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.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I am currently trying out some new methods for plotting to solve an issue with the second act of the novel. I have a worry that the intensity I’m approaching it at might mean it takes all the fun out of the writing and kills the project for me. And I’m plotting out an entirely fresh novel as a test of the process, the idea being that if it works I’ll have a future novel sat there plotted ready to write one day in the future, and if it goes wrong, well at least I haven’t ruined my series.
Perhaps it’s procrastination, but at least it’s procrastination with a purpose.
I’ve heard it said that each book presents its own challenges and for this one, I think I am going to remember it for the second act. I’ve written it twice now and both times, it is off, the first breaking the cannon of the universe, the second languishing in the passivity of the characters.
Normally when there are problems with the writing I strip it all back; I go with a notebook and pen to somewhere quiet, away from the internet, and write the scene by hand. But this time the problem is a little more serious.
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.