My Writing Process + Sand and Smoke Sequel is Drafted!

Good news! Today I hit the end on the first draft of the sequel to Sand and Smoke! There are still a number of things to clean up and revise, but if all goes well, I’m really hoping to publish it sometime in August next year. I’ll probably begin accepting pre-orders and reveal the title sometime before the end of this year (2020) by the way.

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So I think there is a trend of writers, authors, traditionally published or indie or self-published, sharing their writing process with others? I thought I would hop on that trend! So here’s some info about how I write.

First thing, every project is different.

My writing project changes a lot. It might seem weird then that I am sharing my writing process. But even though how I write changes with every project, I do still have a process. I have a few steps I go through every time I write something new.

At the most fundamental level, my writing process can be broken up into three steps:

  1. Idea
  2. Write
  3. Revise

Let’s talk about step one. Technically, an idea is just the very, very starting point. It might not even resemble a story. An idea could be, for instance, a boy with a lightning bolt scar on his head. We recognize that as Harry Potter, but someone who knows nothing of Harry Potter would be able to imagine a million different books using that idea. The original idea for my book, Sand and Smoke, was a world with dragons and cowboys in it. Personally, I get my ideas at random times throughout the day. I usually don’t try to force this step. I keep a page of notes on my phone and write down an idea whenever it comes to me. That might be when I’m about to go to sleep, when I’m taking a shower, or even when I’m driving. If I come up with the idea when I’m driving, I usually either try to remember it for as soon as I come to a stop, or I pull over and jot it down. The vast majority of ideas I never actually use. Sometimes, I combine two ideas. I love doing that. If an idea is really good, it will end up sticking in my head, and then I will start to develop it and proceed to the next step. When I first started writing, these ideas were usually just things I thought sounded cool. Such as, in college, when I had an idea to write about a pigeon living in NYC. Lately, I’ve been working harder to differentiate these ideas that sound cool in my head from those that have more commercial appeal.

After the idea comes the concept. The difference between an idea and a concept is that a concept is more specific and actually lays out the bones of the story. For me, this usually involves a lot of character work. Who is the protagonist? What do they want? I try to envision what sort of books my book would go next to on the bookshelf.

In my opinion, it’s smart to give some time to concepting. I usually do it like I’m soaking a pot to wash later. In other words, I don’t just sit down and concept, it goes on in between other things during my day. My version of concepting is pretty much just daydreaming lol. There are exercises that you can do, however, such as loglines, premise lines, or things like that to help with concepting.

I usually do some work with character before I start writing. I’ve found that I’m naturally great at writing plot, but I have to really put in effort to get good characters. Each project, it’s a little different how I build my characters. For some books, I have created whole worksheets with things like hair color, eye color, backstory, love life, etc. Other books, I’ve written monologues in a character’s voice, describing their backstory and who they are. For one of my projects recently, I tried envisioning the characters as people I know, family or friends, and basing their decisions, the way they speak, and the clothes they wear, off of one person.

When I actually start writing a novel, short story, screenplay, or TV pilot, my writing process usually takes me from beginning to end rather quickly. I write consistently, and I don’t worry too much about making things perfect. I do sometimes go back and revise as I write. Lately I’ve been setting deadlines for myself and I’ve gotten good at finishing books by a deadline. Back in college, I remember that I would have deadlines set for me by my teachers, so I think I got accustomed to this. I’ve found that sometimes having a deadline can lead to subpar-quality, if the deadline is unrealistic. The important thing is to remain flexible, but consistent. I’m currently on a schedule writing five days a week, but in the past I’ve succeeded on schedules writing as little as two days a week. If something isn’t working, I’ll re-evaluate how I’m spending my writing time on those days, but I won’t just give myself those days off because for me, consistency is key.

I’ve found that the first draft is about getting the right beats of a story. So, while I might go back and revise, or even adjust my deadline, for something like a protagonist who gets dragged on a quest instead of having their own motivation and choosing the quest, I wouldn’t do the same if my protagonist just said something that was totally out of character. For me, the first draft is about hitting the right plot points in the right way.

