Welcome! This is an update on my author blog. If you find yourself here, unsure who I am, let me introduce myself. My name is Carl and I’m an author from Portland, OR. I write epic fantasy and children’s science fiction.
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.
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:
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.