My Writing Process

It’s Wednesday evening.  It’s time to sit down at my favorite writing Starbucks and make some more progress on The Repossessed Ghost.  At the rate I’m going, I may have the entire second draft done before November.

Before I get into it, I’m going to take a moment to talk about my writing process, and how my personality affects my writing process (thanks again for the suggestion, Lauren!).  To talk about this subject, I’m going to break it into different categories.


Managing Time and Expectations

I’m writing part time.  This is important, because my process would be completely different if I could write full time.  As it is now, I never have enough time to accomplish what I want to in a single writing session.  If I needed writing the way I need food, I’d be a gnarled, wispy figure, constantly on the edge of starvation.

Like a starving man at a banquet, I can’t indulge myself as much as I want to, even when I’m wealthy with free time.  Occasionally I’m able to sit and write for 8 hours or more, feeling like I’ve utilized the time wisely.  Most of the time, I’m exhausted after just a few hours.  When that happens, I become disappointed with myself.

With all of my commitments, I’m able to dedicate every Wednesday evening to writing.  Sometimes I write on Thursday evenings as well, and there’s usually some time every weekend.  Wednesday evening is the only time I have truly dedicated to writing at the moment, however.  Some weeks, that’s the only time I write.


I Need to Accomplish Something

I’ve talked before about how important confidence is to my writing.  It’s still true.  Sometimes I can fake it until I make it, but a really easy way to feel more confident is just to accomplish something.  Sometimes that can mean meeting a goal, such as finishing a chapter or meeting an arbitrary word count.  Most weeks, I feel accomplished by writing a blog post.

Most Wednesdays, part of my process is sitting down and writing a blog post like this one.  In addition to exercising my ability to pull words out of air, it makes me feel like a real writer.  Writing the blog post detracts from my time working on fiction, but it makes up for it by giving me the positive feelings I need in order to keep going.


Plotting, Planning, and Winging It

I’m a sporadically organized person.  My car is clean, but my workstation in the garage is cluttered.  My desk at work is impeccable, but the area next to my bed is a disorganized mess.  I prefer to live in a clean, well ordered environment, but sometimes I can’t be bothered to make it so.  My writing process reflects this.

Over a year ago, I switched from using Word to using Scrivener, so I have powerful organizational tools at my disposal.  I store writing notes and character sheets in Scrivener.  But often, there isn’t much information on those character sheets.  I rarely look at my notes.

I believe this is because a lot of the “writing” I do isn’t in front of the computer.  I still walk about a mile everyday, and I think about my stories while I’m walking.  I think about scenes and characters and plot points when I’m between tasks at work.  Sometimes, I think about my stories while I’m listening to an audiobook in the car.

Just like when I’m programming, I build the parts in my head before my hands touch the keyboard.  I used to think that I wrote everything by the seat of my pants, but I’m starting to believe I’m more of a plotter.  I still don’t want to spoil the story before I’ve written it, but I definitely know where the story every step of the way.


Putting the Words Down

My ideas come from various sources.  Where my ideas come from is less important than the actual act of writing them down.  I’ve established that I need time, confidence through accomplishment, and a mental road map in order to write.  But what about the actual writing itself?

Over time, and through the benefit of receiving feedback from some talented writers, I’ve learned some of my bad habits and weaknesses.  I’ve learned that I use a passive voice frequently.  I’ve learned that I use adverbs like they’re going out of style.  I’ve learned that I use a lot of unnecessary blocking.

Knowing these things helps me clean up my work as I go.  With every sentence, I look back and try to find my common mistakes.  Did I use the word “was”?  How many words end in “ly”?  Am I breaking up the dialogue unnecessarily, or providing information that is not critical to the scene?

I want each word to sound right in my mind.  I want each sentence to flow into the next, without unnecessary or distracting repetition.  I want the paragraphs to feel the right length.  I want the chapter to end in such a way that the reader is encouraged to turn the next page and keep reading.

I see the words, and I hear them in my head, too.  I think that’s why dialogue is one of my strengths.

Obviously, I should worry about these things while editing, and I do.  But I also think about these things during the first draft.  The benefit of this approach is that my first drafts come out relatively clean.  The downside is that it makes the writing process a little bit slower.


Environment Matters

I write in Starbucks often.  It gets me out of the house and around disinterested strangers.  It also provides the right kind of background noise.

Writing at home can be a challenge.  At home, there are video games in the garage.  In the living area, someone usually has the TV on, with Netflix playing.  Random noise and quiet conversations are one thing.  A coherent story taking place within earshot is something else entirely.  I’m unable to block out a video, even if the video is something I’m not interested in watching.

Some people are able to listen to music when they write, but not me.  When I’m listening to music, I’m unable to focus on my writing.  I can listen to EDM or Pop when I’m programming, but music seems to drown out the voices in my head when I’m writing.


