Blog Hop – My Writing Process

Hi Folks,

We’re having a brief interlude in Scarlet’s Web today because I was asked by the lovely Jonathon Fletcher to participate in a writing process blog hop.

Below are four questions and my answers about my writing process. Beneath them is a link to Jon’s blog where you can read his answers to the same questions. I’ve tagged another great writer, Kela Lewis-Morin and will add a link to his blog when I have it later. Please check them out once you’ve read this.

Without more ado…

reflected birds

1. What am I working on?

I’ve been working on the next story for the blog. The Life Without Tumblr series has lasted six months and come to almost a hundred episodes, so it’s time for something new. It’s tentatively titled The 13th Rose.

Every morning, the Flower Seller leaves his chambers in the Flights and travels to earth. He sets up his stall on Embankment and waits. Every day he meets his one customer, to whom he sells a bunch of twelve red roses and gifts one extra. His subject has already been chosen for him. His task is to pull that person away from the edge and save their soul, regardless of what state it’s in. For some the choice means life and death, for others, lies and deceit.

But this week isn’t going well. If he doesn’t hit his quota, he’ll get banished and what’s worse, the Father is coming to visit on Sunday.

One by one our characters are introduced and one by one, they make their choice. Come the end of the week, everything changes and the world as we know it will cease to exist. Who will still be standing to take their place in the wreckage?

It’s part character study, part zombie apocalypse, part fantasy. The usual mash up and so far, great fun to write.

In terms of editing, I’m mid-re-edit on The Spirit Room while the third book in The Assembly trilogy is with my editor. I’m tidying up the language and refining it more than anything. I’m also formatting the ebook and print editions of A Game of War seasons One and Two in time for late May release.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Hopefully the answer above gives you some clues to this one. My favourite reading genre has always been fantasy first and foremost, with science fiction and horror close behind. My favourite TV and movie genres have always been Urban Fantasy and Zombies/Horror. I’m a huge comic fan and have been all my life.

These genres all fit together so well, I couldn’t figure out why they shouldn’t be combined. So my Epic Fantasy assassin trilogy, ‘The Assassin Cycle’, features zombies, and my epic fantasy ‘1000 Hours’ features characters with super powers. My modern-day-magician series, ‘The Broken Circle’ has goblins running around London and The Assembly Series features superheroes, alien invasion and the world’s greatest magicians.

Aside from the genre-splicing, I’m hooked on characters and always have been. My aim is to create characters within fantasy that affect the reader as much as those in any other genre, something I feel has been missing in many of the books I’ve read growing up. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m working hard on it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love to write and love to tell stories. I write what I write because I love the freedom and the escapism. Growing up, fantasy gave me new worlds in which to exist; an escape from real life and all it entailed. I get that in most books I read, but fantasy was always an especially exciting prospect because you didn’t know where you were escaping to. Plus, of course, dragons. And swords. And zombies.

Why content yourself with writing ‘person A travels to place 1, meets person B on the way and they fall in love’, when you can write ‘person A travel to place 1, finds the sword of Danelar, meets person B who turns out to have magic powers. Together they defeat the Witch King of Shail and fall in love’?  Maybe it’s just me, but I know which I’d rather read and write.

being creative is not a hobby

4. How does my writing process work?

I’ve been working on this a lot in the last year or so. I’ve read countless blogs that tell me to plan and outline and so forth, so I’ve tried, in various ways. However, my basic process has stayed the same. I sit at my computer, open a new Scrivener project and start typing. I will have nothing in my brain. In fact, the emptier it is the better.

By the end of the first page I’ll have a character, maybe a place and some questions.

By the end of the first chapter, I’ll have the answers to those questions in my head and lots more I can’t answer.

By about five thousand words, I’ll have a world. My protagonist will have an aim, some baggage and if they’re really lucky, some friends. They’ll also have an antagonist.