In the last step of my writing process, revision, I try to fix any “continuity errors” first. That means anything like a character who exits a room, then speaks as if they’re still in the room, or a character whose name changes midway through the book, or anything like that. Sometimes, I’ll have other changes I imagined while writing but didn’t want to take the time to do yet. I’ll do these changes at the same time. Most of the time, after that, I send the piece to a friend or fellow writer who can provide some critique. After that, it changes a lot what I do from piece to piece.

In general, the time from idea to actually writing can vary greatly. I’ve had ideas before that I don’t work on for years. Sometimes, I’ll start concepting right away. Sometimes, I’ll concept for a really long time and not write the thing. Sometimes, I’ll start writing and decide the idea/concept isn’t worth finishing. Lately, once I’ve invested the time to start a piece, I’ve usually seen it through to the end.

So that’s my writing process! When I am writing, here are some resources that influence how I write:

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, a great resource for structure. I have this memorized: https://channel101.fandom.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit

Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder, more structure, also breakdown of story tropes and types of stories, and the save the cat trick to make your protagonist more likeable: https://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009

Aristotle’s Poetics, provides an excellent overview of the core components of a story, I think about these components religiously when revising, and frequently when writing.

https://tvtropes.org/ : A website that lists all the tropes in stories that have existed in many mediums (TV, literature, movies, videogames, comics, etc). I’ve used this when I’ve done outlines, but it also has value as just a place to explore every once in a while, to get more knowledge of tropes for when you are writing.

Dragons of Marak, Sand and Smoke’s Sequel, and Writing While Social Distancing

I’ve reached the doldrums of my writing year recently so things are pretty quiet. But I’ll update you with what I have been working on.

While the start of this year was jam-packed for me, I’ve recently been slowing down, as I take things a little more methodically from here on out.

At the start of 2020, I published Middle School Robots. I sent out ARCs, ran a few promotions. I also wrote the first draft of the second book in my upcoming Dragon of Marak series. The series was also called Dragon Monsters Equip until recently, so if you’ve heard me say that in the past it’s the same thing.

I’m not gonna lie, the whole COVID thing kinda set me back. Mostly because it was so shocking. Even for an author like me it disrupted my writing flow. It didn’t inhibit my ability to write, obviously, but it was a struggle at first to keep up the motivation. And a major tool I used before COVID for getting writing done was going out to a coffee shop to do it. Now I can’t do that anymore so I have to find other ways to tune out the distractions at home.

Anyway, I think I’ve mostly figured it out by now. Since publishing Middle School Robots, I’ve shifted gears into a few TV projects, and I’ve also begun a thorough revising of Dragons of Marak book 1. It’s a really good book! Like REALLY good. I’m surprised how much I still love it as I go back and work on it. It’s soothing just to read through it and make some changes.

I recently sent an excerpt from the book to my mailing list. You can sign up for that list at this link: www.rebrand.ly/storiesbycarl. And you’ll receive offers of giveaways, free books, and maybe some more excerpts in the future.

Here’s a little teaser about Dragons of Marak:

Ana Perez comes from wealth and power. But her father, a business tycoon in the land of Marak, hates dragons. That makes things a little complicated when she runs into a water cobra dragon named Cee, and bonds with him. Still, she would not give him up for anything. Marak is a land where the dragons exist in all shapes and sizes. Cee is blue, snake-like, and wet. Others are stony, with turtle shells and dragonfly wings. A few have crimson scales, fur, and long limbs. Some are as large as a carriage, others twice that size, and others as small as a gartner snake. Cee is overconfident, dogged, and charismatic. Ana is smart, good-hearted, and stylish. They form an unbreakable bond. Partners for life. The dragons of Marak can equip to their partners as weapons, armor, or wings. But Cee is more than just an object to Ana. He’s a friend. As she spends time with him, she grows. But there are secrets in Marak. Not everyone sees dragons as friends. Ana’s naive. The wealth and power among her country’s industrialists is a front for small hearts and stubborn men. But Cee’s a rare kind of dragon. And Ana can’t stay blind forever.

