Creating a Regular Writing Schedule and Other Stuff

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a regular blogging schedule and, quite honestly, I can’t even remember what my last topic was. Much has happened in the last few months I’ve been absent. My elderly folks got in a car accident (they are home now and doing much better) which derailed me for a few weeks, I got vertigo (which is so horrible it both sucks and blows and I am hoping it totally goes away any second now), my book came out (with minimal pomp and circumstance due to the vertigo etc.), and lots of work and time has been given for Colorado Gold (The annual writer’s conference for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). And I still run the publishing house which is a never-ending round-robin of submissions even with a couple interns and a solid cohort of editors. I’ve needed a nap on most days! But alas, napping is not my forte.

I’ve finally got myself back on a basic writing schedule. Because, you know, I want to write books and stuff. It’s not much of a schedule, about 30 minutes at 6am, but it’s a start and given physical and emotional dealings of late I’ll take what I can get. I’ve blocked out the time on my calendar and for the last many days have been working on a story idea, because even though my inclination is to just write, I know that I will save time and frustration and end up with a better book by going through the outline process, and the character development process (Oh! That’s what the last blog topic was!), doing all the research, figuring out the ending, the theme, the premise, and all the other steps of planning and outlining before I write a word. I wasn’t so thorough with the pre-planning on the last book, and I definitely learned my lesson.

So how do you create a regular writing schedule?

Everyone is different and will have a different process but this is how I do it.

  1. I create a comfortable writing space. I can’t work in clutter. It’s distracting and makes me tense. Consequently, my desk is clean. I have tasks to do (always) but for me, I can put those aside if they are organized. I know those tasks aren’t going anywhere and when I want or need to work on them I can. But for writing, I need a clean space to write. No little pieces of paper or sticky notes, or stacks of bills, or piles of editing. Just desk, mouse, keyboard, screen. And coffee or libation of choice. That’s a given for me. You probably are different. Do what you need to do to create a comfortable writing space. On the toilet? Sure. Whatever works for you. The main point is that I need to get my ass in a chair in order to write.
  2. I block out some time on the calendar. If I don’t block out writing time, it is the easiest thing in the world to push aside when something pressing barges its way into my schedule. Since I am much more creative in the morning than I am at other times of the day, I block out time before work. Right now, 30 minutes is what I can do if I want to get everything else done too without having to get up at 4am. I am getting up around 5:30am which is as early as I want to get up at the moment. But as it becomes more and more a habit again to write each morning, all the morning tasks will start to flow and the schedule may get adjusted. I’ve been in that place before where I am writing consistently and will get in that place again. It’s the creating the habit that is hard for me. I’d rather sleep in. Maybe you are a night owl and you are most creative at 2am. Fine. Have a glass of warm milk and write at 2am. The main point is to get your ass in a chair and write.
  3. I use Scrivener (and no I don’t get any kickbacks for referrals). It is inexpensive at $45 and is very good for outlining and organizing notes, and character bios, photos, research, and writing. It works similarly to Word. It’s sort of like a digital writing binder that is easy to organize and access information. It has some learning curve to it, but if you can stomach the Youtube videos it might help you out too with outlining and such. You can try it for free for a month or so if you want to. (https://www.literatureandlatte.com) If you prefer Word or Pages then use Word or Pages. Or OpenOffice. Or whatever. Just use whatever you use and write regularly.
  4. I work on whatever I feel like working on for that 30 minutes. If I need to develop a character I do that. If that triggers a plot idea, I sketch that in. As ideas come, I adjust the plot line. If I need to brainstorm an idea to see how that feels I do that. And I don’t stress about anything. I just work for 30 minutes on the story and all that goes with it, and then I am done for the day. My deadline is a 30-minute deadline. Maybe you are more comfortable with an hour. Or two (glutton). Or eight (censored). The point is to block out the time and use that time consistently for writing. Books don’t write themselves.
  5. By writing every day for 30 minutes I create a routine that becomes a habit. Over time I can extend my schedule, or word count or whatever I need to do, but right now I just need a routine that I can follow. Maybe this is the lazy writer’s way by writing in 30-minute blocks, but it works for me. When I get to actual writing I figure I can write at least 250 words in 30 minutes. 250 words is a page. If I do that every day for a year I will have a 365-page book. It’s wonky writer’s math but at the moment I’ll take what I can get. I write much faster than that if I know where I am going, hence the need for outlining.

Here’s the most important thing. The muse comes with consistency. When you are in the habit of writing on a regular schedule, your subconscious brain is always working on stuff because it has the expectation that it needs to work on stuff. The routine matters. If you just write when you feel like it you most likely won’t finish anything in a timely fashion. If you don’t feel like writing but you write anyway, you will write a book.

 

A Trick of the Light - Brooks, Susan

Writing Process

My finished novel is with my editor. Yes, I know I’m an editor, but I have this firm belief that you should never edit your own work because you can’t see your own shortcomings. Meanwhile,  it’s time to begin working on the next book in the series. I thought I might blog periodically about my writing process. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. Hopefully it will be inspiring to someone. Hopefully it won’t all come to shit. If it does come to shit, hopefully it will at least be a glorious pile of shit. Ahh. The glories of risk taking.