By, hopefully, twenty to thirty thousand words, I’ll have an ending in my head. I’ll also know whether the book is standalone or part of a series/trilogy.

there's nothing to writing

That’s the process. From there till the end I put my head down and write. I try to write my first draft as quick as possible in order to stay in the flow, so I’ll average 25-30,000 words a week and bash it out in three to four weeks.

I then put it in the drawer with the rest and let it sit. When I come to edit, I read it cover to cover. If it still excites me, I begin to pull it apart and make it work. If it doesn’t, it goes in the virtual bin of ‘useful things I might use one day but probably won’t but can’t bear to throw away’. :)

I don’t ever take a break from writing, so in the last fifteen months, since I started writing seriously, I’ve clocked up around twelve books and a bunch of novellas and short stories. The real positive about this is that it stops me being too precious about my work. I don’t feel I have to use everything and it has to really stand out to make it to the editing stage. Now if I only had a bit more time…

we rarely know where we are going

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little dip into my writing life, do pop over now and check out Jon’s blog on GoodReads for more writing related goodies. It’s interesting how different our processes are to achieve the same end goal.

I’ve tagged @KelaLewisMorin…link to his post on Deviant Art coming later.

Thanks so much for reading. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on my process or would like to share your own. Scarlet’s Web will return on Wednesday, when she’ll finally meet the Council…

How I wrote a million words in twelve months – Seven more tips for motivation

In the final post in this series, I wanted to talk about all the motivators I didn’t fit in the first one.

They didn’t go into the first one because my focus for that was internal, the way I approach my work and what makes the difference mentally. These pointers have an element of that, but they are also about reaching out, about using the global community to help inspire and enrich my writing life and keep me going when things get tough.

So, without further ado, another seven ways that I stay focused, self-disciplined and motivated:

Inspired by success: There is a lot of talk on blogs about there being enough audience for everyone, and I couldn’t agree more. Few things are as inspiring or exciting as reading on a blog, or via twitter, that someone has managed to sell some books, or connect with a publisher, or had a great book launch. Tapping into those things every day keeps my excitement sky high. On a more personal note, I read a couple of blogs that have been created by people coming to terms with grief, or personal issues, and seeing those people find peace and support via their platform, is a wonderful thing.

Seeing how others work, (or, pinching the good stuff): The great thing about being part of the community of writers is the sharing of ideas. I find the comments sections on the great websites I’ve listed below to be particularly good. People will share where they are, what they are working on, and how they go about their writing via that medium. I am endlessly inspired by what I read, and will often leave a blog fired up with ideas, and desperate to try things.

Common ground: A few days ago, I was going back through last year’s manuscripts, and discovered that somewhere in the backing up process, the last thirty thousand words had been chopped off one of them. This is where being a pantser comes back to bite me, as I have only my memory to fill in the blanks. But I tweeted my pain :) and was blessed with some lovely responses, people commiserating, and offering welcome advice. Nothing like people being lovely to make things easier to deal with. That and chocolate.

Trying new things: Way back in January of last year, my wife pointed me the direction of Chuck Wendig’s blog. There I discovered, amongst many disturbing things, the world of flash fiction. My first short story in about twenty years was inspired by one of his challenges and I then made it a rule to search out some form of flash fiction each week. Sometimes I write something and bin it straight away, sobbing into my brownie. Other times, more rarely admittedly, I’ll post the results, and enjoy trawling through what everyone else came up with. This normally goes like ‘oh of course, why didn’t I try that, oh, bloody hell, that’s what I was trying to do, only they got it right’ and so on. But it’s fun, and inspiring, and the perfect way to shake off those mid-manuscript blues that can slow you down and demoralise you.

Finding and learning from my mistakes: OK, it’s confession time. The last time I studied English on a serious level, was back in school. I did my AS level English Language a year early and got an A, then ran away from Wuthering Heights, not daring to look back until I was ensconced behind my drum kit. What I have spent the last year discovering is that, for the most part, I’m not too bad at the basics. I understand how language goes together good, and can say stuff quite good, too :) But boy oh boy, is there still a lot to learn. From story structure, to the finer points of grammar, to conflict and a whole lot more. Most of that stuff, I do naturally, but do I do it as well as I can? Hell no. In my published books, I’ve had the help of an editor, and beta readers to help drag the good stuff from me, and ensure I’m producing stuff people actually want to read, but aside from the guilt I feel at inflicting my shoddy first drafts on the poor souls, I want to be better, all on my own. So learning where I have holes, and filling them, is not only a constant job, but also an inspiring one.