So, that’s what I’m engrossed in at the moment.

Even though revisions are taking longer than I expected, I’m planning to start another book soon. I think I will be working on Sand and Smoke‘s sequel. To me, that makes the most sense. And I also have a short that I started work on. It’s a dystopian short, and it’ll definitely be available somewhere when I finish it. If you subscribe to my mailing list, I’ll keep you posted.

But anyway, regarding Sand and Smoke: I always intended for it to be the first book in a trilogy. So I’m thinking that I will make writing the sequel to Sand and Smoke my next big priority.

If you’re a fan of Sand and Smoke, then you might be wondering about how long it will take me to complete the sequel. Well, it’s too early to float any dates, but I will say that the first book took me one year to write, revise, and edit. I started writing it in October of 2018 and published on October 17, 2019. So…maybe the second book will follow a similar timeline? That’s my best guess at this moment in time. But whenever I finish the first draft, I’ll have a much better idea.

In the meantime, there is actually a free short story available, set in the same universe as Sand and Smoke. You can get it by subscribing to my mailing list: www.rebrand.ly/ingridrising. If you’re already subscribed to my list and you don’t have it, just reply to any of the emails I’ve sent you and I’ll send it over!

Another perk of being on my mailing list is that I’m currently planning another giveaway. It’s going to happen this summer sometime, and it’s going to be dragon-themed! I’m sifting through some ideas for amazing dragon books that I want to include. I’m thinking I will include around 3-4 books in the giveaway, and one person who enters will win them all. You’ll be able to enter even if you aren’t on my mailing list…but if you join my list, you’ll get an email as soon as the giveaway starts, and you can also share suggestions for books that you’d like to be included in the giveaway, just by responding to one of my emails.

In the past, I’ve run giveaways successfully for an Amazon gift card, Christopher Paolini’s The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, and a trio of books including The Secret Lake, a Magic Tree House book, and The Infinity Ring. Depending on some factors, this giveaway may be US-only, or I may be able to make it international and include some other countries. I’m hoping and crossing my fingers I will be able to make it international…but the only way I’ve found to do so thus far, without requesting personal information from the winner, is to give away an Amazon gift card instead of the books. So I’ll have to see. Anyway, it’s probably going to happen in June or July, just to let you know.

So yeah, I’ve mentioned my mailing list a lot in this post. But if you’re not sure about subscribing yet, it’s okay too. That’s pretty much it for now!

December, Technology, and Books

Do you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

I’m never really sure which to say around this time of year. Usually I go with Happy Holidays. But of course Christmas has become as much a secular holiday as a Christian one, so I suppose saying Merry Christmas is fine too. I think the main point is that you wish people well, as with all things in life I suppose.

This month I’ve been going some through some technological mishaps which is kind of an interesting coincidence because the book I’ve been working on, School Robots, makes use of heavy amounts of technology.

In total my car door got dented when someone hit me in a parking lot, my phone shut off in the middle of the day and decided it was never going to turn back on, and then I had a near scare when my check engine light went on in my car (and then the next morning it mysteriously went off). Hopefully it stays off.

On the plus side, I got a Google Pixel 3a. It’s been a pretty good phone so far, and I’m getting an Otterbox Defender case for it in the mail soon (the best type of case, imho).

I’ve also somehow managed to find vestiges of time to work on School Robots, and I’m still roughly on track to wrap up editing on it by January (those on my list will get a free ARC!). I’m getting to the phase of editing now where I focus on all the specific minute details to the robots, and since they are essentially smartphones, computers, printers, and other real world devices, kids are going to be able to learn a lot by reading the book!

In addition, I’ve been thinking about dragons, and soaking in Avatar: The Last Airbender stuff. I know those are two very different things, but my mind feeds off different things and looks for unique ways to combine them. That’s kind of what I did with Sand and Smoke – I combined westerns and dragon-rider fantasy.

