Writing process

Using the web to maintain writing enthusiasm

It takes a lot of work and a long time to finish a novel. I have heard it gets faster (months rather than years), but it’s still a lot of work. Some days you are overcome with enthusiasm and can write forever. Other days all you want to do is throw the whole thing in. How do you maintain the enthusiasm over the months —years —that it takes?

There are lots of techniques people use to keep writing.

Writing with a partner has to rank as one of the best techniques I know.

Other people join writers’ circles or critiquing groups. The continued stimulation of having to produce for the group keeps them on track, and being around other people who are doing the same things you are (writing a novel) adds extra encouragement.

Deadlines help. If you are lucky enough to have a contract to fulfil and a date to deliver to you might have other stress-related problems, but you definitely have a reason to write. As the famous quote goes, “Nothing concentrates the mind quite so well as a deadline.”

But what if you are a solitary writer, trying to hold down a full-time job, balancing life and family, trying to find time to write. How do you keep writing? How do you maintain the enthusiasm.

Nowadays, many people turn to the internet.

The web is a great tool. It allows you to reach out and talk to other people like yourself. You may be the only person you know writing a novel, but you can find dozens of them online.

How do you find these sites? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a search engine like Google to start with. Search on every logical word you can think of.
  • Read blogs like this and follow the links. The links in the blog posts themselves, and the links on the sidebar. That’s how I get many of my favourite sites.
  • Look up your favourite authors, see if they have sites, and check out any links they include
  • Look up the big book publishing sites. They often have links and forums.

That’s just a start.

This allows you to join the web writing community. The important thing is to not let it take over your life, so that you spend so much time with the community your writing loses out.

Writing process

Other people’s second drafts

We have talked a bit about how we edit our manuscripts, but it’s always fascinating to find out how other people do it.

Most people do similar things, but not necessarily in the same order.

Blair, in reply to a question on the Scripts message board on the Wordplayer site, tells how he checks for spelling, plot and characterisation, first. He fixes these and then sends his script off to industry people he respects. Very similar, by the sound of it, to the way we do it.

Barbara W. Klaser completely re-wrote her second draft, even changing point-of-view characters. We’ve done that before. Quite dramatic changes can happen.

Although it’s more about fixing your story than about rewriting, in More Better Writing, Part 2, Christopher Meeks gives some good advice about fixing your writing in general. I particularly like the way he says

“There is no bad first draft… First drafts are for you alone, a place where you allow yourself to make mistakes while you let your creativity flow.”

Christopher Meeks, More Better Writing, Part 2.

Writing process

Writing progress

Still a straight copy from the script. Trying to put Scott’s thoughts into the mix.

A few problems changing tense. When we re-read what we have written a couple of days later we find that every so often we have slipped back into present tense. Don’t see it when we’re writing, need the distance of time to notice it.

Outside of that, the story is going well.

Writing process

Story ideas

Not every idea turns into a fully fledged novel. Some of them die after three chapters. Others sit in the ideas box, waiting for time to write. Still others sit in the ideas box waiting for another idea or character to click with before we can use it.

Ideas and characters are everywhere, but it takes a combination of things to decide to write a story about them, and other factors to decide to write that story now.

The third chapter death

I find that if you can’t write past the third chapter, you don’t want to tell this story, or at least you don’t want to tell it right now.

This often happens when one of us doesn’t like the idea.

It also happens on those rare occasions when we decide to write something for commercial reasons. Analogous to the “Everyone can write a romance novel, let’s do it.” We don’t quite do that, ours is more, “We read lots of mystery novels, why don’t we write a whodunnit? They’re shorter than a fantasy and we’re more likely to sell it.” Maybe one day we’ll do it, but I can tell you now that at the rate we’re going our whodunnit is also going to be a science fiction (RAINBOW) and it will likely run to well over 100,000 words.

Whilst you can keep up the enthusiasm for pretty much any story for a couple of chapters, I find that you usually know by the end of the third chapter whether or not you are prepared to live with the story for the next couple of years.

The ‘I want to write it now’ great idea

Ideas don’t wait until you get to the end of the current book. You might see something, overhear something, dream something. You can’t just say, “Hold on. I don’t want to know about you until the middle of next year. I’m writing a different novel right now.” You’d forget it.

We write the idea down, and add it to our list of story ideas. If it’s a truly persistent idea that comes fully visualised (a la SATISFACTION) we’ll write a rough version of the idea that’s demanding to be heard, and put that into our ideas box as well. We have the first ten or fifteen pages of a script for Satisfaction, plus lots of notes on who, what, why and how. It’s all handwritten in one of our writing notebooks, and it’s not going any further—and definitely won’t be typed up —until we get to it. Unless another part of the story demands to be told, of course, in which case we’ll write that down in our notebook as well.

We have a number of great story ideas where we have the start written down, plus some rough notes about where it is going. Stories we’d love to write, when we get the time.

Sometimes too, these demanding ideas are just procrastination. You hit a block in the story you are currently working on, and rather than fix the problem you come up with all these other stories you could write instead. There’s no easy way over that except to recognise the procrastination for what it is, and somehow, if you can, get back on track with the current story.