Reading: I feel slightly embarrassed I didn’t mention this on the last one. It should go without saying, that reading comes before everything else. I won’t harp on about it, because so many, far better writers than me have said it better, but it does bear repeating. Also worth mentioning, is the importance of reading everything. I read classics, fantasy, mysteries, scifi, horror, YA, modern literature, comics and anything else that comes my way. I haven’t yet found time for much romance, but I loved Gone with the Wind, so there’s that :)

Wifey: For me, the greatest source of encouragement and belief comes from my wife. She has been nothing but completely supportive since I put my first word to paper, and continues to be so, even taking on some of the less exciting tasks of the business, and forming an integral part of the marketing and promotion side of things. This could of course be your best friend, your mother, anyone who believes in you unconditionally. As an author it’s essential to have all those people who question; critique partners, editors, beta readers and so forth, but I think it’s just as important to have some to turn to when the well of self-belief runs dry. Being a successful writer demands patience and an eye for the long haul, and having someone for those moments when the sales aren’t quite what you hoped, or you get that first edit back and realise how much work you have to do, is a wonderful thing.

The pick of the blogs that motivate me:

The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy

The Creative Penn

Mythic Scribes

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Your Writer Platform

Thanks for reading. I hope this series has inspired you in some small way, and if so, please drop me a line and say hi.

Scarlet’s story will continue next week in a new series entitled ‘A Change of Status’, in which Scarlet discovers that unicorns are grumpy bastards, learns that cults are filled with wierdos, and gets a girlfriend.

How I wrote a million words in twelve months – A week in the life of…

This post is the next in this series, examining the details of how I managed to achieve the word count above. However, I wanted to start with a quick bit of clarification. I have, in the last twelve months, committed one million, creative, fiction-based words to paper. This equates to a bunch of novels, short stories, novellas etc. However, I want to say up front, that these are first draft manuscripts, all requiring some degree of work to complete them. It’s fair to say, based upon the way I write, some of them will need a considerable amount of work.

So, this blog is not about how to write ten perfect books in a year. It’s about the writing habit, about being in a place where you are consistently and regularly committing words to paper.

Writing every day isn’t essential. I keep telling myself that, but then, drinking tea and eating chocolate every day isn’t either, and I’ve managed to make a religion out of both. What is essential, is writing regularly. In order to make the last couple of posts, and the one to follow this, clearer, I wanted to outline ‘a week in the life’, the technicalities of how I get down the almost three thousand words a day needed to hit that elusive one million in a year.

Monday  – Friday

Morning: I work full time, so I’m up at 5:50, and out the door to work by half 6. Arrive at school by seven, or ten past. School begins at 8, so I have an hour. I’ll spend half of it practicing the drums, and the other half writing. Average word count: 1000 words (the drumming, aside from being good practice, is great for waking my brain up. I believe it has value in and of itself, but could be replaced by a brisk walk, or short gym session).

Daytime: I have a half hour lunch break, and will normally find a half hour to an hour after school as well, in which to write.  I’ll never use all of them, but I will try to find a good hour over the course of the entire day, in which to write. Average word count: 1000-3000 words.

Evening: I’m home by half 5, and hanging out with wifey and daughter until her bedtime (daughter, not wifey), which is around 7. From seven until nine, I’m editing, marketing, tweeting, etc. This time is flexible, and changing this year with the addition of recording podcasts in there as well. However, normally, by nine, I’ll reward myself with a little more writing. Average word count: 1000 (unless I carried away with a short story, or am fuelled by chocolate brownies, at which point it might climb to 2000)

 

So, a daily word count aim of three thousand minimum. On a good day, I’m there before I leave work, and on a less successful one, I can make up then numbers post-marketing time. I can normally rely on picking up a few extra here and there, say a couple of four thousand word days, which is essential come the weekend…

Saturday/Sunday:

 

I will start this off by saying that having a two and a half year old, and a chocolate obsession, has given me very little room for a social life. Just saying.

