I don’t know what my writing process is – or rather, I do, but it’s constantly changing. I have yet to settle on something I like that works for me in both the short and long term. Part of that’s probably due to my schedule – which is about to change – but not all. Since I’m putting Derelict in a drawer for a month while I start my next book and work on Zosias, I thought I’d talk about how I write, have written, and plan on writing.
I think it’s worth mentioning, at this point, how Derelict got its start. (It’s kind of funny, I’ve always thought.) In the summer of 2004, I was enjoying my last summer vacation before moving to Hot Springs for the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts (ASMSA). I had recently acquired the first computer I could call my own, an Emachines laptop (because I didn’t know any better). There were two main reasons I wanted a laptop: because I figured I would need one at school, and because I wanted a laptop to write on. I had done some writing on the family computer in the past, but for some reason the static environment in the computer room just didn’t do much for my muse. The fact that the computer was running Windows 3.1 probably didn’t help a great deal.
At the time, I was on my first read-through of The Wheel of Time. It got me thinking. I’d always wanted to be a novelist, right? What better way to get my start than a massive multi-volume epic like the one I was currently engrossed in? (I got better, I promise.) The first chapter of the story (entitled The Storms of Heaven, a name that sounds a heck of a lot like Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven) went great. But after that I found myself suffering from a pretty big problem: the second chapter. I concluded that I needed to develop the world more to continue on the main story, and started up a short story called Ghost Ship in order to do just that.
Around the time Ghost Ship hit 10,000 words, I accepted that maybe it was going farther than the so-called “main story.” In retrospect it wasn’t that bad: the original draft of Ghost Ship reached 11,783 words, while Storms reached 8,803 words, 7166 of which were in the first chapter.
In retrospect, my problem with Storms wasn’t what I thought it was. I kept trying to come back to it because I loved the characters in it – I still do, in fact. They’re neat characters, with a lot of potential, even if the old version of Rose does trip some Mary Sue-sensors in my head now. And I’m happy with the premise. The problem was that a bunch of neat characters, and a means for getting them in the same place, isn’t enough to carry a novel – much less a series. What I needed was a plot, and that, in a nutshell, is why Ghost Ship beat the socks off of The Storms of Heaven. Going into it I thought, “I need a clear idea of what this story is about, so I can get it written at short-story length.” (Look how that turned out.) And if most of the characters were cardboard cutouts, if literally every other scene was solid exposition, well, at least the thing got written. By the end of that summer it was too late for Ghost Ship to fit into a short story, but it could have been a decent novella. I was almost done with it as such when I left for ASMSA. It was probably within three or four thousand words of the end – and there it would stay, because by golly, ASMSA keeps you busy. What time I wasn’t devoting to schoolwork (and hanging out with large numbers of fellow geeks for the first time in my life), I was devoting to the process of meeting and falling in love with my then-future wife. I would occasionally pull out Ghost Ship to tinker with, and I made dozens of false starts on other works, but it would be quite a while before I got serious writing done again. Years, in fact — because the next serious writing I did was when I picked up Ghost Ship and began expanding it into the novel that is now Derelict.
Let me back up, though, to that summer before ASMSA. I think it bears studying, since the hypothetical topic of this post is my writing process. Let’s look at how I worked during that summer that I got so much done.
First, I didn’t have anything resembling internet. I had access to it at school and the public library, but not at home. I had plenty of books, but I don’t really think of those as a distraction from writing – ultimately, they tend to work as inspiration. (When I’m reading a lot, I want to write. When I’m playing a lot of video games, I want to create them. When I watch a lot of anime, I want to write, score, and animate one. For the sake of my sanity and that of those around me, I try to do lots of reading.)
Second, my schedule was essentially free. Most days I stayed home all day while my folks went to work. Sometimes, probably about once a week, I would go into town with them. But most of the time I just stayed home. Given a completely free schedule, I would usually settle in to start writing at the kitchen table with my laptop around the time my parents went to bed – about 8-10 PM. I would write until my mother woke up at four the next morning, spend some time with her in the morning, then maybe write another hour or two before going to sleep for the day. I’d wake up in the afternoon, often with an hour or two to spare until Mom and Dad got home, and I’d pretty much just do other stuff for a while, often involving hanging out with them.
And I got a lot of writing done. In retrospect, given that this process went on for around a month, and I got around 20K words written, that means I wasn’t actually churning out words at a very rapid pace – writing anywhere from six to ten hours a night, I got less than a thousand words a day in general. It wasn’t my typing speed – I was easily in the mid-60 WPM range at the time, and I’m not any more. It was mostly that I just dawdled around in my writing. Didn’t stress out about it, didn’t try to force it, had all the time in the world to write however much I wanted to and pretty much took my time. For years, I would look back on that summer – my last free one – with longing, as a sort of idyllic time when life was good. In some ways, that represents my ideal writing process: write by night, sleep by day, perform some human interaction in the afternoon, get paid enough for my work to not worry about anything else.
I didn’t expect this to take so long. Possibly because I didn’t think about it too much, who knows. Either way, I’ll save the rest of this for next Friday. (Look at me, I have a buffer!)
Current music: Better than Ezra, Greatest Hits album. I have it because of their song Desperately Wanting, which is rather nifty. As it turns out, it’s not the only one.