Before I start writing a book, I like to be super organised.
And by “organised” I mean here “micromanage ever centimetre of my life half to death and back again to avoid chances of scary things like writers block or being interrupted in the middle of a sentence“. Not every writer likes to be organised, obviously, which is FINE! * It’s great even! ** We’re all so different! ***
There’s such a varying degree of preparation before a writer tackles a new book: from not having a clue what your plot is, to having a vague outline, to actually knowing how my commas you’ll use per sentence. I’m mostly the latter.
Since I’m on the verge of disappearing from the face of the internet FOREVEEEEER, **** I thought it would be marvellous to tell you how I prepare to write! Because for me, a 5-day writing spree equals a few months of preparation. Mate, I even prepare to prepare. This may answer questions you’ve always wondered about my fiendishly fast drafting abilities or it may do nothing of the sort and you’re simply here because you like clicking on my homepage and watching the arrow shoot across the screen. No judgement. I refresh a lot for that reason too.
* Why are you so strange, non-organised writers???
** How do you survive???
*** WHAT ARE YOU.
**** I’m kidding, I’ll be gone for like 5 days, fiends, and I’ll still be on twitter and instagram, because #obsessed.
Obviously the first thing I need is A BOOK TO WRITE. And the process of inventing a book is a complete mystery even to me. But basically I combine many things I like (ex: stabbing, cake, pirates, the history of olives, clever magical objects, heists, dead things, very nice hats, etc. etc.) and squish them all together into something that amuses me. The unfortunate thing is (A) many things amuse me and I become obsessed so easily it’s ridiculous like why do I even know this much about the history of olives, ergo (B) I ALWAYS HAVE 632 IDEAS TO CHOOSE FROM.
But whatever. I choose a story. Or I have you choose for me.
Then I write the book entirely in my head first.
I started doing this last year and IT WORKS SO WELL THAT I WILL NEVER STOP. I play out every single scene (sometime dozens of times) like a movie to an epic soundtrack, and then when I roll credits — I’m ready to write the outline!
The problems with doing this is (A) my books end up making much better movies than books and this is awkward, and (B) I’m always working on several movie-books in my head and never notice humans speaking to me and I look vaguely uninterested with the world around me at all times, which is kind of true. Because #writer. Oh and lastly (C) I have the memory of a damaged grape so the chances of me forgetting things between inventing them in my head and getting them on paper is like 87% and that’s why I’m constantly screaming on the internet. *
I also may or may not do this because in the first episode of Elementary, ** Sherlock told Watson he was writing a book about bees in his head. And I thought, “THAT’S COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS” to which my brain said, “do it”. So we did. But not about bees because I’m allergic. Sherlock is onto something here though. I want to be Sherlock when I grow up.
* HAHA KIDDING! I’m constantly screaming on the internet because it’s a habit and I can’t stop.
** While we’re briefly on the topic, I love any Sherlock retelling and I particularly adore Elementary! I however only have seen the first two seasons because, ya know, writing and reading consume 57 hours per day and I don’t even have 57 hours so you get how this is awkward for me.
I write an outline.
My outline process is actually my favourite thing because it’s so insufferably amusing to me.
My outline is 17% useful details about my book and 83% me being snarky at myself.
Also I have no pressure to write an outline in a certain time! It can take a week or a few days! All I do is write a bullet point list detailing everything that will happen in the book. AND I MEAN EVERYTHING. It’s a synopsis basically because synopsises are horrid, so why not write them before you even write the book and get them out the way??? #ExcellentLogic I plot out each scene and how they link to the next scene and I get a vague idea if my pacing is nice or if it is a cousin to a howling hysterical kumquat flung through space into the intergalactic void.
And I amuse myself terribly.
And like so:
I may even do a small smudge of research right here.
Just a small smudgy smudge. I’m not a fan of over-researching during a first draft. I’m completely okay to say “the buildingy thing” or make up the history of hats, which I know nothing about. I think if you research too much too early you’ll get bogged down in details before you’ve discovered your own story. I build my story. Then I make it factually correct.
Or, like, I just write about ghosts and then anything goes.
I name my characters!
Now I know what you’re thinking and it probably sounds like “But Cait,” you say squinting at this step confusedly, “don’t you name your characters in step #1??? Like a sane person??”
I’m lucky if I name my characters AT ALL to be truthful. I wrote a whole outline for this book with one of my main characters being titled as “Lady” because WHAT IS HER NAME. I HAVEN’T THE FAINTEST.
I’m just both (A) very particular with names and need them to be precisely odd yet perfect, and (B) have an strange averseness to actually calling people by their names. I call my collective three nieces and nephew all “Frank” for this particular reason. I refer to my dog as “Cactus” when his name is, in fact, not Cactus, but Atticus Bean.
