As a writer I’ve always had the sort of relationship with process that if it were a Facebook status would read “it’s complicated”.
You see, I honestly believe that any writer who doesn’t analyse what they do and try and understand with a view to improvement is never going to get anywhere. Arrogance is the quickest way to kill any career. But like many unpublished writers I spent a long time delving into “how to write” books and never felt like I got much out of them. I don’t think I was looking for a magic button but perhaps sometimes I needed to be told that the answer to my problem was “a lot of bloody hard work”. I think if I am honest I was trying to discover who I was as a writer. I’m not sure I entirely know now.

Over the years this obsession of buying every writing self-help book out there turned into a much healthier experimenting with process. I tried things, mainly around NanoWriMo. Nearly every one of those experiments failed… or at least so I thought at the time.
I’m not going to explain what the difference between a gardener and an architect (in terms of writing approaches) is. You can google it and find much better explanations than I could provide. What’s important was that I always assumed I was a gardener.
My resistance to planning probably comes from a time when I was in a relationship with a girl with Crohn’s Disease. A lot went wrong in that relationship. We were both young, trying to set up home together, and we both made a lot of mistakes. But I found myself towards the end of that relationship feeling old beyond my years. Because of her illness, she needed to plan the day ahead. She needed to know that if the Crohn’s struck there was a loo nearby. This turned even leisurely weekends into rigorous schedules and I, in my immaturity, found this restricting. Still the experience left me such that to this day I’m against making plans, instead preferring to wake up and see where the day takes me.
At the same time, working in IT for a day job over the years, process has become something that all too often ineffectual managers introduce to fuck up the work of their staff. They never take into accounts specificity and rarely make things better due to their “one-size-fits-all” nature. That said, in jobs where I’ve been allowed to shape process, I enjoy it.
This all translated into my writing where plans & process were equated to not having fun. Whilst I still maintain that all ideas don’t need to be written down (if it’s a good enough idea it’ll be remembered) most of the plans for The Four Realms were in my head. I did do a spreadsheet working out the major revelation to be uncovered in each novel, but this is little more than two columns, one with the book number, one with a one word revelation. I’ve lived with this story for so long, it’s engraved into my soul.
My experiments with NaNoWriMo taught me that I’m an architect. The novel I planned hit 95k words and was a proper first draft of a novel written inside a month. The novel I went into not knowing the final chapter, ended up becoming a winding flashback that seemed to have little point other than to go on and on and on.
Note, I’m not saying that being an architect is better than being a gardener, it’s just better for me.
So for The Thieving King I planned. For the successful Nano novel I had an excel spreadsheet with 30 chapters planned out (to match the 30 days of Nano), so for Thieving King I did something similar in Scrivener, a very loose outline of plot.
To aid myself I also made a point of creating a Wiki whilst I did some final edits / read through of Four Realms. It’s nothing fancy, but it saves me diving into the novel for reference all the time.
But taking thirteen years to write your first novel and then trying to do your second in a year has proved a new type of challenge. It’s certainly not a bad one to have. Sure, Leggeddon and Four Realms promotion have eaten into time but my problem is that I waste a lot of time I do have, and easily derail myself. It’s OK, I tell myself. This is the first time I’ve ever written a second novel. The difficult second novel.
There’s a different psychology here as well. The pressure on your first novel is ever getting published, the pressure on the second is proving to yourself that you deserved that deal. You don’t want to be a fluke, a one-hit wonder, especially after your debut got a lot of critical praise.
The last few weeks have been a period of introspection. As I said a couple of weeks ago, “I need to get to a place where I’m more focused, more dedicated, more efficient”. My recovery has shown me that I need to be organised and do things more smartly. And when it comes to writing, I’ve come to the conclusion I need to make better plans in order to be more efficient in my writing, put my experiences into making a personalised process. I need to go from thinking I was a gardener to being a reluctant architect to being Sir Christopher motherfucking Wren.
Maybe that’s a step too far, maybe the processes I put in place will be as ineffectual as some of the managers I’ve had in the past. However, I need to remember one thing… when it comes to my books and my process, I am God. Seriously, there will be times I will need to break the process, but you know what… I can; because in Adrian’s little world of cool fantasy things and writerly torment, I’m in charge.
I’m using all my experience to pull this together with a view that there is no such thing as overkill if it will save that time and more down the line (because my head is in the right place and will not waste time doing useless things, unless it’s procrastinating working on process). I’m drawing from over 40 years’ worth of life experience and there’s some incredibly leftfield stuff here.
I spent the weekend putting the bare bones together but already I have gems like “plan backwards, write forwards and edit sideways”. It’s a lot of fun, and so long as I try these things, even if I end up rejecting everything in six months time, it won’t be a useless activity.