my writing process

I was tagged by friend and RWA NYC chapter mate Lena Hart on this chain blog tour thing about The Writing Process. So here goes:

1) What am I working on?
I always have several projects going at the same time, but right at this moment I’m focusing on two, both of which I’ve probably mentioned, which are:

• A contemporary friends-to-lovers with a really convoluted plot; I need to come up with a better elevator pitch for it, but the gist is, “two friends are never in the same place emotionally and struggle to define their relationship with each other until they reach a crisis point and have to decide to make a go of a romantic relationship or lose each other forever.” I’m calling it When the Planets Align. Right now I’m doing my last round of revisions before it goes off to my agent.

• A contemporary series about an LGBT amateur baseball league in NYC. The first three books are outlined and planned, so I think I want to try to sell it as a trilogy with room for more should that work out. Book 1 is done and going out to betas soon, and I recently started Book 2.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s tough to answer. People have said I bring a New York sensibility even to my books not set in New York. I tend toward brainy characters. I like to play with old genre conventions. I also try to portray life as I know it, insofar as I am a thirtysomething single person living in a major city, so I feel like I have a bead on that in a way some authors don’t, or at least, I bring my own experience to the table, even when I’m writing about, say, professional baseball players or reincarnated Celtic deities. And I write books I’d want to read; I hope my love for this genre and my characters comes through in the books.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I’m writing this after having recently spent a day at an LGBT book fair at which I got asked this question a lot. (Or, I got asked specifically how I, a woman, got into writing gay male romance.) The short version is that I started reading gay romance at a time when there wasn’t a lot of it, and I loved it so much that I thought there should be more, so I tried my hand at writing book, and that became In Hot Pursuit. I’d been writing chick lit and het romance up until that point (and briefly pretentious literary fiction, because I think every young person in NYC is working on that book) so I was not new to writing or romance, but I hadn’t finished anything that I thought was publishable. IHP was the first thing I wrote that I felt really confident in. (Or confident enough in it to submit it to publishers, at any rate.)

It so happens that all of the story ideas I’ve had since have involved gay men. Those are the voices in my head, I guess. I keep expecting this to change, but it hasn’t yet. So I keep writing.

4) How does your writing process work?
This is roughly how it goes:

Step 1: Get an idea. Often these come out of left field, but sometimes they will be a reaction to something, either something I read or something I experienced. (Sometimes a negative reaction—Out in the Field was written almost entirely because I read a few baseball romances that had neither much baseball talk nor any people of color, and that was something I wanted to rectify—and sometimes just because—I wrote Show and Tell during a period of my life in which I was watching a lot of Pawn Stars. But The Stars that Tremble? I don’t know. I was taking a walk one afternoon and started thinking about opera and what if an opera singer couldn’t sing anymore and then I had a story.)

Step 2: Free write. I need to spend a little time with the characters before I can completely work out what their story is, so I’ll write a few scenes, some of which will be repurposed but most of which just get tossed because they’re too info-dump-y or else aren’t important to the story.

Step 3: Draw and outline. I keep paper notebooks for each of my projects because I like to draw, especially maps and flowcharts, and I haven’t found a useful way to do that on a computer or tablet yet. I am firmly on the Plotter side of the Plotter v. Pantser divide, but I keep my outlines loose enough to change my mind about the details later. They usually aren’t formal outlines, more bulleted lists of plot points and various other kinds of information.

For research-heavy projects, I keep files of references on my computer and I put lots of sticky notes in books so I can pull them out and find what I need quickly. I take photos of the real places my books are set. (I’ve got a huge folder of reference photos for Across the East River Bridge. I visited every place mentioned in the book.) And I’m insane about research, so that’s a big part of this step in the process.

For the baseball series mentioned above, I made a whole series bible, and it is extensive.

Step 4: Churn out a first draft. Here’s a thing I learned about myself as a participant in NaNoWriMo: if I edit as a write, I will never make any progress, because I could edit my work forever and never be happy with it. A far more effective process for me is to bang out a first draft, messy though it may be, and then revise later. This process goes pretty fast; it typically takes me anywhere from 1 to 3 months to write a first draft (depending on length and how busy I am otherwise).

I write in Scrivener, which I love because it makes it easy to keep everything organized.

Step 5: Revise, revise, revise. I write fast but revise slowly. I usually do a pass through the draft just to clean up typos and obvious mistakes, then I’ll go back and add missing scenes or do heavier revisions as necessary. Sometimes I change my mind about plot points and end up having to do a lot of rewriting at this stage.

This stage can sometimes be fairly easy—it was for The Silence of the Stars (coming soon!)—or it can be wrenching. Blind Items went through four major rewrites before it became the book it is today.

Step 6: Beta draft. I export from Scrivener and then read the whole thing again in Word which serves two functions: a) it gives me a chance to verify that the Word file has no formatting shenanigans, and b) it’s easier for me to spot typos, homonym errors, and other mistakes if I change the font and spacing because it’s like looking at the text anew. Once I feel like this version is clean, it goes off to my writers group or beta readers, who then send me back comments.

Step 7: Alpha draft. I read all comments, decide what I’m going to incorporate, revise accordingly. I have in some cases printed out a hard copy of the whole thing and put everyone’s comments into one place so there’s effectively a master edited draft, then I’ll use that as a reference as I revise. Sometimes I’ll just make a bulleted list of things I want to change based on feedback. It sort of depends on how extensive the comments are.

I also find it useful to read the whole polished draft quickly, because I catch inconsistencies better that way. It’s hard when you’re writing to even catch obvious things. There’s a tertiary character in The Boy Next Door who went by two different names until I caught that. Poor Mike McPhee from The Stars that Tremble had a dead mother in one of the early drafts, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to fix that everywhere. When working on edits for The Silence of the Stars I caught a weird instance of Sandy’s favorite book genre being biographies on one page but popular science on another.

Step 8: Send to agent/publisher.

So that’s the way I typically work. It seems to work for me, but your mileage may vary. This is basically a description of how I do things and is not meant to be instructive. Ask twenty writers about their process and you’ll get twenty different answers.

If you’re a writer and you’re interested in participating in this chain blog tour, let me know or go ahead and tag yourself. All I ask is that you link back to me.