Never take writing advice from me

AKA How I Write Books

My friend Henry Casey on Twitter asked me to write about my process, and that's sort of what this post will be about. But since my process is half organized and half a flaming pile of magical bullshit, it's gonna be a wild ride!

I think the big takeaway is that I have a lot of fluid back-and-forth between all the apps that I use. The most important part of the process for me is being able to access my notes and prose any time an idea pops into my head.

1) The Idea

When I've finished something I think I'll never have an idea again, because plots and characters are hard to come by, and surely I've used them all up by now.

But ideas happen, as ideas will—uncontrollably and inconveniently. I jot them down in the Notes app on iOS. Since I hate having a bunch of notes, and I also hate myself, I'll usually use the same note for multiple projects. Live your dreams!

Browsing my notes right now, I can tell you that my current worst offense is that for some ungodly reason I have a single note that consists of:

  1. Excerpts from a book about fairies by Yeats
  2. Snippets of dialogue and plot notes for a fanfic
  3. Prose for an entirely different fanfic
Thanks, Yeats!

Thanks, Yeats!

"Daria," you're saying, "How do you find stuff?"

I'm glad you asked! I don't know! When I'm writing I'll usually cross-reference my Notes and sometimes make cool discoveries about things I forgot. It's kind of fun.

Other places I jot down ideas include TextEdit and in Gmail drafts.

Ultimately, I really like taking notes for ideas in apps that feel as simple and barebones as possible. And I don't tend to use apps like EverNote, even though it's specifically for that purpose, because it has a sheen of professionalism that I don't want associated with my note-taking. If I'm spitting plot ideas into the Notes app it's available across devices, and it feels very low-pressure. That's why I dig this system, as chaotic and inefficient as it is. Like I said earlier, it's fun to go back through my Notes and revisit old thoughts that I have yet to incorporate into an MS.

2) The Outline

At this stage of the process I'll move to Google Docs. I'll usually make a document called "PROJECT TITLE OUTLINE" or "PROJECT TITLE PLANNING," and usually I'll stick the word "NIGHTMARE" in there to make sure I don't get too confident.

I'll use this doc for a few things. This is where I'll work on a plot summary, and outline scenes. I like to divide things up using headers and the table of contents tool so I can navigate quickly, since this document tends to get... horrible.

The planning doc for Sparkwood still has Luke's name listed as Dylan, for some ungodly reason...

The planning doc for Sparkwood still has Luke's name listed as Dylan, for some ungodly reason...

This document also serves as a story bible! It has a list of cast members and their roles, and a list of locations.

This was especially useful for Sparkwood, which had a ton of characters and a bunch of named shops and things.

This quote never ended up being relevant, but there it is. Also I never did name Robin's dad. Um.

This quote never ended up being relevant, but there it is. Also I never did name Robin's dad. Um.

Another list I kept in the Sparkwood NIGHTMARE PLANNING doc was lists of fairy names that I didn't hate. Since I didn't want my fairies to be named things like "Dewdrop" and "Meadow," every time I came up with a decent fairy name, I would write it down here.

This doc is also where I keep a list of links to useful research.

Sometimes I'll even start writing prose in this doc! Either as an expanded outline that gradually turns into prose, or just prose that I store here until I'm ready to make an official doc.

3) The Writing

Back at it again with good ol' Google Docs! This doc also gets a table of contents. I start writing in chapter order, but if I have inspiration for a later scene, I skip ahead and get it on the page.

Some cuts from the original draft of Sparkwood.

Some cuts from the original draft of Sparkwood.

Anything that gets cut from the prose doc goes into a chaotic section of the outline doc, called "CUTS." I don't like to totally delete things until I'm sure I won't have to use them, so I'll copy/paste cut sections into the outline until I can purge them with fire from the face of the earth.

A good portion of my writing also happens in on a site called myWriteClub. MyWriteClub lets you list projects with due dates and goals. It also has sprints, where you can write on the site in a text box that will automatically back up to a synced Dropbox. It tracks word count, has a constantly refreshing timer, and your friends can join you there. You won't be able to see the content that everyone is writing, but you can see everyone's word count and chat as well. It's a great way to stay motivated and make writing a group activity, even if you're not physically with other writers.

MWC is great when I don't want to deal with the pressure of a blank Google doc, and it's also great for rewrites. I paste sections of text into MWC and rework them, then move the old writing to Cuts and replace it with the new prose.

Some of my goal trackers on myWriteClub.

Some of my goal trackers on myWriteClub.

Even though MWC syncs to Dropbox, I always copy/paste what I wrote into my Google doc at the end of a writing session. Better safe than sorry!

During this time I'll continue jotting down notes and prose in the Notes app, or in email drafts. I do most of my writing on my laptop, but inevitably I'll do a lot of it on my phone as well. I have Google Docs on my phone, and I'll write prose on the train, or in bed when my computer is put away for the night.

The phone is honestly the most important tool I have. If I'm stuck on a project, I'll often find myself rereading it on my phone in my bed in the dark. This usually helps unstick me.

And I really, really like writing on my phone. It's a pain for my hands and wrists, but there's something mentally freeing about not sitting down specifically to work on something (i.e. at a computer). It untethers the whole writing process and means I can do it wherever I'm most comfortable.

Speaking of untethering!

4) The Aimless Wandering

There's a Note for that!

There's a Note for that!

I spend a good amount of time "working" on a project just by running dialogue and scenes in my head. I'm a super visual writer, and I have trouble writing without describing every single bit of blocking the characters use, as if they were actors in a play. Sometimes this is helpful, and sometimes it makes everything stilted and horrible because good lord, you don't need the characters to move after every single line of dialogue, calm down.

All this is to say, I lie in bed running scenes, I walk around running scenes, I ride the train running scenes, and I shower running scenes. If I'm stuck on a plot, nine times out of ten I won't work out the kink in front of my computer. It'll happen when I'm doing something totally unrelated to writing. That's one reason I'm so glad I can write on my phone!

So that's pretty much how the sausage gets made. Thanks for reading!