In a little over a week I’ll be heading to Chicago to spend Christmas and the holidays. Currently my aunt, uncle, grandmother, and cousins live there, and my dad and sisters will also be flying in. My family is spread out all over America, so it’s the normal for us to fly pretty regularly.

So far as I know, we have planned for the trip a gift exchange and a movie-going adventure to see Star Wars Episode IX. So I’m definitely looking forward to the latter half of December. Though what I like most as always is just seeing family and friends and spending more time with them.

Book Updates for a Sandy November

This month I am participating in Nanowrimo! Even though I am a chronic write-aholic, I thought I would give it a go just to be involved a bit more in the writing community, rather than being very hobbit-like about my writing. Which I usually am. But though I’ve got 49,200 words already written for the month (don’t judge me, I write like a cat sheds) I really don’t think I’ve spoken with anyone else who’s doing Nanowrimo all month. Or if I have, I haven’t spoken to them about Nanowrimo. Anyway, I’d done Nanowrimo twice in the past, once I failed and once I succeeded, so despite my bragging about being a write-aholic I can occasionally fail to get the words out too. The point I’m trying to get across is that I would love to speak with others who are doing Nanowrimo just because connections and community.

But beyond Nanowrimo this month, I’m going to be trying a whole bunch of new things in my writing plans regarding my books and I’ve been gearing up for them! The first of those was that I purchased a brand new epic cover for my fantasy novel titled Sand and Smoke. My last cover was self-designed, and so I think this one looks a whole lot more professional! And it’s on display below using a 3d mockup.

Also I wrote a short story to accompany the novel. If you want to read the short story and find out everything there is to know about this awesome dragon-infested world I’ve created, all you need to do is subscribe to my mailing list, and I’ll send it to you for free: http://www.rebrand.ly/ingridrising.

What else?

My book School Robots is gonna be exclusively available for my mailing list subscribers in January, and then later on I’ll be publishing it, I’m not sure exactly when yet.

Oh, and I am going to be doubling down on my efforts at writing and publishing YA fantasy books, probably ones with lots of dragons in them. Honestly I am feeling pretty good about what I’ve accomplished so far in writing and publishing TWO full books, completing a first draft for a third book (School Robots), and completing over three-quarters of the first draft for a fourth book this month for Nanowrimo, since roughly April of 2018 when I started all of this bonanza.

But despite the fact that I’ve written pretty much what I’ve aimed to, I know that I need to write faster and write more, especially in completing some of the series I started. With that in mind I have a kind of bold goal for myself in 2020, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to meet it, but I’m going to try hella hard. My bold goal is to write a book a month, or depending on how I feel midway through I might adjust that goal to be 10 books in 10 months with 2 rest months worked in there somewhere.

It’s gonna be hard, but I think I can do it. Nanowrimo this month is already going fantastic for me. It’s kinda ending up being the warm-up exercise. Now that I’ve hit a stride with understanding how to churn material out, how to structure my writing, what genre I want to target and knowing a few subjects of things in that genre that seem to grip my readers, I think I am ready to tackle the one-book-a-month challenge for a year.

I even have some ideas for those months. The book I’m writing right now for Nanowrimo, I want to make it into a trilogy. I want to write books 2 and 3 in the Sand and Smoke trilogy. I want to revive an old book I wrote as a kid, improving upon the execution with a complete rewrite and a more distinct and engrossing world. I want to make that book into a series, five books I think. And I’m not wholly sure about the other three months, maybe I can find other writers who are just as hungry as me to team up with, or maybe I’ll think up new ideas in the interim. All in all, next year’s goal is going to be producing a lot of first drafts, which will probably mean not a lot of new publications, other than School Robots. But writing the first draft is the most enjoyable part for me at least…so it should be fun! And if I’m successful, there should be a bonanza of new publications coming in 2021. I might see if I can revise one well enough to publish next fall in 2020 also…we’ll see.