. (I don’t recommend that, I try not to disappear into scenes when I’m driving though it happens accidentally now and again. I’ll be going somewhere different and my brain will automatically turn the car towards the school I drive my son to every morning.)
The idea is to train your brain to think about the work in progress when you’re not able to write it down. That way, when you can write it down, it’s all clear and ready to go.
And, finally, good luck with your writing! Get to the end any way you can! Remember, my process doesn’t have to be your process.