I decided to work in Scrivener this time around. I have dabbled in it before for outlining but I decided to try it exclusively for this next book. I like the cork board visual and the ease at which you can edit and move chapters and scenes around. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but there are tons of YouTube videos available. Scrivener is also inexpensive, and allows you a free trial to test it out. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from the Scrivener folks. I just happen to like it.

First things first. I spent some time thinking about my story premise and kicked ideas around with my critique partner. If you don’t have a critique partner or critique group, let me recommend that you find one. Google critique groups in your city and join one. Not only will it help you get into a writing community, but you will learn a great deal about writing craft over time, and you will have a like-minded individual or two to kick ideas around with. Do take some time to find the right group for you. Each group is different and you will need to find a good fit.

My critique partner shot down the ideas I had initially. They were too normal and not particularly dynamic for my story concept. Since my main character is not normal (I am writing urban fantasy at the moment), the premise was too mundane. While driving I settled on “If you follow your passion you will find your purpose,” which I thought worked with where my character left off the end of the last book. While sitting at a stop light I texted my new premise idea and three-sentence outline to my critique partner, which he accepted as a good one.

I opened Scrivener and created a new book file. The first thing I did was write my premise in the notes. Having a premise helps you to focus on what your book is about. As you write pages with your premise in mind, you will end up infusing your pages with meaning, which is good for your readers

Good. 1st step done.

Then I set up an initial ten chapter template (see image) to begin outlining the new story. This ten chapter starting point is stolen from Writer’s Little Helper by Jim Smith, and for me, it’s a great way to begin plotting. I find the guideposts helpful to ensure a cohesive story line. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from Jim for recommending his book. I just happen to like it.

 

My next step is to work out the opening scene, then the climax, and then the ending scene. After I get through that, I will add twists and complications and sub plots and such. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Writing Process

I’ve written several stories over the years, but my most recent work in progress is an urban fantasy novel. It’s actually the first thing that I think is not crap. Now, I realize that I am overly critical of myself, so for me to think it’s not complete crap is a good sign. I’ve decided to publish it next year. This is both horrifically terrifying, and about freaking time exciting.

There are a few things I am doing to make sure that I have the best possible manuscript before I send it out to my editor. Yes, I am an editor, but even editors need editors. Here’s the thing. I know the story. I know what is happening at any given time with my characters. I know what things look like. But there is always the possibility that what is in my head is not actually made it to the page or just doesn’t work as I’ve written it. And this is why I need an editor. It’s also why YOU need an editor. This is why I need a writing partner, and a critique group, and a beta reader, too. I want my novel to be the best it can be, and I need other people to make that happen.

I have a writing partner. We work out plot issues over dinners and pots of coffee, and we review each other’s outlines, pages, and chapters with utter bluntness and honesty. I trust my writing partner’s opinion. When my writing partner says something is shit, I believe him, and I work on revising my story. My writing partner often sees motivational issues I hadn’t thought of and ultimately after revision I end up with a better story. I need my writing partner.

I have a critique group. After I work out any story issues from earlier meetings with my writing partner, I submit chapters of my novel to my critique group. My critique group reads my pages (and I read theirs), and notes what works for them and what doesn’t, and then they write up their critique of my work. We talk about what they thought, and I have their notes to refer back to later when I am doing revisions. My critique group is made up of fiction writers of varying craft levels, but who all are in the process of learning the craft of writing fiction and are willing to do the work to become the best writers they can be. Each has a different skillset and specialty. My critique group is spectacular and they help me with the spit and polish issues. I need my critique group.

I have a beta reader. My beta reader is not a writer, but they are a voracious reader of fiction. My beta reader will read my pages as a reader, not a writer, which is a completely different perspective, and then let me know what doesn’t work for them. And I trust them to tell me the truth. If they see repetitive words, or if they are not able to visualize a scene, they let me know. If they don’t like something, the let me know. I trust my beta reader to give me their honest opinion of my work. I also trust my beta reader to let me know if the work if viable. I need my beta reader.

I have an editor. My editor is a professional and has been working in the publishing industry for a long time. They know what works for what genre. They see the pages as an editor sees them, which is different than a writer sees them, or a reader sees them. I need my editor.

But, before I send my pages to my editor, I read my entire novel to myself, out loud.

Yes, out loud.

When you read something out loud, you hear things with your physical ears that you don’t hear when you read something to yourself in your mind.

  • You hear the awkward sentences, and unnecessary words, and repetitive words which you can then edit. The end result is better sentences, and tighter writing.
  • You hear continuity issues like your character had shoes on and then was barefoot. The end result is you don’t look like a dumbass later when a reader points it out.
  • You hear what the dialogue actually sounds like when spoken. The end result is dialogue that actually sounds like people rather than cheese.
  • You find typos and misplaced words which you then revise and end up with a cleaner manuscript.
  • You hear how longwinded some of your sentences are especially when you run out of air in the middle which you can then edit into something more intelligible.
  • You get a clear sense of pace and tone so you can adjust if needed.

The end result is a better book (and a happier editor). Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. Yes, it takes a long time. But if you want to produce the best possible book, it’s a necessary step that I am willing to take. So should you.

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