Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Mutant Methods… In Writing

I am continuously reevaluating my writing plans and process.  It is constantly changing (or mutating), as I learn about what is and isn’t working, not from what other indies are saying on forums, but from my own experiences.  So here’s some of what’s developing right now:

cover of Uncanny X-Men #14

Coming at everything as a short story, meaning I have to start in the middle (which you should always do anyway), move fast, and keep the plot idea fairly simple.  My latest two superhero stories both started out as short ones in my mind (like 5,000 each).  Hungry Gods turned into a novel at 55,000 and Invasion (first draft done now) is a big novella at 31,000. 

How does that happen?  I start writing with an idea of what the story is about and who the characters are, but I don’t outline anything.  I probably know some of the main scenes and plot points, but I don’t chart it all out ahead of time.  I can’t.  I don’t know what’s going to develop until we get there.  My “outlining” runs only two or three chapters ahead of where I am.  

Starting in the middle (en media res, if I remember correctly from my literature classes) means finding a point where the story has already been running and you’re already knee deep in the action.  This is usually recommended by gurus and authors for any story. With that in mind, Hungry Gods actually started out in the helicopter, which is now chapter 4.  After it turned into a full-blown novel, I decided to go back and add what are now the first 3 chapters to set it up a bit more. At that point, I figured, why not?  Invasion starts on board a space station with an alien attack already underway.  In both of these I knew what the main story was about, I just underestimated how long it would take to run its course.  After I was about 15,000 words into HG and was still just getting started, I knew it was going to be a novel. 

My current writing process (which I endeavor to stick with, despite the urge toward perfectionism) involves only three drafts. 

The first is obviously writing the thing.  This is an exploratory journey where even I don’t know what’s going to happen or who my characters will develop into. 

The second (which I am about to embark upon as I write this with Invasion) is going back to the beginning and fixing the things I left undone and updating old stuff with the new vision for the story.  Since Draft One is largely exploratory, things change throughout the course of the writing process.  Now that I’m done with the story, I know more about the heroes and what’s going to happen, so I need to go back and make sure everything is consistent throughout.  Names may change, colors may change, I might have left blank spots for me to fill later with research, like foreign words, names of places, an element from the periodic table, etc.  So that’s Draft Two: go through to update, correct, and fill in blanks. 

Then I send that draft off to a hired editor/proofreader, and when it comes back I only address the specific line edits and suggestions they have made, deciding if I agree or not and fixing them.  That’s Draft Three. 

Then it’s time to publish or submit that puppy and move on to the next story.  I am, of course, as insecure as any writer and I want to go over it a hundred times to make sure everything is perfect.  Even a second pair of eyes can miss things, after all.  But that’s just not worth the time and effort.  Three drafts is reasonable.  There will be mistakes.  You can read a professionally published book that’s several years old and STILL find mistakes.  That’s human.  And my time is better spent writing new material than going over the same one over and over again.  Between rereading and submitting to agents and publishers, it took me YEARS to finally get Tarnish published, and it’s a very long one at 130,000 words.  Most commercial novels are about 80,000 and a short novel is only 40,000 words—so Tarnish is like 2-3 novels in length.  That’s a lot to revise six times!  And even now, there are mistakes, but I have to live with them.  I have to move forward.

Marketing is another big time sink that just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  To spend precious time and money on advertising that maybe three people will respond to…  Just not worth it.  And even if it does generate some sales and bring in some readers, what good does it do if I only have one or two books for them to buy?  One five or six dollar sale doesn’t pay for the resources I put into getting that sale.  Without a series or two in full swing or a decent selection for readers to hop to next, marketing is pretty much pointless. 

So for right now, until I have half a million words in print (and yes, I’m counting, and about half way there now) there’s very little point to marketing my wares.  I’ll continue to do minimal, easy things, but that’s about it. 

In fact, I’m not even going to bother with Read and Review efforts anymore.  In my experience, only about 25% of the free books I give away results in reviews.  More of them probably end up on pirate sites than result in anything I intended. 

So my marketing plan is reduced to the following:
   1. Write more books.
   2. Ensure my books have covers, blurbs and pricing that reflects the professional level of their contents.
   3. Write more books.   

That’s me getting my current writing methodologies out into the world, as much for my own purposes as for you to read them.  They’ll continue to develop (or mutate). 

If anyone out there has any comments or strong feelings, I’d be glad to “hear” them.  Thanks for reading.


  1. I start in the middle too but that's cause I don't know any other way but I'm far from a serious writer I just waffle shit in 1000 word lumps then post them to my blog hoping to amuse and sparkling some discussion in the comments


  2. A thousand words at a time sounds like progress to me, Dragon Claw! Thanks for the comment.