How to Write a Book
Here's the secret to writing a book. You write it.
That's about it.
The key, of course, is to write a good book. And advice on that would fill more than a single blog. It'd easily be a book unto itself, probably an evolving saga. And while you'd be overburdened with a shit-load of advice, the problem is that you still wouldn't be prepared to write a good book. Everyone writes differently, and if you're not true to your own style, well that's just the same book with a different cover.
That being said, I'm often asked about how I write. How much time do I put in a day? How do I focus? Do I make an outline? HOW IN THE HELL DO YOU KEEP ALL OF THE CHARACTERS STRAIGHT?
I think that last one was from my best friend and editor, who was trying to help me make sure all of the eye colors were consistent. I should also mention, to the delightful folks who've read my book Firebird, that this was one of my epic Fantasy series that she was working on. And where Firebird is about 55,000 words, Light Warriors sits at a pretty 250,000--and that's been shaved down over the years. So you can understand her frustration.
So for the humans who've asked me, welcome to my brain.
When I'm actively working on a book, it's all I can think about. Some people have commented that I look angry--I believe their exact words were super pissed--while I'm typing. They are mistaking anger for determination, excitement and very real fear, but I can see how my time-hardened scowl could be misinterpreted.
On the other hand, when I'm starting to write, it's like turning on a rusty tractor and waiting to see if it's going to actually move. More than that. It's like sneaking into someone's barn, discovering a hidden tractor (those exist, the mythical treasure nuggets of the farm), and trying to hot wire it (can you even do that to tractors?) while your hands are shaking and you hear Old McDonald charging through the doors, shotgun bared.
That might be an exaggeration. But if you've ever tried to start a book, you know it's not much of one.
For me, I've got to get the rust out of my gears. It takes pages, sometimes entire chapters, before the story starts to flow. I'll write a sentence, reread it, erase it, repeat. I'll worry about what people will think about my opening paragraph. I'll worry that this is the wrong beginning, or that I've taken a right angle tunnel out of the rabbit hole, and no one could ever follow me.
But eventually, I stop worrying. The story will tug me down its own path, and I'll find myself racing to keep up. My fingers move ridiculously fast (I'm often asked if I'm even typing, to which my determined-excited-fearful scowl deepens in anger, and I grunt something inarticulate), and I misspell a lot of words. I don't have the best grammar. My thoughts get tangled up in a web I'm only beginning to see.
And that's perfectly fine. Because while grammar and spelling and far, far too many swear words can be corrected, the story is what matters. Without that heart-pounding, eye-widening, wicked drive of story, I honestly don't think the world would hold many books worth reading.
Once I've got the story on its tracks, the pressure is on. If I'm going to finish a book, I've got to have a schedule. And usually, I set a ridiculous deadline for myself. I guess how many words/chapters/pages I'm going to want in the book, divide it by the number of days I'm giving myself to finish, and that's what I've got to pump out every day. I take one day a week off, so subtract that. Usually, I make time for 8 hours of writing a day. Sometimes, that doesn't work out with life and my 'actual' 'paying' jobs, but it's the goal.
In the triangle of work-social life-sleeping, the social life is taken out back and shot. Sometimes, it attempts to zombie into my door, but that's when the guns come out, barricades go up, and I defend my writer braaaaaaaaaaains.
That's another great example of an exaggeration.
The point is, the only way to write a book is to write it.
And I'm not going to pump out great pages every day. Sometimes, when the rush is over and I'm going back to edit, I yank entire weeks worth of work out. The editor side of my brain is very different from the story side, and if the book is going to flow, I've got to get them both to work together (and believe me, it's not always pretty.)
I've just realized that I've already got a long blog here. And I haven't even answered all of the questions. My questions. Sometimes, it concerns me that writing is just really you talking to yourself with weird, twitchy fingers.
Let's see. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Ah. There're my questions. There's? There're...that's a really stupid word.
Do I make an outline? Honestly, I have a deep, residual hatred for outlines. Always have. Did they do anything to offend me? Probably. I don't know.
So, no, I never make outlines. I get an idea for a story, and I let my brain chew on it for years. I mean years. I'll think about it when I'm driving and listening to music. I'll talk to myself--actually talk to myself, not just twitch my fingers like some kind of spastic voodoo puppet master--and act out scenes. I like the ones where I kill myself off. Very dramatic. Lots of tears.
And yes, my cat thinks I'm crazy. She's in the majority, though, so whatever.
This blog is turning out much snarkier than I intended. But if you've made it this far, I guess you're feeling a little invested, so some snark might be a nice change of pace.
How do I focus? Well, I deeply desire to own a computer that is just, like, really stupid. I want it to believe that the only purpose of the internet is to upload manuscripts and look up words. I want that computer to reliably always open Word, NEVER bloody update itself, and I want it to be happy about it. Like, a fanatic workaholic with zero desire to improve itself and incredible self-esteem.
If you can help me find this computer, I'd probably marry it.
Since that's not the computer I have, I instead put it in airplane mode. Think of it as a chastity belt for your Facebook-scrolling, youtube watching, Twitter trolling impulses. I don't put the phone in airplane mode, as I use that bad boy to look up words I can't spell well enough for auto correct to fix. Instead, it goes into 'do not disturb' mode.
Quick note: if you're going to do that, and you happen to tumble as far down the rabbit hole as I usually do, I'd recommend letting at least one person know that's what you're doing. I have, on occasion, been mistaken for dead.
And lastly, how do I keep my characters straight?
You know, usually, I don't have a problem with it. I think about my stories for so long, and so often, I've got the entire world tucked neatly inside my "mind palace". For those of you who've watched BBC's Sherlock, no explanation is necessary. For those of you who haven't, I first have to ask why? Because that show is fantastic.
Anyway, I can always find the pieces of my story (characters, places, worlds) if I 'meditate' long enough...which, for me, means playing out scenes in my imagination.
When I am trying to get backstories for my characters together, I do write them down. Usually in a notebook, where I can comfortably explore my characters in different environments.
Am I making sense? I rather doubt it.
But that's writing. It doesn't always make sense, and it rarely takes you where you thought you were going. Stories are messy, and to quote my dear Neil Gaiman, "A novel is a long piece of prose with something wrong with it."