I’m not sure I’ve included much information about how my personality impacts my writing process.  The last time I took the Meyers-Briggs, I was described as INFJ.  I don’t usually like to be categorized, so I don’t usually spend time thinking about personality types, or how I can be broken down into basic parts.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m working against myself.  Other times, I feel like I’ve navigated the quagmire of my quirks and habits to great effect, and I feel clever.

Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day when I feel like I’ve made it.  That involves some sort of external validation, but I’m not sure what that looks like yet.  I’ll know it when I get there.  Until then, I’ll just keep going.  I want to be a great writer, and great writer perseveres.


Everyone Wants to be Loved

Once again, I’m sitting in a Starbucks. Instead of preparing myself for writing and editing, I’m distracting myself from some work I really want to finish before Monday.

I really enjoy people watching. I like to try and imagine what complete strangers are thinking. I pick out little details and expand them into greater meaning, like Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a mystery. So much is said in body language, and the choices people make, from their clothing to their drink order.

Today while people watching, I considered a simple truth: everyone wants to be loved.

It changes the people watching game completely. That guy over there in the wheelchair, with his head tucked into a book? He wants to be loved. The barista that is moving from one task to another, trying desperately to stay ahead of the orders? She wants to be loved. That college student, typing something on their laptop. That older couple sitting outside, laughing at each other’s jokes. The middle aged programmer/writer sitting by himself, looking at everyone while trying not to seem like a creepy stalker.

I truly believe that everyone, without exception, just wants to be loved.

I’m not talking about a romantic relationship. And I don’t mean simply receiving another person’s attention. I mean that knowledge, that faith, that what you are and who you are matters to another person. That to other people, you exist, and your absence in the world would be felt as a great loss.

Being loved in this world is the light in the darkness. It’s company, when we otherwise would be alone.

From the moment we’re born, we feel it through the hands that hold us and keep us safe and warm. We feel it in our first kiss. We feel it even through the bruises our siblings give us. Because really, it’s our parent’s fault for putting the little brother in steeled toes boots just when he’s learning to kick. Right, Cheryl?

Everyone wants to be loved. It’s why break-ups hurt so much. It’s why the death of a loved one lingers so long in our hearts and minds that their memory can bring tears to our eyes years and years after they’ve departed the world.

Everyone wants to be loved.  If I wrote a story where that was the main, underlying motivation of all the characters, what would it look like? The more I think about it, the more I think that the story would look just like real life.

Maybe I’m being naive. Maybe this view is too simple, or not a real universal truth. Maybe it only applies to those of us that are so fortunate as to have their other basic needs met, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Maybe people facing real problems are motivated in a way that is completely alien to me, and I should count myself lucky that I can’t comprehend what the world is like through their eyes.

But I am convinced that whatever hardship we may face, the burden is a little bit lighter knowing that someone loves us. That whatever else may be wrong, we exist in the heart and mind of another person, just as other people exist in our own hearts and minds.


Change the Past, or See the Future?

I’m at my favorite Starbucks for writing these days.  Michael is on his way to Salt Lake Comic Con, and my wife isn’t feeling so great this evening, so I’m on my own.  It’s time to warm up with a blog post, then get back to editing.

After connecting to the wifi, the Starbucks login screen presented me with the question: Would you rather change the past or see the future?  I selected my answer with almost no hesitation, then checked the results.

What would you choose?  Why?

According to the results, 35% of the other 47,000 people that answered the question would change the past.  Most people would rather know the future.

This is a somewhat profound result.  Without any other data, I’m left to wonder about the other people that answered the question.  Are the past changers people plagued with regret?  Are most of the people taking the poll young, with their eyes focused on the future?  Are future knowers just looking for an easy way to win the lottery?

As for me, I would change the past.  I think it’s the right answer.

I would go back and have more meaningful conversations with my father before he passed away.  I would enjoy my time in school more.  I’d have more fun with my friends, and spend less time afraid of things I shouldn’t have feared the first time around.

I might try to warn the world about the follies of electing George W. Bush.  I might try to warn about September 11th before it happened.  I’d love to make the world a better place by stopping disasters, but I don’t know if it would be possible.  There are some truths people are unwilling to accept even when presented with evidence, and what evidence would I have?  It’d be like trying to warn about global warming.

Knowing the future wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, in my opinion.  I’m reminded of a Twilight Zone episode.  In it, a robber died while trying to rob a bank.  In his afterlife, everything he attempted succeeded.  He won every hand at cards.  All his schemes were successful.  He no longer experienced danger.  Then, he stopped taking joy in his accomplishments, because they were all hollow.  At the end, he asked his host, “What kind of heaven is this?” And his host said, “Whoever told you this was heaven?”

