My approach to my writing process is one of continual improvement. I like to discover different techniques and then try them out, fine tuning them and seeing if they match my approach to writing.
A lot’s changed over the last 18 months in terms of process and I’m largely very happy with it and what it’s delivering. I’ve possibly got a big process rework for how I approach editing on the horizon but I suspect that will slip into next year. So for now, any changes are things that aid and support, rather than radically change the current process.
As regular blog visitors will know, last year I embarked on a productivity drive to make up for time lost due to the leg injury. It’s proved very effective and I’ve managed to accomplish a lot since implementing it including a lot of writing and organising the trip of a lifetime in total secrecy. Even so, I always feel like I’m slacking.
Having returned from America and slowly coming down from a huge adrenaline rush, the past two weeks I’ve felt really sluggish. In order to keep my focus for the first third of the year, I pushed a load of tasks off until “after storm chasing”. This has meant I’ve returned to this mountain of work I need to sort through and prioritise.
I needed a week to get my head together and it’s taken another week to get myself organised. In reality, this is fairly sensible but I realise that from now until Worldcon, I’m going to be insanely busy and I’ve just felt that I’m wasting time. I’ve got a draft to finish and another novel to edit and already I’m starting to feel a little panicked.
One of the things I’ve done this past week is swap out my personal task management software. I’ve been using Remember The Milk for the last year and it’s certainly worked. But you have to really cludge it to get GTD working on it and I felt that this was causing me to think twice before adding tasks in. There’s a lot I like about Remember the Milk, specifically that it’s cross platform. But the day job computer has had issues making it difficult to use RTM and I wanted something a little friendlier on the phone.
So I’m trying out ToDoist. For what I need, there’s probably very little difference but I’m enjoying the phone interface a lot more. It also feels like there is active development whereas Remember the Milk felt like it had reached a plateau. Who knows? At the moment ToDoist is shiny and new, but if that means I’m using it and getting things done, that’s not such a bad thing. I’ll keep using it and report back how I’m getting on later in the year.
So last weekend I wrote 18,412 words on the novel.
I also found time to go for a run twice, watch TV, write a 800 word blog post (pushing words written for weekend over 19,000), edit another article and start playing World of Warcraft again… amongst other things.
And you want to know the kicker? I don’t think I was anywhere as productive as I could have been.
So I can here you all ask, just how is this even possible?
Well, here’s the secret.
Back when I was going through leggedon I was swamped with things I needed to do. I had to remember to take drugs, exercise the leg, rest the leg, monitor what I was doing as well as what I was eating. At the time this felt completely overwhelming. I came close to breaking point on more than one occasion.
It was then that I made a decision that helped me and that I’ve taken forward into my writing.
It hit me that having loads of data was good. Having loads of data meant I could see what was working and what wasn’t and adjust what I did accordingly. More so, I decided that as a geek I could use technology to do a lot of the work for me.
So I got a fitbt to monitor how much I was able to exercise the leg, used an app on my phone to scan the barcodes of all the food I ate. It wasn’t easy – far from it – but it became manageable.
Likewise, when I was looking to change my writing processes I came to the same conclusion that data was good. Data meant I could look at what I was doing and see what was working and what wasn’t.
And so I started tracking my writing time.
So I’ve had a lot of questions about the process I’m now using to write and which I used to produce the first draft of Black As Knight. It’s quite complex and comprehensive so the plan has always been to blog about it as I move onto the final draft of Thieving King.
There is a lot of set up to do and I will preface this with saying that I’m changing things all the time, trying different things. So what I’m doing now may change next week. I also make a point of not using playing with process as a procrastination exercise.
But there is a bit of setup with my personal process, possibly overkill in many respects, and if you want to follow it, it’s worth blocking off a couple of weeks to get it all in place.
The first stage, before you even put pen to paper, is to get yourself organised.
So over the last couple of months I have been making some serious changes to my writing process. Whilst the old process certainly worked (it turned out a decent novel, didn’t it?) I realised that it wasn’t very efficient for what I want to achieve in the next couple of years. I was behind already because of leg-geddon and it appeared my old process wasn’t very resilient when things came along that threw spanners in the works.
When you are writing for yourself then taking years to craft a novel is acceptable. You can tinker and work at your own pace. When you want to be commercial as an author, taking years to produce a novel is not. I want to get to the stage where I can write two novels a year whilst still dealing with all the distractions life throws at you, and still maintaining some sort of life outside of writing. It’s a tall order, I know, and one that requires me to be a lot more organised.
So day 1 of my productivity drive didn’t go too well and it was purely down to my ‘trusted system’. What’s a trusted system? Well it’s just a fancy way of saying ToDo list. Actually calling it a ToDo list is a little unfair. A traditional ToDo list is just that, a list. It’s two dimensional – words go across, items go down. What a trusted system is, and what will supposedly turn you into a productivity ninja (because these days they seem to have moved from the world of assassination and espionage to the world of business process) is a three-dimensional system that not only has a list of items but naturally allows the things that need to get done to come into focus.
I think I have a plot.
As I’ve previously documented, in order to fix a plot problem with the novel I’ve had to do some serious updating to my writer toolbox to improve my plotting skills. And worried that this process might kill the fun out of writing a novel, I’ve tried it out on a brand new idea. The plan is that, if it works then I have a plotted novel sitting there ready for when I have time to write it.
Plotting is taking a bit longer than I anticipated. I think my brain is naturally trying to put on the brakes. Ordinarily I would be writing by now and doing ‘extra’ plotting feels a bit weird. I was a bit worried at the start of the week that enthusiasm for the project seemed to be at a low and that it might be because this level of plotting kills it, but I think that it was just start of week blues or the heat as enthusiasm has increased since then.
It took me a year to come up with Cassidy’s name. At one time she was going to be called, rather unoriginally, Angel until someone from my writer’s circle asked whether I was writing fan fiction based on the Joss Whedon show (well, she was hanging out with vampires!). I cursed myself and then spent a year trying to find the perfect name for this character.