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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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They’re Not Always Right, You’re Not Always Wrong

ReaderWe all need advice, a helping hand, a guide. And that’s when we can turn to someone with more experience, who’s been there and done it, so that, hopefully, we can avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls.

Whether you’re just starting out, or already seasoned in publishing, there’s always more to learn. Technology and the internet changes so rapidly, and strategies that worked yesterday, don’t always work today. As authors, we can never stop learning and adapting. But with that, comes the feeling that we’re still inexperienced, still naive, just stumbling blindly along the path, and it can be all too easy to follow those ahead of you, blindly, assuming they know exactly where they’re going.

These people, and their advice, aren’t difficult to find. There are countless podcasts and blogs and books covering just about every aspect of writing, publishing, and book marketing you can imagine, and even some that you hadn’t yet thought of.

For the most part, they know exactly where they’re going, and you can happily follow them. But it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes, their destination might be different to yours, or, even if it’s the same destination, their route might be different to the one you wanted to take. And occassionally, you’ll meet one of those people who speak with absolute assuredness, but they’re actually completely lost.

So, how can you tell the difference? How do you know when to follow, and when to make your own path?

For one, trust your instincts. Will they always be right? No. But if you stay true to yourself, and to the kind of author you want to be, you can’t go too far wrong.

And second, don’t be scared to make mistakes. We all do. All the experts have too. And we learn far more, and far quicker from our own mistakes than we do from other people’s. No one has a flawless journey, there will be roadblocks and detours, dead ends and circular routes, but if you remember where you want to go, you can find your way back.

Always stay open to advice, to trying new things, to being persuaded and changing your mind. Always. But listen to your gut too. You’re a lot smarter than you realise.

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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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Feeling Determined vs Being Determined (How I Got More Hours in the Day)

Monday MotivationI’ve felt determined for a long time. Years and years. But despite my burning sense of determination, I just wasn’t managing to get things done. There was always something conspiring against me. I was too busy with the kids, or I didn’t have somewhere quiet to write, or the muse just wasn’t with me. I was a victim of circumstance. I wanted to do it, but there was too much against me.

I wailed about it on social media, grumbling about how blessed other people were with their writing nooks, their school-age children, their luxury of free time when I had none. They were lucky. I, however, was not.

It has taken a long time, a good number of pep talks, and a whole load of failure for me to finally figure out my problem. There is a difference between feeling determined and being determined. And the difference is action.

There’s no big secret here, no grand revelation, and there is definitely no luck involved. It’s about changing your mindset. It’s taken me years, and I feel so foolish for taking so long to realise it. Feeling determined is not being determined. I’ve only just come to understand that.

Last year, something clicked. And, you know what? Over the last few months I have not stopped. Not for a second. I am constantly on the go. Insanely busy. But it’s productive busy, happy busy, exciting busy.

The old me was busy too. But that was I-don’t-have-time-for-this busy. That was not even trying to write because I knew my toddler wouldn’t grant me anything close to an hour of peace and quiet. That was thinking anything less wasn’t worth the bother. That was feeling determined.

New me writes two sentences on the way back from the toilet. New me types while she’s eating lunch. New me takes a notebook and pen to toddler groups. New me writes like the wind while her toddler naps because he might sleep for four hours, or four minutes. New me doesn’t wait for the muse. New me grabs her by the throat and says “Now!” And sometimes the words flow, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, and sometimes it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written. But I do it anyway. That’s being determined.

I’ve recently started setting a 5am alarm. I get up and write while the kids are still asleep. When I posted about it on social media, I got a number of people telling me I was ‘lucky’ to get an hour of peace and quiet in the morning. I smiled at that. That’s what I used to say to other people. But it’s not luck. It’s getting up at 5am. It’s not waiting for my muse to show up. It’s writing while the kettle’s still boiling. It’s getting words down no matter what. Because some mornings I do get an hour before my boys get up. Other mornings I get two minutes. But two productive minutes are better than ten minutes of waiting for the perfect moment.

It’s not luck. It’s being determined.