Writing Process Blog Tour

The indomitable, coke-drinking in the morning, snarky Casey Blair, one of my roomies from Viable Paradise, tagged me. How could I say no?

What am I working on?

I’m working on something new. It’s such early days (not even 40k words) that I don’t even know what it is yet, but I’m going with young adult epic science fantasy for right now. Whatever it is, I’m having fun.

My WIP is about a young woman named Kel. She discovers her world is not as egalitarian as she thought it was after she wins a horse race and is fined for racing while female. The penalty is so high, her parents tell her the only way out for everyone is if she becomes a candidate for the Perfectors, a group of women with a special kind of biological augmentation, who serve the emperor directly. Only half of the candidates survive the process. Plus her new bodyguard is an old friend she hadn’t seen in ten years, her best friend leaves the country on a scientific expedition in the jungle and the other Perfector candidates have their own set of problems. Kel tends to leap before she looks when dealing with all these people and it keeps getting her in trouble.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I really like what Blair MacGregor said about novelty being overrated. I see myself as part of a (really loosely defined) younger generation of writers who are exploring what it means to have a diverse cast of characters, to take fantasy out of pseudo-medieval Europe, to bring science into fantasy and to play with the idea of cultural and technological change. I feel like I owe a lot to writers that have been writing for while, like Martha Wells and Kate Elliott, and newish writers, like Alaya Dawn Johnson, Rae Carson and NK Jemisin, to name just a few. But it’s also the zeitgeist…we’re all a product of our times, and my generation is diverse, is tired of pseudo-Europe (the popularity of Game of Thrones notwithstanding) and is steeped in science and cultural and technological change like no other. This is what our lives are like, and so what we write reflects that.

That said, I could no more write like any of those authors than they could write like me because we all write through a prism of our own personal experience. I like writing about women who are righting wrongs, who are doing things, but not necessarily swinging a sword and killing people, about the places where cultures rub up against each other and about the consequences of violence and imperialism and oppression.

Why do I write what I do?

What I write is a reflection of me and my beliefs about the world. I also write the types of stories I would like to see out in the world. I write what I want to read. But even more, I write because it satisfies a fundamental need, and what bubbles up out of my subconscious often surprises me. That’s where most of the fun is…

How does my writing process work?

Every one of my stories has started from an unconscious amalgamation of things/people/places I’m reading or thinking about or seeing somewhere and my own experiences, which creates the impression of a person in a place. The two are linked and are equally strong and if I have one but not the other I don’t have the beginnings of a story yet. As soon as she entered my mind Kel was Kel, she had always been sneaking into a horse race and had always lived in a semi-arid eastern Mediterranean-like land. I write down that initial sense, sometimes just a line, sometimes an entire scene, and I sit with it. Sometimes I sit with it for a long time. Kel’s been waiting in my head for almost two years while I worked on other things.

Each scene I write leads to something else, though not necessarily in chronological order and not necessarily quickly. At this stage I write morning pages every day and a lot of my ideas for scenes, conflicts, plot and other characters come up organically. Others I work at, writing/asking myself “What happens next? What does it mean that she’s just been sold to the Perfectors? What does her best friend do?” sometimes there are whole weeks that I don’t know what happens next and I have to wait, journaling and reading other things (and watching a lot of TV), until I figure that out, or figure out my subconscious is telling me I did something wrong that I have to go back and fix before I can keep going forward. About the only time I go back and read what I have written is when I have to fix something.

At about the almost halfway point I start to get a glimmering of what the ending is going to be and I consciously start steering towards it. (Usually there is a lot of panic until I figure this out, along the lines of “Is this going to work? Will I figure out a way to end this? Has all of this writing been a waste?” “What kind of writer am I if I don’t know the ending to my own story?”) Once I have a full draft I start putting the pieces together (Scrivener actually makes this pretty easy) and then I revise and revise and revise, 18 or 20 times until I have a book and not a barebones bunch of unconnected scenes. I think of this part as what an oyster does when it creates a pearl—layers and layers of fixes and meaning and improving. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I do the first draft longhand in a notebook. The second draft is when I type it into the computer, fixing and fleshing it out, and I do that as I finish each scene or, more realistically in one long go over the weekend.

When it’s ready I send it out to a few special critique partners who tell me everything that is wrong. Usually I’ve overlooked some ridiculously important plot point, or a character’s reaction to something is totally not in character, and then I have to fix it. Once I agonize and journal and write and rewrite those fixes I send it to a whole bunch of beta readers to get reactions to tweak the story and fix any other problems that come up.

ETA: The wonderful Camille Griep and Debra Jess will be next. I’m waiting to hear who else wants to play.

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7 thoughts on “Writing Process Blog Tour

  1. Casey says:

    Love your articulation on non-medieval Western fantasy that doesn’t negate technology or change. That’s so important.

    Also, I laughed out loud at your description of me. Best. Thank you =D.

  2. Jan Jackson says:

    I know what you mean about characters living in your head. I remember the very first book I wrote. It had been building in my mind for so long, once I started writing, I didn’t want to stop.Those are the days to live for. When you’re so caught up in a story you forget the real world around you. Magic.

  3. DebraJess says:

    I’ve reread your answer to the question about process. I hope to get inspired to actually develop a process. Mine changes from story to story and it’s frustrating not to have a specific way of doing things. I feel not have a process slows me down. I need to speed up my writing or I’ll get too mired in the muck and never finish a story.

  4. Nicole Lisa says:

    I don’t know about developing a process…for me it was more figuring out what my process was and to stop fighting it.

    For example, if I come off of editing a project (which I have to do in order) I keep trying to write in chronological order for the new project and it just doesn’t work for me. Pretty much every time I start a new book I have to rediscover that writing out of order works better for me.

  5. […] interested in even more blogs on the tour, I’ve already mentioned Blair and Casey, but Nicole Lisa, Tam McNeil, and Fran Wilde have wonderful posts up […]

  6. […] of the other posts in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Check them out: Casey Blair Aliza Greenblatt Nicole Lisa Alex Haist Blair MacGregor — * – There’s so much more I want to speak to on this […]

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