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Pulling the Strings

There's no right way to write

"I've got no strings

To hold me down

To make me fret, or make me frown

I had strings

But now I'm free

There are no strings on me"

-Pinocchio (or Ultron, take your pick)

Everyone has seen writing advice online, be it on Twitter, TikTok, or some half-baked article or blog like this one (I'll leave it up to you to decide how half-baked my ideas are). And to be fair, lot of that advice is good.

But some of it... whoa boy. It's bad. Really, really bad.

Often the worst advice is any advice that includes the word "must." And I say this because I'm a firm believer that so long as your writing process is working for you, it is valid no matter what anyone else says about it. And just because your process works for you, that doesn't mean it will work for anyone else. Which is why you;ll never see my telling you how you should write.

But it occured to me that I haven't really told you how I write. And if my process can help any fledgling writers out there, then I might as well put it out there. So take all this with the grain of salt that it is intended to come with and prepare for the wild ride that is my mind. Keep your hands inside the cart at all times.

Like all things in nature, writing processes come on a broad spectrum. The two endpoints of the line in this business tend to be labled as "Plotter" or "Pantser." As I've mentioned a few times before, I fall heavily into the latter catagory. And while I'm happy to admit that plotting out an entire story before putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard is a fully valid form of writing, I absolutely, possitively cannot do it. There's some sort of mental block that makes it impossible. I feel like I'm wasting time when I could just be telling the story in the first place.

Now, some might argue that a rough draft is basically just a more fleshed out outline. And that's true. But as I mentioned in my last blog, I don't think I've ever actually turned in a rough draft of anything in my life. If anything, my writing process looks like this:

That doesn't mean that there isn't some sort of method to my madness. One can't just sit down and start writing a 100K word novel without something to work with. We all need an idea--some sort of spark with which to light the flame. For me, that usually begins with a character and a scenario. Using my last release The Miranda Project as an example, I had a character named Alex who had the training of a Jason Bourne and the superpowers of Nightcrawler from the X-Men. Add in the fact that he was on the run like Bourne was with a sprinkling of the Psi-Corps from Babylon 5, and I had something to work with.

From there it was simply a matter of crafting the story around the idea. Add in a failing Mars colony, some space hopping around the solar system, a love interest, and a bad guy with the single-minded focus of tracking Alex down, and now I've got a story. But unlike how a plotter can then sit down and plan every nuance of their story out before they start writing it, I work the opposite way. I sit down, start at the beginning, and start typing.

And unlike some authors who can jump around and write scenes out of order, I cannot. See, for me the characters are more important than the plot. In order to feel invested in a story, I need to believe in the characters. So when I write, I want them to get the their destinations naturally as opposed to sticking a fishhook in their mouths and pulling on the line. The secret to a great puppet show is to never let the audience see the strings. You want them to believe the puppets are real--that the characters are real. When I start trying to force things to fit a predetermined plot, the illusion fades. The strings are laid threadbare and torn.

So when I said earlier that I "start at the beginning," I meant that literally. I may go back and insert a scene in if I think of it later. In fact I went back and added a prologue to my current work in progress after I'd already written over 75K words. But for my brain to piece a story together, I need cause and effect. This happens, so that happens. Specifically, this happens so the characters react this way.

Despite being a chronic underwriter, my drafts usually come out fairly clean. The whole idea of a "word vommit" draft just doesn't work for me. And that's because I break another rule that a lot of writers tell you that you must never do: I edit as I go. For me, I need each paragraph to feel done in order to move on to the next one. This means I may type out a paragraph, check it for structual issues, and then spend five minutes adding details to keep from having that dreaded white room syndrome. In fact, this is often where I spend the majority of my time when doing revisions after my draft is done.

Well, that and erasing all those extra commas that my editor points out. I am getting better at that though.

Once I have a finished draft, I don't do another full draft like some authors do. Because I edit and revise as I go, I often keep myself from having too many plot holes--or at least ones that I can fix fairly easily. That doesn't mean that at some point that won't happen, just that to this point it hasn't. But instead of rewriting the entire thing, I go through and revise. I'll change a sentence here or there to take out passive language and crutch words. I'll make sure I have enough details that incorporate all of the five senses.

Once I'm satified that I've improved my manuscript as much as I can without devine intervention, I send it off to my editor. And at this point, I usually start working on something else so that I don't have time to think about whether or not it's currently being ripped to shreds. Once it comes back, I do another round of revisions based on my editor's "polite suggestions," and then send it back for a final proofread before sending it out to beta readers.

It should be noted here that four of my five published novels, and one of my two works in progress, all have women as their main characters. So my editor, and all of my beta readers are women. We've all seen those videos of male authors witing women poorly. And while I have no intent to ever write about how one of my character's breasts breasted breastily, I still find it's a good idea to have a perspective that differes from my own giving me feedback.

After I get my beta feedback, I make any adjustments that are necessary and then do another final proofread because I lied last time about that one being final. Then I get my cover art and formatting done before setting a release date, setting up a preorder, and holding my breath as I wait for the book to release. In truth, I could go on adjusting things in every story until the end of time. As a writer, I'm not sure any of my books are every finished I just finally reach the point where I am done-- or at least satisfied enough to let it out into the world.

And that's how I've gotten myself to where I am with five novels published and more on the way. My process is far from perfect and it evolves a little bit with each new project. But it works for me. For other writers, I'm sure that everything I just said sounds like absolute gibberish. And you know what? That's okay with me. If their process involves mood boards, playlists, and outlines, they're more than welcome to it. But those things just are not for me. That's the beauty of being a creative. We all get to our destinations by varying routes.

We can all learn a little bit from each other. And that's okay. But never force yourself to work in a way that doesn't work for you just because another author says you have to. Everyone's muse is beautiful and different in their own way. Follow yours.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."

-Robert Frost

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