But when I do get to naming characters, I generally throw myself at nameberry.com because they seem nice. I also have an entire document for JUST NAMES (#obsessed with the perfect names) and I’ll peruse that too. And I’ll google for appropriate last names because last names are the actual worst. And sometimes I plunder a name from a book or movie, provided it’s not famous or made up. Because then: No.
For instance, my protagonist is named Toulouse after the fat orange kitten in Aristocats, even though my character is neither fat, orange, nor feline. I just think it’s a cute name. But there you go.
I let everyone know that I am WHOLLY UNAVAILABLE FOR A WEEK.
The only thing I can be summoned for is cake or sandwiches or if my book order arrives because #priorities. And if you’re thinking that I have no life to be able to do this, WELL THEN SIR YOU ARE COMPLETELY AND UNACCEPTABLY —
But also wrong haha…a…little? I work from home so my boss (me) gives me time off when I need it (bless my kindness) and I pre-prepare many life-things so I will have the spare time. Plus I try to pick weeks where I’m not overly busy. Plus I’m very lucky to be able to do this and I’m well aware, but hopefully writing will be my full-time career someday SO I’M IN TRAINING.
THINGS I DON’T DO IN THE WEEK I’M WRITING:
- review books
- listen to audiobooks
- communicate with specimens of the human species
- except for my parents. I talk to them so they feed me.
- exist except for inside my story
- HAHA JUST KIDDING I DO SLEEP.
THINGS I ACTUALLY DO IN THE WEEK I’M WRITING:
- write some more
- exercise copiously because it helps me write
- midlife crises scheduled for 4pm every day
- write write write write
- losing feeling in my eyes
But the fact is I have to be really focused or else I can’t concentrate on my story. And if I can’t focus, I might as well just turn into an unripe mandarin and sit in a dejected puddle. This is just how my 1st-draft process is!
One cannot write with words alone. One needs a pinterest storyboard of aesthetically pleasing coordination to bolster me through times of distressful writing darkness. I take my pinning quite seriously and I’m considering doing a post on how I put together my boards IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED. (Yell in the comments if you are.) But I frequently look back at my boards while writing to remind myself my characters have faces and this is a thing and I should remember this thing.
This is a very very important step.
I have a brief emotional breakdown.
You think with all this preparation I’d be absolutely confident and ready to go, right?!? Like what could go wrong! I have a 12,000-word outline! I have a pinterest! I have mild research! I have enthusiasm for this story which I love with all 206 of my bones! I should be CONFIDENT.
I always have this moment where I have no idea how to write anymore. What even do I do? How do I start a book? What if I can’t write fast this time? What if this book doesn’t work out like I intended and I fall into a plot hole and end up in Wonderland instead of an 18th century French-inspired fantasy world? What if it’s not funny? What if I can’t remember my characters names? (This is actually a legit worry because I spent 90% of my last book checking my outline to remember who was called what.)
WHY DID I NOT CHOOSE THE LIFE OF A HERMIT WITH SHEEP IN ICELAND.
This is a perpetual ongoing crisis and probably will end never.
But before I begin writing, I watch my crisis thrash about like a squid of doom and faceplant in the carpet for a while and then, miracle of miracles, I write anyway even though I’m not confident.
I do the writing thing even though half the time I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.
So rest assured if you, too, go to write and realise that words are confusing and your plot is a hot mess and you’re writing ALL THE WRONG THINGS and your humour feels like someone with an apricot for a brain wrote it, then just know this — YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
But my 1st-drafts aren’t perfect. As I’ve said before, my 1st-drafts are wild and bad and their only purpose is to exist and I’LL MAKE THEM BETTER IN ROUND #2. Right now I just meet my characters and set things on fire and then everyone dies * and it ends. **
* This is a lie. One of my characters starts off the story being dead. Ghost stories FTW.
** The second lie. Sheesh. What is this???? But this is actually a duology I’m writing currently so it doesn’t end completely. It just ends with my protagonist mostly dead, the love interest very unloved, and everything on fire, and someone crying. Probably me. Because I’ll have to edit this beast.
So I best go get started on Step #8 now!
I’ll see you in a bit! Honestly I’ll be back posting next weekend so don’t even fret. And as much as it pains me to have had you all vote recently on my project I ACCIDENTALLY AM ENDING UP GOING ON THE BOOK THAT CAME 3RD ON THE POLL. But this is how inspiration works. It is fiendish. And I just finished the sequel’s outline, so I had to go with it since it was fresh in my brain!! My Phantom of the Opera retelling with ghosts, ballet, tap dancing, and evil walls that are alive and want to destroy everything is coming to a laptop near me.
Also I may post snippets on twitter if convinced. Unless it is a hot mess and then I’ll love it for the dysfunctional child it is but yet pretend it’s not mine. (I’m a lovely book-parent.)
Just remember: no matter what your writing process is, own it. There’s no “right” or “wrong” there is just being an artist and creating beautiful things that will inspire or bite people or both, hopefully.