Method To My Madness

meThere is a rhythm to writing, it often seems. It’s probably different for every writer, but I thought today I’d pontificate about my own craziness. And it is crazy, if you think about it too much. What kind of person spends most of their time having imaginary conversations with people they’ve invented? What kind of lunatic devotes hundreds or thousands of hours to describing the troubles and doings of their imaginary playmates? A writer or a crazy person. Sometimes, especially before you get thart big break and sell the first book, you find yourself wondering if there is any difference between the two. I know I do. A lot.

I wake up each morning around 5:30. Not because I want to. Ask any lunatic writer.  They’ll tell you: they write not because they want to, but because they need to. Because they have to.

It takes me only a few minutes to prepare breakfast. I can’t write on an empty stomach. It’s too distracting. I hate distractions. Getting into the right zone to do creative writing is something that usually takes at least a few minutes to do. All you have to do to keep the writer in your family from accomplishing anything is to interrupt them every ten minutes or so. Be prepared for some angry words if you try this. They need to write.

After I eat and gobble some supplements, multivitamins(feed your brain!), CoQ10 to keep my mitochondria humming, PQQ to help me make more mitochondria to replace the ones going defunct in my aging cells, and krill oil to get the tocotrienols left out of multivitamins, I check my email so I won’t be tempted to stop and do it while I’m writing. After that I might do a little World of Warcraft to get my fantasy muscles loosened up. Then it’s time to write.

I often try to plan ahead. My chapters tend to be short, but I try to do a little outlining. Not much, because I often find my characters do things I didn’t expect, the rascals. I usually stick to a a chapter number, title and a one or two sentence summary of what I think will happen in that chapter. Then I do the next one. I try to be a few chapters ahead in this planning.

I know some authors outline their entire books in advance to have a detailed plan to follow. I’ve found that if I want the writing to surprise the reader, I usually have to let it surprise me. My stories are character driven, and often it feels as if these imaginary people are writing the book, not me. Creepy, but it works for me.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a favorite character from taking over the book. I try to prevent that by writing from multiple viewpoints, one per chapter. Sometimes this makes it hard to decide whose viewpoint to use when two or more of them are interacting in a chapter, because I’m making an effort to avoid head-hopping, the error of showing how every person in a scene is thinking. That can annoy readers, because unless the viewpoints are really easy to tell apart, a reader can get confused as to which head they are in. So for each chapter, only one character can let you into their head and hear their thoughts. All of the others have to show you their reactions with lifted eyebrows, angry body language, sighs, and so on. Only the main character for that chapter can show you their interior dialogue. The first book I ever wrote had a lot of head-hopping, too much omniscient viewpoint shifting, and a kind agent let me know that sort of thing doesn’t fly and gets you rejected really fast. So now I avoid it.

As often as I can, I read entire chapters out loud to my brother James. I do this for two reasons. The first is because he often has excellent suggestions for plot twists or potential scenes. The second reason is because we all automatically correct our mistakes in our heads when we read our own written words silently. For some reason, this happens a lot less when you read out loud, so I do it to find those typos, wrong tenses, doubled words and the like that have slipped in when I was spewing my thoughts onto the computer screen.

Long after a chapter is written, I go back to it for the “tightening-up”.  I tend to be a verbose person, and a lifetime of explaining myself to people has given me the habit of overstating things. I find I can usually spot paragraphs with an extra sentence or two in them when I re-read a chapter a while after it is written. You have to wait a while first, because often when your composition is fresh it still might seem perfect when of course it is not. Nothing is perfect in this imperfect world, and you can usually find a more succinct way to phrase a thought.


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