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Word processing

I’m starting a new manuscript. I love the feeling of having a new story rolling around in my brain. Usually, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. And after two years of working at this, I’m starting to learn how my creative half works.

It starts with the spark, whatever that is and wherever it comes from. For example, the spark in Slow Burn was the idea that a guy on a mission finds a woman floating in the water and his reaction when he realizes she’s alive is: “damn”.

But how to go from there to a 300-page book? Good question. I used to just write. It was an exciting and stressful process wherein I wrote about 10-20,000 words and then realized I didn’t know where to go next.

On a few occasions, I backed up and started over and the end result is much better, especially after several rounds of revisions. In a couple of instances, I stopped altogether. I have two 100-page manuscripts out there whose characters I still think about and hope to someday find a story for.

If you’re one of the diehards who’s been around since the early days of me yapping in bits and bytes, you know that I’ve begun a slow progression towards plotting. Actually, that makes it sound like a smooth transition, but it happened in fits and starts with plenty of backtracking. And a one-eighty or two. Be honest, you were all just rolling your eyes as I went back and forth trying to find the magic process that would make writing easy. Hah! As if.

I'm envisioning my journey like a football game where I gained and lost a lot of yardage, but eventually made a first down. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a plotter—and although I’m migrating toward that end of the scale, I’ll probably never be a detailed outliner like Suzanne Brockmann (she of the 80-pagers)—but I’m definitely not writing into the mist in quite the same way that I used to.

In fact, that post about writing into the mist was written shortly after my first attempt to outline Blind Fury. It turns out that I just hadn't found the right story. I gave up too soon. I didn't play enough.

After I tackled outlining a second time, I met with success. Blind Fury is currently in the CP comment stage after a first-pass round of edits, and is my first book to surpass 70K. I still changed the outline as I went. And in between the major turning points I was still writing in the fog, sure only of my approximate destination. That’s the pantser part of me getting to play.

And yet, I rarely got lost in the fog precisely because I knew where I needed to be and could correct my course—or decide to take a detour—as needed. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me, and I’m so glad to have figured it out. I think knowing your own process is as important as understanding the craft of writing.

Because suddenly, I can estimate how much time I need to write a book. And while that doesn’t matter now, since nobody’s asking, I hope it will someday. I know that I need 4-6 weeks of brainstorming, teeth gnashing, and general fretting that I’m a two-trick pony, before I’m ready to start (though an advance check might induce me to get creative in a hurry ;-)).

During that pre-writing phase, I write random scenes and backstory ideas. I try to come up with a log line and a short pitch, and the GMC for each major character. I get a feel for which story ideas I do and don’t like. I play with the outline. I tweak it. Once I have it down, my brain ruminates while I do other things and bubbles up suggestions while I’m driving or reading a book.

Then I play some more with scenes that I think will fit the outline. Just the ones that pique my interest. And then at the end of that, I have a pretty good starting outline that will probably change—but not enough to make it unrecognizable—along with some scenes which may or may not make it into the final story in some form.

And then I start writing in earnest. With Blind Fury, I wrote almost 80,000 words in two months. That accounts for more than half of the total words I wrote in 2010. And I think it’s some of my best work ever (but I could just be delusional—ask my CPs).

Today I filled in the basic story structure for MS1_2011 (uh, working title) and I’m getting excited. Based on what I came up with, I started playing with character backstory scenes and I’m having fun again. Maybe in another week or so, I’ll be ready to hit the keys in earnest.

I can’t wait.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Best of luck!!! I’m just hoping to someday get done with ms 1 and get to ms 2. (Although, I suppose they technically are not 1 and 2 as I also have a few partials… 6 I think. They just weren’t the right story, and sometimes weren’t the right characters.)

    • Reply

      Thanks, Kali. You’ll get there. Everyone has their own pace, and early on it’s hard to figure out how to stay on track. I still struggle with that.

      As for those partials, each one still taught you something and has value. The more you write, the better you get, so keep it up!

  2. KM Fawcett


    Wow, 80K in 2 months? Way to go!! I wish I could do that. I’m so slow. Some of my slowness is due to indecision and I’ll admit, part fear. I keep going back and forth with my thoughts for a particular scene and not committing. What if it’s the wrong one? Ah, such is the life of a writer. I gotta get over that.

    Good luck, Gwen!

    • Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. NaNo forced me to just write this year. And the fear and indecision you’re talking about is partly why I did it.

      It’s very freeing to have doubt and think “well, if it’s wrong, I’ll just come back and fix it later”. Then I’d make a note in my change log and keep going. I found that most of the time my initial instinct was right. And if not, like Nora Roberts says, “You can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank one.” Good luck!

  3. Reply

    Great work in two months. I am almost at the “fast write” stage myself. I am ready to roll out the 5th book in one fail sweep. I hope.

    Good luck with the comments. It’s great to get a lot of different perspectives on the drafts we send out.


  4. Curtis


    Gwen, your piece reminded me of life as an apprentice.

    Humteen years ago I was an apprentice electrician. At least there was a ” master” around to ask, ” Do you really want to cut the blue one? Do you have any idea what it is connected to?”

    Writers have to cut the blue one to find out. 🙂

    • Reply

      Hey, happy new year, Curtis! That’s a good analogy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “master” around?

      In a sense that’s what I get from being an RWA member. Lots of published authors around to answer those burning questions, but in the end, no one can tell you how to write. You just have to cut the blue wire and see what happens. 😉

      Glad to “see” you!

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