Just don’t let yourself start writing that second story properly though. You need discipline to write a novel. As soon as you start being lenient on yourself you make it harder to finish.

If you hit a slump half to three-quarters of the way through a novel (and we always do) , try at least to finish the draft before you throw it away. If you liked the story enough to get that far, you’ll probably find that once you get over the hump you’re able to continue with enthusiasm.

The really great idea that isn’t a story yet

You need more than one idea to make a story. These ideas seldom arrive all at the same time. You might start with an idea or a character, but he’s going nowhere without something happening to him.

The origins of BARRAIN, our on-line novel, are hazy now, but I do know that long before Scott arrived on the scene Jacob was there (only he wasn’t called Jacob then), watching Caid—a member of his own team—saying to his companion, “Such a pity we have to kill him.”

We have some great ideas tucked away in our ideas box. Right now that’s all they are. Ideas. A single idea is not enough to build a story on.

If you start writing these ideas too early the story peters out, and you have a third-chapter graveyard for what could have been a truly great story if you’d given it more time.

We go through the ideas once or twice a year. We dice an occasional one that was obviously a fad at the time, but most of them we put back into the box. (It’s a figurative box, not a real one. A pile of notebooks, and a directory on the PC.)

It surprises me occasionally, how enthusiastic I get just reading some of the ideas. I want to write about them.

It’s an interesting thing, though, that it’s never the ideas box that sparks the final decision to write a particular novel. The ideas are obviously there, and we choose one or more of them, but I don’t know what it is that makes us say, “This is the time to write this story.”

Writing process

Do we outline before we write

Do we outline?

Not really.

Isn’t it dangerous not to outline?

Yes, but … you could almost say that our first draft is the outline.

Outlining a story almost always cuts down time to write, and cuts down then number of major rewrites. I suspect it’s a little like making the transition from writing by hand to writing direct to the computer. The process is slower to start with, but the more you do it the more comfortable you become with it, and the easier it becomes.

Some professional writers outline, some don’t. Some do a hybrid of both methods.

For the moment we’re happy to write a very rough first draft, use that as the outline, and expand on that. It’s a long, hard way to write a novel, but it seems to work for us.

I suspect that over time we will outline more, particularly if we ever go professional.

Why don’t we outline now?

Because we don’t really know a story until we finish the first draft. We don’t know what’s happening; we don’t know the characters. We talk about the story a lot while we are writing that first draft. Where it’s going, what’s happening with it.

The main problem with not outlining are the holes in the plot that arise as a result of the story evolving.

A plot thread that was important when you started writing becomes inconsequential. Other, originally minor threads assume greater importance and need to be changed accordingly.

Outlining keeps you organised, ordered, and sometimes I think that the way we go at a book is a little like cleaning house by moving all the junk from one room to another, cleaning that room, and moving the junk somewhere else, but never really getting rid of the junk until we have cleaned the house.

Writing process

Online novels

An ongoing link to other on-line novels.

John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars is a comic look at a Hollywood agent who takes on his biggest clients yet. Aliens who want to improve their image. Read this and enjoyed it, although it’s probably not normally my cup of tea. Showing signs of the writer Scalzi will become.

Jennifer L. Armstrong has three on-line novels at Free Online Novels. I haven’t read any of these, have no idea what they’re like.

The Romiley Literary Circle also contains a number of novels.

Douglass Gore’s Faithful is a newer story, with only a few completed so far. I particularly like the way Douglass has used the media (the web) to link outside of the story. Thus you can click on the name of a character while reading the story and find out more about them, and so on.

Writing process

Our fiction

Throughout this blog we’ll talk a lot about our own fiction, commenting on characters, how we did it in other stories, how we’re doing it in future stories, and so on. Here are the stories we’ll talk about, and some of the characters we may mention.

Not So Simple After All (formerly Potion)

Our first, fully completed novel. 140,000 words, five major drafts, seemingly hundreds of minor ones (at least it felt like it at the time). Not So Simple After All took years to write. It’s a traditional fantasy journey novel, for those who like their fantasy tinged with light-hearted fun. Not counting the fact that this was the first major story we ever completed and were happy with, and that we can still read it a couple of years later and not be embarrassed by it, Not So Simple After All also introduced us to the magic of the character who took on a life of his own outside our control. Calderwas only meant to have a cameo role in the first three chapters, but he came, he stayed, and took us with him to places we never expected. (A friend of ours who has read the book says he gets all the good lines.) So much so that we plan a second book based on Calder’s story.

Shared memories

The working title of our second, fully completed novel, going through another major draft at present. This one is 120,000 words. We sometimes refer to it as Roland, after the name of the point-of-view character. This one’s a science fiction, although it started out as fantasy.

Barrain also known as Caid of Barrain.

You’re reading this blog. By now you probably know all about Caid and Scott. This is one of those trans-world fantasies that start in our world and cross over to another, more medieval one. It was also going to be part detective story, but as you will see that’s changing, draft by draft. We don’t know where we are going with that one yet. We should know by the end of draft three. Because it’s an experiment and we’re putting it online, it gets put aside for other writing.