Morning/Afternoon: I may, if I’m feeling cheeky, wake up and grab the laptop, sneaking in a quick five hundred words before heading down for breakfast. Then it’s family stuff, be it visiting a gorgeous park, old house, coffee shop, chocolate-tasting session, or heading into London for a wander. If we drive somewhere, wifey likes to be in the pilot seat, so I can be the passenger and bang out another few hundred words, in between my monosyllabic and not-at-all-annoying contribution to the conversation. J

There are also occasions, now and then, when another mum will be up for a play date, or wifey and Pickle head for greener pastures, and I get an hour or two of dedicated writing time in, but these are few and far between, and though treasured, cannot be relied upon.

So I’ll often hit the evening with somewhere between one and two thousand words down.

Evening: This continues in the same vein as the week, with editing always the priority, mingling with marketing and actually talking to people. (electronically of course. I mean, can you imagine actually talking to people, like face to face?) And once again, when the jobs are done, I’ll reward myself, and try to hit, at the least, two and a half thousand for the day.

A quick bit of maths tells us that at three thousand per week day and two and a half thousand at the weekend equates to twenty thousand words a week.

Times that by fifty weeks, thereby giving yourself two weeks off (slacker J), and you reach one million. Easy. :)

So, to take away:  I’m using pretty much every free moment. I do understand that I’m lucky in that, for me, writing is down time, relaxing time, so I don’t feel the loss of no longer chilling in front of a movie for an hour or two. We don’t have TV so I don’t have that distraction either.  My real, away-from-the-screen downtime, comes when I go to bed, and read.

I’m exercising the self-discipline I spoke about in the last post, ensuring that I don’t have days where I just say stuff it.

And, above all, I’m enjoying myself. There are so many quotes about the tough life of the writer, about bleeding onto your keyboard, and I know for some people that’s the truth. For me, I believe that if it’s that tough, then it might be worth finding something else to do. I am in no way demeaning the efforts of those people. Nor am I criticising those who have a difficult story to tell, and so for whom the writing is an exorcism. Everything is valid, and hey, this is art, it’s supposed to be messy and challenging. But to reach the word count I do, I have to enjoy it. But that’s just me.

How I wrote a million words in twelve months – 7 ways to stay motivated

Self-discipline is something I lacked for a long time. Most of my childhood years were blighted by it, leading to me crashing out of my school with shocking results and no place at university.

This was, it turned out, the best thing that could have happened to me, because I attended a music school, where I was taught by some of the best drummers in London at that time. What I learned there, amongst the hundreds of wonderful drumming lessons, was the direct correlation between hard work and discipline, and success.

If there is one way to instill discipline in someone, it is to show people to him or her who have used it to get somewhere he or she wants to be. I was surrounded by drummers who were really doing it, playing professionally and making a living from it. It didn’t take long to recognise that in order to achieve the same, I would have to practice, and practice, and, well, practice.

So, having applied this practice routine to writing, I tried to pick apart the things that enable me to have the self-discipline to write every day, and remain focused, aside from chocolate brownies, and the promise of more chocolate brownies tomorrow. I’m going to drop the drumming comparison, and just focus on the writing, but I do believe most of these points will fit for most things.

I’ve split self-discipline into a few different areas, and the one for today’s blog is motivation. How do I remain motivated to write every day? Below are seven things that help me, and will hopefully do the same for you.

 

1. Word Count: It’s a cliché, but I have a big blackboard up in my kitchen, and every night, before going to bed, I write up my word count, along with ‘scenes edited’, and a few other things. Having it there, in white and black, keeps me focused, and also gives me the urge to beat myself, to write more today than I did yesterday. As an added help, I also have a weekly total that I aim toward. At the moment, it’s thirty thousand words. It’s crept up steadily since January 2013, when it was around ten thousand. I’m not sure how much further I can push it, but knowing that’s what I’m aiming for really keeps me going.

