Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How I Do It These Days

Concerning my writing process, that is, not my sex life:)
A good question deserves a thoughtful answer, and I had to think for a while about how I write before putting this together. Some writers don’t like people to know about how they do things because they don’t feel like unveiling the mystique. Other writers love sharing and want to give you a blow by blow look into how a story comes about. I don’t feel brimful of mystique, but I’m not a blow by blow kind of girl either, kinky as that may be, so this post attempts to lay out my writing process in a general kind of way. Specifics vary depending on the projects that loom.

All writers need some structure, I think, at least if they’re serious about it. The muse is capricious and can’t be relied on to carry you through a story. Inspiration is wonderful for ideas and for beginnings, but in the end the only thing that finishes a story sometimes is forcing yourself to do so. Will it be as wonderful as the beginning, when you fluttered through plot and character light-footed and fancy free? Maybe not, but that’s what editing is for. A lot of people tell me that they have no trouble beginning a story, but can never finish one. I commiserate. Reach deep and find the font of good-willed sadomasochism inside of you, and make yourself finish it. Ignore the other tantalizing beginnings. You’ll feel so much better when you finish the one you’re on.

I’m not as structured here in Africa as I could be in America. Some days I work in the clinic all day, some days we have no electricity, some days I’m just too sick to muster the energy. Overall, though, I try to have at least four days a week where I’ve done something really productive, either a big piece of story begun, middled or ended, or a next piece written or something important plotted. I only give myself specific word counts when I’m working on something big that has to be done by a certain time. NaNoWriMo was great for that. I don’t write a lot of novels (not yet at any rate), so word counts are easier to meet when I’ve only got to get down 5k, or 10k, or even 20k. On a good day I can write about 5k before my eyes start bleeding. On a bad day, I have to force myself to hit one thousand words.

I write for a lot of anthologies, because I find it a great way to get to know a new publisher and also to get a broader spectrum of people interested in my work. I have a master document that details all the calls for submissions I’ve found that I’m interested in. As the deadline gets closer, I evaluate the call and decide if it’s really interesting to me, if I can squeeze it in without other things suffering, if I can do it justice, etc. If it’s a go I usually get it done within a week. If not, I delete it and move on to other things.

Some people who read my stuff have noticed that it takes me a long time to get a sequel up. When I finish with something, I tend to need to take a huge breath and shove it away from me for awhile, or risk ruining it with rewrites. I’m trying to diminish the time between submissions, though. Breaking an old habit and making a new one is hard, but if the goal is to keep improving (which mine is) I have to constantly revamp my work ethic.

One thing that revs my motivation is the expectation of others, which is why working with another person on a story or hearing from people who expect my next piece of work can make the difference between a project that languishes in the “in progress” folder and one that leaps to the “fully drafted” folder. Is it good for me to rely on others to help me finish things? No, but it is human and I’m as human as they come, and being part of a community is not only a good thing, it’s a necessary thing for a lot of writers. My community right now, while small, is a wonderful help to me. I appreciate every email, every comment, every outreach, and I try to respond in turn as I can.

Honestly, I’m not as structured as I’d like to be, but I do continually try to improve how I do things and what I produce. Writers who are static in their work are either already amazing, happily formulaic or unrepentantly lazy. I see the room for improvement in my own work and that’s a large part of what keeps me going. I have to strive to do better or risk being a dilettante, and because no other career paths really appeal to me at this point, I’d better become the best writer I possibly can. That’s one thing being a Peace Corps volunteer has helped with: honestly apprising my interests. There are fewer distractions when there is next to no media, shopping or the expectations of family/friends. I love writing, I have to write and so I’d better do the best job I can with it, because otherwise I’m cheating myself.

Aaand that’s enough of that for now. Suggestions on improving the process are welcome, by the by. I freely acknowledge there’s a lot I don’t know about that could help me out. Share with me! Thanks to Tiffany for the suggestions already given, btw.


  1. Thanks for writing this post! I write a lot for myself (not erotica, but fiction in general) and so much of what you said makes perfect sense to me. I'm not one of those 'same time, same place, word quota' kind of people. Luckily for me, I write as a hobby. There's a lot of pressure that comes with being a published writer. I think you are doing a fabulous job of it, no matter what your methods happen to be :-)

  2. Thanks, Tiffany. It's great you write for yourself. Honestly I wish I wrote for myself more. Lots of people told me to keep a journal while we're in Africa but I let it slide, and now I wish I'd gone to it. As for pressure...hopefully I'll get more opportunities to write and publish when we get back to the states. In, like, 5 months. Holy crap, so soon! AAAHHHHH!!!