Older even than Barrain, but it’s still tucked away, waiting for a major re-write. Another science fiction. We suspect this may be the first novel of ours that ever gets commercially published as it has a strong story.


Another story waiting in the wings for us to write. We mention this one particularly because it demonstrates how much a story can change from the idea to conception due to the input of the other writing partner. The idea for Satisfaction started out as a slightly risque adult novel. Right now we envisage it as a children’s screenplay.

Writing process


The idea …

Often sparked by Sherylyn, occasionally by me.

It’s usually always an event, in association with a character. POTION, for example, came about as an idea Sherylyn had for one of our series characters*. The idea took a life of its own, and before we knew it, we were halfway through the adventures of Alun, Blade and Tegan.

SATISFACTION started as a dream I had one night. An adult tale, slightly risque. I took it to Sherylyn, and by the time she had added her ideas and we had a story we could both run with, it had turned into a children’s cartoon. We’ll write this one as a movie script.

The idea for this on-line novel BARRAIN is so far in the past neither or us can remember what triggered it.

Ideas are everywhere, but the idea has to take on a life before you can spend entire novel on it. On its own, it is nothing.

In writing courses you often get exercises to write about. Look at this picture and write a story around it. What type of car does this woman drive? Take this character and this situation and write a story around it. These are good in that they make you write, particularly if you have to hand something in, (who was it who said that nothing concentrates the mind so well as a deadline?), but they’re not enough to sustain a full novel.

The idea has to obsess you.

When we started this blog I looked around to see if we could use the title ‘A novel idea’. I came across a blog by John Ravenscroft. He had decided to write a novel. In Ideas in the Mist he planned out the characters and his story in what seemed to me a very clinical fashion. I have tried to do this myself and for me it just doesn’t work. I get three chapters into the story and it peters away. Neither of us have ever, yet, been able to run with a story without an idea and a character that grabs us. Good luck to to the man, I thought, because he’s doing it hard.

I kept reading his blog. A couple of months later, he talks about how his novel has slowed to a crawl. One of the reasons he gives is:

“The thing is … I’ve had an idea for another novel. An altogether different kind of novel. And … I’ve been spending great chunks of time that I should have been using to think about (my original novel), doing something else entirely. I’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, wondering about the characters and the situations that could form the basis of this new novel —and getting quite enthusiastic about it.”

John Ravenscroft – A Tortoise Amongst Hares

That’s the novel he needs to write. When you start obsessing about a story, thinking about it all the time, letting it intrude onto other things, then you’re part of the way to being able to live with a story for the length of time it takes to write a novel.

*Series characters. We have some series characters about whom we have any number of stories. The problem with these characters is that they have been around in our lives for so long that they’ve nowhere left to grow, and a story needs to grow and change

Writing process

Writing as a team

We write as a team.

Some writing teams share the work more or less equally. They divide the book into scenes and each partner writes their own scenes. We divide it differently, although we can see that changing over time, particularly as we venture into children’s stories.

At present though, the work is divided roughly along the lines of the following.

The idea

One of us has an idea. It could come from either person, it just has to grab both our imaginations and make us think it has somewhere to go.

We discuss the idea until it clicks with both of us. This can take hours, days or weeks, and some ideas go nowhere because they intrigue one of us but the other can’t get interested at all. Sometimes the one who has the idea persists in writing it anyway, because they can’t let go.

By the time we have something we can both work with the idea has changed completely from the original. The initial idea for Satisfaction, for example, was an adult novel. The story we will end up writing is a children’s cartoon. Even so, the germ of the idea is still there, it’s just not the same story.

First draft

The person who has the idea writes the first draft. Let’s say that’s me, in this case.

At the end of each day I hand what I have done over to Sherylyn to read. She reads it off the screen, highlighting any major problems such as bad characters or bad plot lines.

Next day we discuss where the story goes now, and that night I type in the next day’s wordage.

At the end of the first draft we re-read the whole story. Sherylyn goes through it looking for major plot holes and problem characterisation. I sit nearby with the computer and note any feedback she gives verbally. (The worse the story/characters, the more verbal the feedback.)

After she has finished we discuss what has come out of it and how we might change any problems.

Second draft

I do the typing, making changes based on our notes and discussions.

There are some major changes between drafts one and two. The story gets moved around, characters are chopped, new characters added. We make a lot of changes to cover plot-holes, and that often takes us in different directions, too.

By the end of draft two we generally have a story. Rough, but pretty much in place.

These are major drafts, I might add. There are plenty of minor drafts in between, and lots of revisions ongoing.

Draft 3

By the third draft we’re looking at characterisation. Fleshing out the characters to make them more rounded, changing their behaviour to make them behave more in character. Would Scott behave this way? How would Blade react to that? and so on. By this time we have a pretty good idea of what makes these people tick, and we can use that to give depth to the story.

I’m very light on some of the emotions, so Sherylyn often comes in here and starts adding ’emotive’ passages.

Along the way we fill in minor plot holes.