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How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

PlottingAs promised, here is the sequel to How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1), where I’ll share more about the strategies I use to plot and write my books.

These strategies are the result of several years of practice, of learning from others, of tweaking, honing, and adapting. This didn’t come to me overnight, and, for the last two books I’ve started, the strategy has slightly changed again. It is, and always will be, fluid. I’ll forever be tweaking it, finding new ways that work better, and abandoning others that don’t.

For one thing, I’m never simply working on one book at a time. I always have at least two books on the go, sometimes three. But never at the same stage. A first draft requires me to be fully, and undistractedly, immersed into the world of that book. I only ever write one book at a time. But, I may well be writing one, plotting another, and editing a third.

I break down the book writing process into five basic stages:

  • Plotting
  • Writing
  • Editing (which includes the beta reader stage)
  • Publishing (which includes cover design and formatting)
  • Marketing (which is never-ending)

Writing is the only stage that is sacred and exclusive. One book at a time. But, if I can market all of my books at the same time, I can also work on more than one book in the other stages of book production, right?

Plotting is the section that has seen the biggest changes over the last year or so. This is the place where my strategy will either speed up my production, or slow me down. This is the vital part. I work to a story structure. I’ve looked at loads and loads of these over the years, and they’re basically, by and large, the same, they just call all the different sections different things. They’re not hard to find online. Search, and find one that sits well with you. So, before I even start plotting, I know what my basic structure is going to be. That work is already done for me.

I take my time over this stage. It doesn’t matter if plotting a book takes as long as writing it, because I’m concurrently writing another, so my production is still up. I plot in notebooks, always handwritten, and that notebook goes everywhere with me. For me, this is an important distinction. I plot by hand, I write on my laptop. It keeps the books separate in my head by separating them physically (and allows me to indulge my notebook addiction.)

My plotting notes differ. Some chapters may just be bullet points, and nothing more. Other chapters are almost completely written in my notebook; description, dialogue, everything. As I plot, I am also updating my series bible (or book bible for standalones), where I keep all the vital details that I’ll need to refer back to. Another trick to speed things up. When I move to the writing stage, I can fly through the chapters that are more heavily plotted, stumbling only when I’ve written something like ‘big fight scene here’. (Writing me never thanks plotting me for that one!) The more detailed the plotting notes, the faster the first draft is. And so, I never worry about plotting taking me a long time. While the first draft is my favourite stage, plotting is the most important.

Beyond that, I’m not doing anything special or different. I edit like a snail trying to get blood out of a stone (lots of coffee and cake required), and while my book is with beta readers, I get on with the next one in the chain.

While it may sound like I’m running a book factory, just churning out books, don’t be mistaken by that analogy. Every single book means the world to me, and includes my heart, my soul, my tears, and my blood. They are my babies, and I love every single one dearly. This is just how I work. My head is busting with more book ideas than I could write in my whole lifetime, and they itch in my fingers, keeping me awake at night, until I write them.

Because that’s one important lesson I’ve learnt; creativity attracts creativity. The more I write, the more ideas I have, the more come. While the brain being like a muscle is a tired old cliché, it’s true: the more weight I lift, the stronger it gets, and the more weight I’m able to lift.

But, this is me. This is what works for me, and it’s never going to work for everyone. You need to find your own way, and remember that you’re not in competition with anyone else. It’s not a race. It’s a path that we’re on together, and some people walk it, enjoying the scenery, while others sprint. There are turtles, and there are hares, and any one of us could burn out, retire, or gain ground at any time. Find your speed, find your route. That’s what matters.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

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How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1)

PlottingI started out as a discovery writer, setting off on the journey of my stories without any kind of plan, and with very little, or even no idea where I was headed. It was exciting, like exploring. It was also slow going, and the editing stage could turn out to be pretty epic. But it worked for me. At least, it did then.

I shunned plotting, scorned it even, insisting that it ‘didn’t work for me’. And I was right, it didn’t. At least, not then. In fact, there was one year that I decided to hit November’s NaNoWriMo event with a fully plotted novel. I worked on it throughout October, and faced November 1st with confidence. I had a map for my journey, I knew where I was going. But, once I had hit around 15,000 words, the characters took over, and pulled the story off in a direction completely unrecognisable from my plan. All I could think, was that I’d wasted an entire month plotting, only to end up with a completely different story.

In 2015, I started publishing. I started up my own imprint, purchased a pack of ISBNs, and suddenly, writing wasn’t just a hobby anymore. And I had to get serious about it.

I started out publishing two books a year. It took me, from conception, to hitting publish, 6 months to produce a book. But the more I learnt about the business of indie publishing, the more I realised the benefits of upping production. And I know indie authors who are releasing a book every month. Over the last two years, I’ve gone from publishing two books a year, to publishing four.

I’ve had a lot of writers asking me how I do it recently. I’ve had people call me ‘lucky’ to be capable of it, for being a fast writer. But, you know what? I’m not a particularly fast writer. I’m just a hard-working writer. And it has nothing to do with luck.

But people don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. They don’t see the sacrifices, the lost sleep, the stress to hit pre-order deadlines. They don’t see the work I’ve done on honing my skills, on tweaking my approach, all the experimentation it took to find the perfect formula for me. They don’t see the daily 5am wake-ups, or the notebook balanced on my knee whenever I sit down, no matter where I am.

I have a very specific strategy in place that really has taken a long time to perfect. But it works for me, at least, it does at the moment. Because that’s the thing with writing; a strategy that works for me now, might not do so in five years. It’s all about being adaptable, about being willing to try new things, being open to changing things up.