Word count board

2. Characters: My books are based, first and foremost, around characters. This is partially due to the fact that all my favourite books have great characters, and partially due to my desire to create fantasy books with strong characters and emotional weight, something missing from some fantasy. So for me, every time I sit down to write, is a chance to not only interact with the characters, in that weird, ‘I’m a writer but also a bit strange and lonely’ sort of a way, but also to find out what they’re going to do next! It’s like reading a great book, only if there’s a bit you don’t like, you just go back and change it. (I tried that with books that weren’t mine, but wifey got mad at the red ink all over her copy of Twilight)

3. Getting Better: The idea of getting better, of learning something new about myself and my skills, is hugely exciting. Every time I sit down to write, I’ll try to find a new way to say something, a new way to describe an emotion, to show not tell. This is never ending. I will never write as well as Charles Dickens, or Sarah Waters, or Stephen King, but every time I write, I get a tiny bit closer. What better reason is there?

4. Pantsing: My style of writing is pretty random, in many ways. I find some characters, and let them tell me who they are, then I start writing, and they tell me what happens to them. My planning is often done fifty thousand words in, and takes the form of a half side of A4 scribbles. Now, I do hold a lot of stuff in my head, and constantly revise as I go, but the sheer excitement I get from sitting down thinking. ‘Hmm, is Aryan going to get out of the whole ‘broken leg, freezing to death on the side of a mountain’ thing? And if so, how? And if not, what the hell is Darryl going to do, what with the whole argument over Lissa thing?’

Every thousand words is a revelation, and that’s way more exciting than pretty much anything that doesn’t involve chocolate.

5. Past Experience: All of my experience, both good and bad, tells me that doing something every day, and persevering with it, leads to success. Now, I must confess, I (mis)spent many hours as a teenager playing headers and volleys and drinking tea instead of going to school, yet I remain entirely inept with a football. I am, I’m pleased to announce, exceptionally good at drinking tea. However, I am of the school-of-thought that says try everything, and if you love it, keep trying it. If you have an aptitude for it, you’ll find it easier, and it will take less time to achieve a certain level of mastery. But if I spent two hours a day, every day, kicking a football, I’m pretty confidence I’d be… quite good. In a few years.

6. Freedom: Not so much in the ‘FREEEEDOOOOOM’- ‘Braveheart’ sort of way, but more the freedom to step away from a nine to five job and the structure and binds that accompany it. I love teaching, and imagine I will always do it in some form or another, but being able to get up and have breakfast with my girls, and go for a walk in the country side, then return to write, would be a dream come true. I am, in most senses, right at the beginning of my path. I’ve been doing this seriously for only one year, and have a long way to go, but that elusive freedom makes it remarkably easy to sit down at the computer. The thing I did to help with this was to plan, in detail, what an average day would be like for me, were I writing full time. Any time I get disheartened at how long everything is taking, I return to that plan, and have a little dreaming time. And eat some brownie.

7. Self-expectation: I teach students between the ages of 11 -19, most of whom come from deprived, difficult backgrounds. Something that ties many of them together is a shared lack of worth, of not believing they can achieve. For every one that leaves our school and goes to university, we get a massive sense of pride, and achievement, and they get a dose of confidence that cannot be underestimated. I have done many things in my life that, looking back, I feel reflected poorly on me, and my parents, things I would take back, or change in a second. But I can’t, and that’s fine. But with that realization, and with the sense of self I now have, to expect any less than the best from myself would be criminal. So, there it is, that helps too.

 

So, these are seven things that get me sat every day, in front of my computer, fingers tapping. Next blog will look at how being connected, and learning, helps my self-discipline.

How about you? What keeps you motivated to write? And how about editing? I’m not nearly as good when it comes to that, so any help would be most appreciated!