The Journal: One Writer’s Process

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: One Writer’s Process
* Yesterday, I stopped writing
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb.” Dennis Lehane (via The Passive Voice)

Topic: One Writer’s Process

A few days ago, bestselling thriller writer and author John Gilstrap talked in the KillZone blog about his process. It was very informative. Dean Wesley Smith often also talks about his process, or his day, mostly to keep his blog streak alive.

On John’s post, I was struck by all the commenters who mentioned that it was interesting to read about another writer’s process. So now that I’ve pretty much settled into writing again, I thought I’d share mine with you.

My process has certain benchmarks but it’s also a little erratic. Yesterday my pre-fiction-writing “admin time” took a little over 3 hours. This morning it will take a little less than an hour, closer to my norm.

Whatever time I rise, usually between 2:30 and 4 in the morning, I turn on the coffee pot, let the chihuahua out and grab a treat for him, then feed the kitten. (She recently turned 9 years old. Can you believe it? But she’s still my kitten and she still sleeps snuggled up next to me with her head on my left arm.)

When the coffee’s ready, I fill my 24 ounce mug and head out to the Hovel, about 150 feet or so from my house. It isn’t a rough commute. A space of one’s own, so to speak.

I turn on my business computer, which has Internet, then power up my writing ‘puter (a 13″ HP that doesn’t have Internet), both with separate huge screens attached, turn on the exhaust fan in the east window of the south wall to expel smoke from my cigars, then go back and sit at the business computer.

There I compose a new edition of the Journal while intermittently checking for (and usually reading) all the items you’ll see in that day’s “Of Interest” section. I don’t always read all of certain entries that I know will be good: John Gilstrap (on TKZ), Sue Colette, David Farland. I also browse articles in The Passive Voice and read those that interest me personally. Finally, I most often check Neil Gaiman’s and JA Konrath’s blogs just in case they’ve put up something new.

When the Journal is composed, I update the numbers on my spreadsheet, transfer those to the end of the Journal, update the tags, then post the Journal (usually before 4 or 5 a.m.). Then I copy-paste the finished blog post from to a Word doc for posterity (grin) and delete all the particulars from the Notepad (.txt) document I use as the template/boilerplate for the Journal and it’s ready to go for the next day.

That’s usually the first hour of my day.

Then I write, right?

No, not quite. Then I open my Spider Solitaire app (still on my business computer) and play a few games until I grow tired of it. That usually occurs from a half-hour to an hour after I start.

Note 1: If, while I’m in “admin time,” an idea occurs for the next day’s Journal, I sometimes go ahead and write that, or part of it. I wrote much of this post yesterday.

For example, as I wrote most of this post it was Nov 21. I’d just filed the Journal and then played a few games of Spider. As I did, this “process” idea occurred to me, so I came back to my Journal template and typed most of this. So although I rolled out at 4 yesterday, it’s currently a little after 7 a.m. and I’m ready for a break for breakfast. So I’ll finally move to the writing ‘puter at around 8 this morning.

No matter when I start my day, I usually wrap up at close to 3 p.m. Yesterday because of the get together, I had to cut off at 1. It was an interesting challenge to reach my daily goal of 3000 words with the abbreviated day, but I made it with a half-hour to spare.

When I do finally move over to the writing ‘puter, put my fingers on the keys, and read over a little (sometimes only a paragraph or two) of what I wrote the last time I was sitting there.

If I didn’t cycle through the previous session immediately after I wrote it, I cycle through it at this time, correcting any typos that pop out at me and allowing my characters to make any other changes they want. Most often they add more material.

Whichever I do gets me back into the flow of the story. When I reach the blank space, I write whatever comes.

Note 2: If at the end of the previous section I ended a chapter and added the next chapter head, and if I have in mind how that chapter will start but don’t want to write it until the next session, I usually type a few words in ALL UPPERCASE and then apply a green highlighter to them to make them stand out.

When I get back for the next session, that gives me a jump-start. I unhighlight the words, retype them (or something similar inspired by them) in regular sentence case, and then type the next sentence and the next and the next. And I’m off and running for the day.

Through all of those subprocesses, of course, I take breaks, usually around 15 minutes at a time.

Note 3, on taking breaks: Despite the unquestioned wisdom of taking a break roughly every hour, I usually keep typing until I’ve reached the end of a scene. I seem unable to stop, and I don’t want to stop, especially for the sake of a fake deadline like “1 hour”. I usually finish the scene, even if the scene spans more than one chapter.

My chapters usually are around 1200–1500 words. (Not a suggestion, just a fact.) Sometimes my scenes are about the same. Other times the scenes are double or triple that. So it isn’t unusual for me to have a 2 or 2.5 hour session in the chair.

On this point more than any other in writing, though in public I advocate taking a break of at least a few minutes about once every hour, in private I say Do whatever works for you.

Obviously this works well for me. I love being in my chair, and I love racing to record what my characters are living, usually in real time as they’re living it. I consider myself more than fortunate that they invited me long ago to descend from my stupid authorial ivory tower (from which I “controlled” them and where I thought I was supposed to be) and into the trenches of the story to run through it with them, albeit with me only trying to keep up. (grin) There is no greater adventure.

If you trust and never forget that the characters, not you, are actually living the story and it is therefore their story, not your story, you can’t go wrong. If you’re on a podium or in that ivory tower as the capitalized Writer (a “calling,” not a profession) demote yourself to Recorder and have fun for a change.

That’s my process. Feel free to tell us (me and your fellow Journal readers) about yours in the comments. I too have always enjoyed hearing about other writers’ processes.

Yesterday, I stopped writing at 12:30. If I’d had until 3 (my usual stopping time) I probably would have cleared close to 5000 words again. But all told, it was a pretty good day.

And this morning, I got to the Hovel at 3, and will be writing on the novel before 4. So as I wrote at the start, “admin time” fluctuates, at least for me.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Promises to Keep” at

See “A Problem I Am Just Starting to See” at

See “Everything Was Fake but Her Wealth” at Character and story ideas.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1340 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 1 (novel)

Day 1…… 3373 words. Total words to date…… 3373
Day 2…… 3312 words. Total words to date…… 6685
Day 3…… 3292 words. Total words to date…… 9977
Day 4…… 3794 words. Total words to date…… 13771
Day 5…… 4482 words. Total words to date…… 18253
Day 6…… 3379 words. Total words to date…… 21632

Total fiction words for November……… 53254
Total fiction words for the year………… 416532
Total nonfiction words for November… 13390
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 179230
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 595762

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 51
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31