This blog post is pretty long already, so I’ll write a second one explaining my strategy, showing how I mange to write and publish four books a year. Check out How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

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The Importance of Habit

WritingLast month I didn’t write anything new. May came in off the back of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and it was a month of editing, plotting, book releases, and marketing. I wrote nothing new.

June came, and I duly sat down to write, to create, and I found myself empty.

Getting words out of me was like torture, it hurt, and I found myself stopping after just a couple of paragraphs, too frustrated and exhausted to continue. It felt like it might actually kill me. Slowly. One unwritten word by another.

I needed to rediscover the fire, the passion, the creativity that had, evidently, buried itself so deep inside me that I couldn’t find even a hint of it. After taking advice from my peers, I turned back to a tactic I’ve used before. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but, sometimes, you need someone else to tell you. It’s not always so simple to take your own advice.

I began reading what I’d already written during April, from the beginning, gently editing as I went. That’s where my mojo was. Not in the air, in the clouds, not in words I hadn’t even thought of yet, it was in the solidity of what was already penned. It took just two chapters. And then I was ready to go. The story came flowing.

So, that’s my lesson learnt. I can’t take a month off. I need to write, every day, even if it’s something that will never come to anything. Creativity can dry up, albeit temporarily, but it’s far better to keep it burning.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

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What the People Want

Insecure Writer's Support GroupSomething I’ve been thinking about a lot, is writing to market. This is when an author either picks up on a current popular trend, or predicts an upcoming trend, and specifically writes for that market, to, hopefully, hit upon a bestseller by simply writing what the people want.

Among authors, it’s actually something of a controversial issue with accusations of writers ‘selling out’, or not being true to their craft. Honestly, I feel conflicted myself. So often, the act of writing books, of creating worlds and characters, of giving flesh to your dreams, so often, that feels completely at odds with the actual business side of selling books. The marketing, the numbers, the accounts. I know many writers for whom, once their hobby became their income source, they lost all joy for the act of writing.

Creativity and business seem to be uncomfortable bedfellows.

But, at the end of the day, it is a business, and it has to be run as a business if it’s going to succeed. Last year, I published a collection of short stories set in a post-apocalyptic world. I largely wrote it just to get it out of my head, where it was like a niggling thorn in my brain. And then I didn’t think much more about it. Until it started selling. And it sells well, and regularly. And my business brain said “You need to take advantage of this.”

So, yes, I’m now writing to market. A full-length post apocalyptic book I’d never intended to write. It’s a different thing for me; both the specific genre (although it’s not that far from dystopian fiction), and writing to market. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all turns out (especially as the story and characters seem to be insistent about taking it in an interesting new direction!)

Do you write to market?

This post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

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You Don’t Need Socks to Write!

You Don't Need Socks to WriteOne morning, I was desperately trying to get my five year old to do his homework, and he, as usual, was coming up with every excuse he could think of, ending with “I need my socks on.”

“You don’t need socks to write!” I replied, chalking it down as yet another one of those sentences I never imagined I’d ever have to say to another human being. But it got me thinking, and, actually, it’s very good writing advice.

Some people wait for the perfect conditions to write. Whether that be an active muse, a quiet house, a private space, the right weather, the moon in their star sign, whatever their particulars are. I’ve done it myself. Put off writing because I didn’t feel right, or the house was noisy, or the table was messy.

The truth is, as with most things, there is no perfect time, and if you sit around waiting for this magical moment, you’ll never write a word. Sometimes, you just need to sit down (or perch somewhere, or stand, or whatever) and get some words out of you. They may not be perfect words, they may not be any good at all, but the more that come, the better they will get. Who was it who said you can’t edit a blank page?

So don’t fret over the particulars; don’t worry if the sun isn’t right, or your chair is a little uncomfortable, or your coffee is a little cold, just write. Get some words out. Wonderful, imperfect, foolish, misspelt words. And remember: you don’t need socks to write.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

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Hey, 2018! I’m Coming For You!

Insecure Writer's Support GroupSo, here we are, just a few days into 2018. A new year. A new start. A fresh start. A new chapter. An empty book. The first step of a journey. Whichever tired old metaphor you’d like to use. Because they are tired and overused, but that’s just because they’re true.

Even if you try to avoid all the hype over resolutions, all the motivational quotes pasted onto images of sunrises and rainbows and people climbing mountains to look at sunrises and rainbows, it’s hard not to get caught up in that overall feeling of hope. Of hoping for this year to be better, bigger, brighter. For you to go places, to take yourself places. Because, believe me, those places aren’t coming to you.

Despite the sarcasm, I feel it too. That fresh chance to do things right. To put the mistakes of last year behind me, and push forward, bolder and wiser. I’m even planning things. Me! Planning! Little Miss make-it-up-as-you-go-along. And I have big plans, exciting plans, secret plans.

Despite my determination to make 2018 fabulously wonderfully brilliantly excellent, I can’t help but wonder if I felt like this at the beginning of 2017. If I sat here and thought “This is going to be my year”, just like I am now. I also wonder if I thought that in January 2016. But it doesn’t stop me thinking it now. There’s only one way 2018 will be fabulously wonderfully brilliantly excellent, and that’s if I strive to make it so. It’s down to me. Just me. Little ol’ me. So, you’d better get out of my way, because I’m coming through.

(Hopefully.)

What do you have planned for 2018?

This post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.