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Justine Larbalestier and Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear have all written about their novel-writing processes, which are, as you'd expect, varied. I find discussions of process interesting, so I'll add my voice, too.

First, some points of divergence. Using a spreadsheet wouldn't work for me. All those little boxes make me nervous, with their arcane interactions. It's a personal idiosyncracy. Also, titles? I don't care. Having them doesn't motivate me, not having them doesn't bother me. My books often go a long time without titles. I'm zooming along on a book that I'm only calling the Dream novel for now, because my title ideas for it suck. (Sometimes I call it the sleep disorder book, or the winter book.) Some of you have been reading this journal as I worked on the Frog novel and the Bridge novel (which was also sometimes the Suicide novel, and sometimes the Light novel). Those are not working titles. Those are just descriptions. I do think titles are important, I just don't need to have one to write the book.

So here's my process:

  • Get antsy because I haven't written a book in a while.

  • Start thinking about things that are cool. Like poison frogs, or sleep disorders, or Aztec mythology, or steampunk Westerns, or death gods, or whatever. This is generally prompted by my recreational reading, and by non-fiction, articles, radio stories, whatever's catching my attention.

  • Spend a lot of time walking around, taking showers, washing dishes, and doing other physical activity while my mind spins away, riffing on that cool stuff. Images will appear. Little jokes will occur to me. Eventually some characters will wander in. I'll get ideas for some neat set pieces. (The Frog novel was built almost entirely around a few scenes I wanted to write: Marla at a sex party; Marla shuffling through various divergent timelines in San Francisco history; and a giant frog knocking over the Transamerica Pyramid. Everything else in the book existed to get me to those scenes, though I came up with lots and lots of other cool scenes in the process.)

  • If it proves difficult to find the right characters, audition characters from my short stories and see if any of them fit into the book. (Mr. Zealand from my story "Life in Stone" now has an important supporting role in the Dream novel.)

  • Figure out a main plot. That's usually pretty easy. Plots are laying around all over the place. I just pick one up from somewhere. I'm kinda too fond of melodrama, and I try to offset that by doing weird (perhaps even anticlimactic) stuff with my climaxes. Maybe not a great approach, but it keeps me interested.

  • Spend a little time thinking about possible subplots, characters I can bang together to make sparks, etc. I don't really outline. I just scribble down cool ideas for car chases, knife fights, etc., and figure I'll stick 'em in somewhere.

  • Figure out where the novel begins. This is tricky, and often changes in revision, but I try to come up with some dramatic or interesting or important moment to begin.

  • Write that first bit of the book. Meanwhile, try to figure out what happens in the next scene.

  • Write that next scene. Meanwhile, try to figure out what happens in the next scene.

  • Repeat until end is reached.

That's it, for the first draft. I outline only when I have complex plot threads that require some careful timing, to make sure I don't screw up the timing. (That wasn't a problem in Rangergirl, really, as it had a very simple, linear plot.)

After the draft is done, I put the book away for a while. (A couple of weeks, or whatever. Doesn't have to be long, really.) Then I read it, to get a feel for the whole of the book, and a sense of where it falters, which characters need more space, which events are insufficiently foreshadowed, etc., which bits need to be rearranged. I make a lot of notes during that part of the process. Then I rewrite, adding new scenes, trimming boring stupid scenes, shoring up character relationships, fixing the big stuff.

Then I send the novel to first readers, and they tell me everything that's still wrong with it.

I fix that stuff to my satisfaction.

Then I line-edit. A few times. It gets boring, but I do it at least a few times. I stop line-editing when I reach the point where I'm changing sentences on one pass, and then changing them back to their original configuration on the next pass. At that point, I have to admit that I'm just being obsessive, and it's time to let it go.

That's my process, pretty much. It's a process that lends itself to writing quickly. My first few books were written over the course of a month each, or six weeks at most. These past few years I'm slower, because I have a wife I want to spend time with, but I can still finish a book in a few months without undue strain.

How do y'all do it?

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