So, I’m a published author now. (Look, Ma, I’m famous.) A Study of Ash & Smoke was written, then edited and produced by Skolion, and they wrote an article on how the book was made.
In that article, we linked to this post I wrote in 2017, all about my writing process.
It’s been just over two years since I wrote that post. The Physician’s Apprentice had a name change to A Study of Ash & Smoke, and went on to a fifth draft before it was polished and published. All in all, I spent just shy of five years writing that book.
I learned so much in that time, and have walked away from it changed. I’m currently writing the sequel, and I find my writing process equally changed.
Still a Pantser-Hybrid
I rarely write with a plan. In fact, I’ve tried to plan out a novel, but somehow end up deviating from the plan every time.
I’ve learned that that’s okay. In the end, I reckon most writers end up spending the same amount of time on a novel, with or without a plan.
Writers who plan sort out all of the story snags before they even write the first line. They do the brainstorming and reshuffling and plot-filling first, then begin to write.
Pantsers go through the same brainstorming, reshuffling, and plot-filling, but all of that happens as we write.
I’ve learned that my best story ideas are sparked when I brainstorm with other people. I live for feedback and sometimes need someone to take my hand and say, ‘Nah, this direction will work better.’
Since I’m so dependent on feedback, planning ahead rarely works out for me because my alpha team doesn’t get to see the planning notes. When we brainstorm, we get to talk out the ideas, which has a much better payoff, but most of the time the brainstorming session is sparked by something I’d already written and sent to them to read.
I do plan the world into unnecessarily specific details, with histories and religions and politics that won’t ever make it into the book, but other than that I operate on a general idea of where the story should go.
The Alpha Team
I have two readers who read everything I write as I write, in chunks of ten or so chapters at a time.
They know the plot intimately, know all the spoilers, and because of that have insight into the story’s direction that nobody else does. This helps me write tighter plotlines.
Since the alpha team knows all the spoilers, they know when events must be foreshadowed a bit more, and can tell me to stop when I write stuff that will add unnecessary issues or complications to the conclusion of the overall plot.
I find ten chapter chunks really helpful, because then I don’t typically have to rewrite as much. And I will rewrite.
With all I’ve learned from the process of writing Ash & Smoke, I do find that the rewriting this time around has been different. With Ash & Smoke, I rewrote because I’d had no damn clue of what I was supposed to be doing and Nerine had to teach me the basics.
This time, I’m rewriting because I understand story structure and plot points a bit better. Sometimes, when I read what I’ve written, there’s this niggling feeling that something is missing, which usually causes a distraught voice note to an alpha, then there’s a brainstorming sesh and we pound out the kinks in the plot. We’ve all developed a kind of instinct when it comes to plot points, which is great.
I Write Fast
I bashed out the first draft of Ash & Smoke in 8 weeks.
I’m now on the fourth attempt to put out a first full draft of A Trial of Sparks & Kindling. The other three attempts didn’t make it past the 20th chapter.
This current draft is now at 30 Chapters, minus some material I cut from one of the rewrites that will be pasted back at a later point in the timeline.
Just to give you an idea of what I mean by fast, I began rewriting in early July, while we had a house full of guests. I’m sitting at over 80k words (if we count the stuff that will be pasted back). In total, I’ve probably written over 100k words since I began the third draft of Sparks & Kindling at the beginning of June.
This speed thing isn’t always good, though. I get extremely obsessive when I work. It reaches the point where it’s literally detrimental to my health–I typed so much my hand got hurt just two weeks ago.
I don’t post on social media, I don’t respond to texts when I’m supposed to, I don’t read, it’s a struggle to watch TV or do anything that isn’t writing. Like I’m writing this blog post now, but I can’t stop thinking about chapter 26 and what I have to do to fix it. I can’t wait to get back to it.
I’ve spoken to so many people who are impressed and call me tenacious, but the truth is, it scares me how sucked in I get when I write. I’ve said this before, but I truly believe that if it wasn’t for my daughter and husband, I wouldn’t eat or sleep. I’d write until I collapse at the keyboard.
But I can’t stop. Even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. I hear dialogue in my head when I’m in conversation with real people. I feel guilty for not working. All in all, writing tends to be an especially anxious time for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do. There are few things as fulfilling as figuring out how that scene should read. And honestly, the incredible feedback Ash & Smoke has been getting has been such a boost for me. I still get teary-eyed over some of the reviews.
My struggle is finding a healthy balance. As much as the writing stresses me out, it gives me such a buzz. I get energised when things work out, and when alpha members send me a string of gifs and voice notes that literally amount to squealing ‘it’s fantastic!’ all the late nights and early mornings are worth it.
I Revise as I Write
This is a habit I picked up while writing one of the drafts of Ash & Smoke. I read the last chapter I wrote before I begin the day’s writing. In fact, whenever I get up and sit back down, I tend to reread whatever I’d written from the last chapter heading. It just helps me to get back in the zone.
Then, I reread the entire manuscript whenever I’ve written a tenth chapter. So, 10, 20, 30, etc. If it ends on a zero, I’m rereading everything.
Because of all the small rewrites that happen, I have to read everything often, just to make sure all the changes have been carried through. It also helps me remember what still needs to happen, because I’m reminded of what I’ve foreshadowed.
This doesn’t mean I won’t do a proper revision once the draft is complete. For that, I tend to change the font and colour of the text, and I put on the narrator that comes with Word. It sounds a bit mechanical, but let me tell you, this step is worth gold.
The machine doesn’t read what I think I wrote, it reads what I actually wrote. Do you know how many times a writer can read the word wold and think it says would? More times than you guessed, I promise you.
How about you? What’s your process like?