If there is one thing I learned from writing Demonspine, it’s that I don’t actually have a process yet.
It’d be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I did. I mean, I’ve been writing for six years, almost seven now. I’ve logged a lot of novels (lost count somewhere, which is fine because most of them don’t deserve to see the light of day anyway), and I’ve learned some stuff… right?
Well, yeah. There’s a lot more to learn, too. Not just fiction techniques and storytelling and words, but how to better use my time. How to spend less time spinning my wheels.
Because that was my downfall with Demonspine, and the reason it took 18 months to release it after Angelhide. To give you an idea of how much time I wasted, I actually had 90% of the first Demonspine draft done at Angelhide’s 2014 release and it still took me 18 months.
Granted, most of those months weren’t writing. They couldn’t be. I don’t quite remember what all I did then (other than a couple NaNoWriMo projects) but it wasn’t working hard on my next novel like I knew I should be doing. And I could play the ‘but but toddler’ card, but let’s be honest–it wasn’t his fault.
These hard lessons in self-awareness and procrastination have come at a cost–my time.
I can’t be alone in this. But I have some good news. There are a couple of things I’ve found that really improve my process, that help the writing go smoother and be more fun. And when it’s more fun, I suddenly ‘find the time.’ (And some days I still have to make the time–that will never change).
Without further ado, a list!
5 Process Improvement Tips
- Journaling. This one still surprises me. For the longest time, I compartmentalized journaling as that thing other writers do to daydream and that’s cool but that’s not me.
Except it is.
There’s a lot of junk in my head and it’s amazing what getting some of that junk out can do. Sometimes it’s writerly junk, I can’t do it, this is awful, why did I think I could write? but other times it’s health. I couldn’t sleep last night and now staying awake hurts. I’ll make a deal with myself–one more cup of caffeine for a serious attempt to finish this scene.
I would have thought that allowing myself to whine in notebook form would create a storm of negativity that I can’t get out of, but the reverse is true. The junk comes out, it gets acknowledged, and it gets solved. This is soooo especially true for the writerly junk because once I get the words I’m so bad at this out they just stare at me until I keep going–I feel this way because I’ve stalled in a scene and I’ll feel better as soon as I fix it.
After a page of working through ‘it’ (whatever it is at the moment) I usually have a pretty good writing day.
- Goal-Setting. This one seems super obvious, but every week that I don’t set goals is a week I get next-to-nothing done.
What’s been working the best for me lately is plotting out the entire week, keeping in mind my other obligations like work and family. The big mistake I made at the beginning of September was I didn’t account for my family coming up over Labor Day weekend. Naturally I fell behind, but instead of whining it out in my journal and moving on, I stagnated. I didn’t set goals again until last week. Thankfully, my long-term schedule for Heaven’s Most Wanted hasn’t been fatally compromised–I built in a little fudge factor for getting the first draft done. Now that fudge is gone (I still want more chocolate), but I can do this.
- Aspire higher. Normally I cringe when other writers say they are aspiring writers or aspiring authors (author is a person who has written, so are you seriously aspiring to have written? Please, no). Stop aspiring and start writing! Your future writer self will thank you.
But… I look at my greatest time sinks in writing. Combat and high-danger scenes take me so much longer to write than fun banter. For a long time I just accepted that as part of my writing self. It’s ‘how it is’. Except, it’s not! Writing to a halt became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It takes longer because I expect it to. Oh, here comes another of those scenes, gonna spend a week on that and hate every minute…
This attitude is completely unprofessional. I aspire to be professional, to treat writing like the career I want to have. A professional doesn’t accept this kind of junk and gunk. A professional asks, how can I improve this process?
I read a writing book on conflict. I wrote in my journal and learned that the reason I don’t enjoy writing these scenes isn’t the scenes itself–it’s because of the time sink I’ve made them into. The self-fulfilling prophecy of doom has come full circle.
I made a list of ways I can work more professionally, and the most pivotal is this one:
- Prewriting. How many times have I started a scene and got 25%, 57%, 83% into it, only to realize I’m going approximately half a word an hour and I don’t like where I ended up.
Whenever I take a page from Rachel Aaron’s playbook (the ultimate process improvement guide) and pre-write each scene before I get started, everything goes so much smoother. In fact, the difference is so extreme that some of my fastest, funnest scenes come out when I block each and every beat out before I actually write it.
It’s like plotting to the extreme. First I ramble through concerns and questions I have about the scene–what’s really at stake here? What disaster is looming? Is there enough conflict? Is this an interesting location? It’s amazing how often asking a question, not just in my head but putting it on the screen or paper, gives me the answer.
From there, I take that overarching idea and block it out. It’s tempting at this point to just start writing, but then I slow down again. I gotta keep it simple, even if that means making the beats ridiculous and the dialog unpunctuated. In fact, keeping it that raw keeps the flow.
And once that’s done, it feels like no work at all to clean it up. I’m happier with what I wrote, it took me less time and anguish, and I still have energy to tackle the next scene. What’s not to love?
- Intrinsic motivation. The thing about writing and art in general is that no one cares if you do it. Oh, we say we do. We ask how it’s going and give a thumb’s up when you tell us you’re plugging along.
But at the end of the day, the only person who can finish that draft is me. No amount of external pressure will make that happen (I’ve heard a contract deadline helps, but I’d still argue there’s strong intrinsic motivation propelling a writer to meet said deadline). Intrinsic motivation is the key–finding yours is a personal thing.
I’m still looking for mine. Sometimes I remind myself where I want to be in a five years. I think about what my life would be like without writing. Almost always, I ask myself why the story I’m writing is important to write right now, more important than all the other things I could be writing. That’s usually a good jumpstart.
How do you improve your writing process?