So, way, way, way back in November, you may remember that I posted a short piece about hitting some milestones with this website. Part of that post was opening up for people to ask me questions, and my intent had been to answer them in December. But real life got in the way. That’s okay though, better late than never, eh? What I’m going to do is dedicate one post to each question that I received. It makes sense to start with the first one I received, so…
My question is kind of general, but I’m really interested to hear you just talk about your writing more. How do you come across inspiration? Do you schedule specific times to write? Do you have a process to your writing?
This is a really good question. Or set of questions. It really doesn’t have a straight forward answer either, as how I approach writing varies from project to project. Let’s have a look at each part of the question in turn though.
In terms of inspiration, my answer is a bit of a cop out, I’m afraid: it can be pretty much anything. What it really comes down to is what I’m actually trying to write. When it comes to short stories, they fall into one of two categories; those written for a specific anthology, and those written because there’s a story trying to escape my head. In the first of those two, it’s worth noting that most anthologies are themed, so often times the inspiration will simply come from the theme. A lot of the time, publishers will be quite broad when it comes to interpretation, so what you’ll actually get is a basic theme and description without it being too restrictive. To give you an example, my entries in ROAR 8 and 9 were based around the themes of ‘paradise’ and ‘resistance’ respectively. For paradise, the theme was so open-ended that I ended up questioning what paradise would actually be. That in itself led me to the idea of a character faced with the possibility of finding his own paradise but at a cost. For resistance, I was going through a period of feeling more comfortable with my gender identity, and the theme really gave me an opportunity to talk about resisting the pressures to conform.
For longer pieces, it gets a little more complicated. What tends to happen is something will strike a chord with me. That could be a line in a song, a scene in a film or TV show, a concept in a video game, or even just a random thought floating through my head. That will give me the basis of a loose idea for a story, and from there, I’ll start trying to build on it. It’s really amazing how much inspiration you can get after that initial burst too. I personally find that once I start researching different things to flesh out concepts, that in itself leads me to further inspiration as to what I can do with a character or idea. Seeing how readers respond to different pieces of work also helps with this, as it gives me a good indicator of what sort of things I can push out with a little more.
Scheduling specific times to write is something that’s changed over time for me. When I started out down the publishing path, I was working full time. That meant grabbing the odd moments whenever I could, which often meant an hour or two in the evening and nothing more. Once I left my full-time job and started working part-time, I moved into mixing it up with grabbing moments between housework and shifts, and also doing a little more in the evening. Now that I’m doing the writing full time, I write for most of the day. There are breaks, of course, which comes through a mix of housework and homeschooling one of my kids, but for the most part, I can put a few hours in through the day. If I feel doing more, I get some time in the evening then too. I do tend to have either a notebook or a sticky notes app on my phone too though so that I can make notes whenever an idea strikes.
The process is sort of dealt with in my answers above, but I think it would be fun to give an idea of a timeline for how I approach things, especially as it pertains to longer tales.
- I get an idea and make some loose notes as to what I want to achieve with the story. Basic concepts will come out here, along with some rough ideas.
- Make a slightly more detailed plan as to main points I want to get across, and list some key points about the main characters.
- Research ideas and concepts that I want to work with, such as cultural points or technological points.
- Make a detailed plan to map out the story. This will be on physical paper because I prefer that. It’ll end up scrappy too, with lots of notes coming off different sections. The main goal here is to give myself a roadmap for each chapter or section without going so heavily into detail that I lose the ability to go off on a tangent if needed. If I’m writing a series, this will also include points about future books and how they tie together, especially if I have a set end in mind.
- Start writing. I never write in silence, because I get distracted too easily then. So, I stick some music on. Sometimes that’ll be stuff I’m in the mood for, other times it’ll be specific songs to help get me in the mood for particular scenes.
- After a first draft is written, I step back for a week, then run through it to pick up obvious spelling and grammatical errors. I wait again, then do a run through to tidy things up and add or remove bits to help the text flow. I step back again, then do a final run through to make sure I’m as happy as I can be with the manuscript. I find it important to limit myself to three personal edit sessions as otherwise, I fall into the trap of getting stuck in a loop with it.
- Finally, I start shipping it out to publishers and/or agents. If all else fails, I start exploring self-publishing.
And that’s about it. I hope that was suitably interesting to read through. Honestly, I feel like I should do more writing-related posts so I may elaborate on bits of this at some point.
With the first question done, I should probably note that I’m open to questions all the time. Feel free to drop one in the comments below or use the contact page, and I’ll happily add them to the list. I’ll answer most things, though I do have some limits. If I feel like a question crosses a line, I will say though.