Today sees my first Patreon short story distributed to the $10+/month backers! Between getting the story ready, working on the novel, picking up extra hours at one of my jobs, and being ill, I’ve not had much time this week to work on the a blog post. Consequently, I thought I’d look in the archive for this one.
Back in 2014, I wrote a couple of blog posts for a virtual tour organized by my then-publisher. Since parting ways with said publisher, I’ve lost track of where the posts were uploaded. However, I kept my own copies, and I thought I’d post them here. Below is the first of these posts, and below that is a note providing a couple of updates.
Writing Process: The Physical and the Mental (November 2014)
Whenever people ask me about my writing process, I’m always intrigued as to whether they mean the physical process of sitting down to write, or the mental process of deciding which words to write. So I guess I’ll try and talk about both.
I’m one of those nocturnal authors. I’ve always found that my most productive hours are between about 11pm and 4am. Not sure why, they just are. Maybe it’s the silence and the lack of external distractions. Maybe it’s that I get appalled when people suggest waking up earlier than 9:30am. When I do sit down to write, it’s in a dark room, usually just one lamp, and with my laptop (my handwriting is awful, left hander’s curse, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to write an entire novel by hand and then type it up). I’ll settle down with a cup of coffee, a can of coke, and a glass of water (yes, all three at once, something nice about the temperature and flavor combination….and the caffeine high) and can sit there and just get involved in the writing.
People have often asked me whether I listen to music when I write. The answer is yes, music is an important part of my life, but when I’m writing I ban (give or take) anything with lyrics, and will sometimes have it so it’s barely audible. Any other time I love good quality vocals in my music, but they can be too distracting to the “writing process.” Its purpose becomes to provide a beat for the work, something to listen to in those moments when I need a short breather, and to block out some of the other, more disruptive noises—I used to live in the countryside surrounded by all manner of noisy night time creatures and farm animals, now I live three feet from the sidewalk in upstate New York and it’s a whole other type of night time creature. Some of my favourites to listen to are movie soundtracks (Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams tend to provide well there), Apocalyptica, the instrumental/orchestral versions of Kamelot and Nightwish, and a small instrumental rock group from Albany called Yoma.
As for the mental side of things, you’ll see articles about how meticulously J.K. Rowling planned her series (with accompanied photo of scrawled blue biro), or hear advice of how you have to have a clear plan written down. That’s not how I work. I plan massively. In fact I have plots already in place that aren’t likely to appear for another seven books or so. But I don’t write it all down in notebooks. It’s truly a mental process—if it’s good enough to put in a book, then I’ll remember it.
Most of what I write in any one session I’ll have outlined mentally beforehand, and maybe thought of a few key phrases while driving, walking, standing in the shower, anytime I’m doing something that requires only a small amount of thought. And from there, I let the narrative and the characters take it away and flow freely.
In all honesty, I do occasionally take a few brief notes to keep track of my various plot strands, but nowhere near what I’m aware that some people do. I find it too restrictive—one of the first novels I wrote I planned out scene-by-scene and the result held little feeling because it was just following a preordained plan. I have also looked back at the brief notes I’ve made after I’ve finished a section and seen something about where a plot is going, or what a character will do and thought “wow, I was really wrong, [that character] wouldn’t have done that…”
For me, the writing process is a source of great joy. It holds elements of quiet contemplation, or having a laugh with a group of your friends (even if these ones are imaginary). I can get very excited about what I’m doing, even if it’s 3 in the morning, dark, and everyone else is in bed.
It’s no longer true to say that I do most of my writing at night. While it remains my preferred time to write, work schedules have required that I be a little more flexible on the matter. I wonder what 2014 me would have said about me getting up at 7am for a work shift. My desk is always the home of my writing, but I’ve actually started getting some of my writing done now in the café at work before my shift (employee discount!)—sometimes I even write while it’s daylight outside!
I no longer live in New York, having moved to just a little way outside Atlanta back in August. It tends to be pretty quiet where I live, but I still listen to my music. The biggest concern I have when it comes to night time creatures is hitting a herd of deer on my way home.