I believe knowing the future would be something like that.  The mystery of the future is one of the great joys we take for granted.  The unknown of the future is the power behind anticipation.  It’s what makes discovery so thrilling.

The life I’m living is good.  My desire to change the past has nothing to do with changing my present condition.  My wife loves me dearly.  My children are healthy, happy, decent people.  My job is great, and I’m proud of my accomplishments.  I don’t want to give any of that up.

At the same time, there are experiences that I let slip by.  As with my writing journey, fear stayed my hand more often than it should have.  To turn back the clock and be bolder would be a real gift.

As opposed to spoiling the future, the way one might spoil the end of a good book or movie.  No thank you.

What would you choose?

In other news, Blog-tober is quickly approaching.  Once again, I’m going try and post something every day in the month of October.  It’s a great exercise in preparation for November.

Speaking of November, I’m going to try and have the second draft of The Repossessed Ghost done before then.  I’ve made some huge progress the last few weeks.  I want to have it done and in the drawer before I start a new story.

Now, dear friend, let me ask you something I’ve never asked before: Is there anything you’d like me to talk about here, on this blog?


My Unpatriotic Thouhts

Another September 11th just passed.  We endured another time on social media where images were posted evoking the memory of the tragic attack that took place in New York 14 years ago.  I saw a lot of those images with the words “Never Forget” or “I’m Still Pissed.”

How long are we going to keep doing this?

We live in the age of The Internet.  Nothing is forgotten.  Every selfie posted to social media is forever.  Every victory or mistake that goes viral is broadcast, then rebroadcast.  Everything is recorded, forever.

So how do we heal?

I’m not saying we should forget.  We’ll never forget.  But I think we should quit revisiting the event, picking at it like a wound that will never fully scab over.

Social media doesn’t blow up on December 7th every year.  We don’t make a big deal over February 19th.  Or even April 12th.  If those dates don’t mean anything to you, April 12th, 1861 is when the Civil War started.  December 7th, 1941 is when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  And February 19th, 1942 is the day Roosevelt said it would be okay to round up all the Japanese Americans and put them in internment camps.

If we continue to “celebrate” September 11th the way we do, we will continue to foster impotent rage and bigotry.  I’m not saying we should forget.  I’m saying we should move on.

From what I saw on Facebook a couple of years ago, these thoughts I’m sharing are not entirely popular.  As long as I’m talking about one unpopular idea, I might as well go on about another.

I’m not a fan of the pledge of allegiance.  Every week or so, I see someone post something about having kids recite the pledge in school, and I silently disagree.

Why?  For a number of reasons.

  1. I don’t believe in patriotism for patriotism’s sake.
  2. I take pledges seriously.
  3. I don’t think kids should be forced to pledge into anything that they may not fully understand.

Let’s take those one at a time.

Patriotism is like cheering at a pep rally.

I’m all for celebrating success, but what does it mean to celebrate America for America’s sake?  What specifically are we honoring?  It can’t be our education or diversity.  Check this blog for a number of interesting ways in which America ranks against the rest of the world.

Or check this CNN article.

From what I can tell, the U.S. is not number one in any particular statistic that I want to celebrate.  We have a lot of prisoners and a lot of gun violence.  Yay?

Having said all this, let me make it clear: I do not hate my country.  Far from it.  I think we have the potential for greatness.  I was willing to die for my country when I served in the Air Force, and I’m still willing to die for it, if it means protecting the people I love.  I take my vows seriously.

Which leads to the second bullet point above.  I want to live my life with integrity.  When I say I’m going to do something, I try my best to do it.  I hold honesty as a virtue.  When I sound wishy-washy on a subject, it’s because I’m having difficulty committing fully, because once I commit, I will follow through.

So why should I pledge my allegiance to a flag?  Does that mean if someone bids me to follow while waving the star spangled banner, I should comply?  The flag is just a symbol.  I can’t bring myself to hold it sacred.

The rest of the pledge is okay, though I think it’s flawed.  I’m okay pledging allegiance to the republic, with liberty and justice for all.  And I think we should be one nation, indivisible.  But I don’t think we are, right now.  The two party system, the far left and the far right, have shunned civil discourse, and the internet is amplifying the disharmony.

I don’t identify with either the left or the right.  I know that some of my views are more left leaning, but I’m not an extremist.  I read the news, and I think a lot about what I’m reading and what I’m seeing, so that I can speak and act with integrity on these matters.

As a child, I couldn’t have done this, which is the third point.  I don’t think kids should be required to pledge allegiance, anymore than I think they should be required to pray.  I believe in letting kids find their own way in matters of religion and politics.  They’re heavy subjects.  And forcing kids one way or the other may be pushing them down a path that isn’t healthy for them.

We’re not all going to agree on every subject, all the time.  But that is the promise of our nation, that we can hold to different religions and ideas without being persecuted by the government.