Monday, May 19, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Hop

Last week, both Richard Gibney and Tony Noland tagged me in the latest big blog game: #mywritingprocess. Like most popular writing games, I've missed it because I've been quite sick and quite deep into my own novel. Last week was also the first week in over five years I missed #fridayflash. It's been a tough time, so let's lighten it up with writing talk.

The basics of the game are familiar:
1) Post on a certain day (May 19th for me, May 26th for whom I tag)
2) Mention who tagged you.
3) Answer the four questions.
4) Pass it on.

Not too taxing, right? And the appeal is this exposes different processes of different writers. Even Richard and Tony have very different posts. They provided me four questions about my writing process, posed, for whatever reason, in the first person.

1) What am I working on?
Today I'm editing the second novel in a series, We Don't Always Drown. The first hasn't been published, but because I plan this series to run for quite a while, I wanted to do more of the construction in advance. At this point I'm certain it was the right idea as it's allowing me to alter the original to set up continuity for so many crazy payoffs later on. No spoilers, I promise, but lots of zany backstabbing.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
If you accept it as a Fantasy novel, it's not set in our world but isn't Medieval-centric either. I write in the Post-Post-Post-Apocalypse, after the dinosaurs have come back, and the machines rose against us, and sentient thunderstorms chased the machines in suspiciously theological patterns. The world is so splintered that we have magic but very few surviving systems of figuring out how it works, and so if you can keep an automobile running, you might as well stick with it. Triclopes, imps and humans have to negotiate to live together in pockets of mingled fascism and anarchy, because it's really hard to establish a neighborhood when another apocalypse might hit on Tuesday. Hopefully this tells you why I'm not like George R.R. Martin.

3) Why do I write what I do?
That changes wildly based on the project, doesn't it? Last House in the Sky and We Don't Always Drown come from a place of deviant Fantasy; we have enough fake Medieval Europes, and not enough cars chasing brachiosaur convoys. I'm as much a child of Akira Toriyama and Rumiko Takahashi as I am of Tolkien and Homer.

Yet there are other projects that resonated around strong unrests. The novel I wrote three years ago, The House That Nobody Built, was about questioning identity and the prison-industrial-complex-as-Ilium. Elements that get stuck in me tend to turn into stories. I've got several shorts on submission to market right now that came from solipsism and disablism, or my love of places that feel like they can judge you, or my unease with the Magical Girl genre (I stress that the unease is mine – it's a beautiful genre).

4) How does my writing process work?
I always begin with an element of an idea, and almost never with the full idea. The key elements in my writing are character, premise and style. If I get one, then I need to spin out the others from it; if I've got a super-creepy alien spy, then I spin up a premise for her to spy on, and a style that'll make the most of her adventure. Alligators by Twitter started as a stylistic riff on the Twitter conceit; character and premise came about sentences later.

I have a simple formula for composition. On novels, I aim to write scenes, letting actions play out as they do, for at least a thousand original words per day. I seldom give up at that line; it's just there to let me know I can if it's a tough day. It's similar to this for short stories; I go for the scenes that need to happen, caring even less about word count as they tend to be the product of bursts. In all cases my emphasis is to get the small things right and postpone the big things that would distract from composition.

I'm not in that zone right now, as I'm editing. I've broken the novel into eighteen chunks of chapters, about 18-25 pages each. The copy is covered in bolded text (prayers for my future self to re-read a questionable section) and suggestions that came to mind after I composed. "Wouldn't it be cooler if hadrosaurs chased him here?" "Remember that article on volcanic geology? It'd help this." That sort of stuff.

While my health as been poor, I do my best to knock off one chunk per day, and hope to have all the chunks done by June. There are four chapters that I'm considering scrapping and writing entirely new versions of, which would delay things, but a good book that's late remains good, while a bad book that's early sucks forever.

After I have a clean copy, I'll probably read the entire thing to check tonal and plot consistency. If it passes, then I have two wonderful alpha readers who will be happy to tear into it. Their job is to tell me if any emperors are missing clothes. After I dress all my emperors, I go to betas, who I'm blessed to know. They're kind enough to take a cheese-grater to my baby.

So there we have, and all that's left is passing it on.

First, I'm going to side-link to Lise Fracalossi, who has already done this, but was the first person who came to my mind. She's a fellow Viable Paradise grad and an author I expect a lot from in the coming years.

Next, I'm going to invite anyone who found this post useful or entertaining to play the game. Just link your blog post in the comments and I'll add you in here. I'd rather this sort of game be inclusive.

That invitation given, here are four more people whose writing is worth reading.

Ferrett Steinmetz recently sold his Fantasy novel, Flex, to Angry Robot Books. I'm pretty sure he blogs more in a year than I write novels, screenplays and short stories combined. I love reading him discuss writing, and so I'm hoping he'll play along.

Alex Haist doesn't blog terribly often and is presently deep in her own novel. Like Lise, her work is going to be very special to some people, but I'd rather she tell you about it. That is, again, if she plays along.

Peter Newman is a Fantasy novelist and what you might call a graduate of #fridayflash. His first book, The Vagrant, is due out with Voyager in 2015. He's also husband to the delightful and prolific Emma Newman, who I'd also be tagging if she wasn't recovering from ill health and maddeningly busy. I should also mention the two run a wicked podcast.

Lastly and furthest from least, Randall Nichols is one of the most diligent writing friends I've ever had. He will never hesitate to take a cheese-grater to a baby. He's written comics, screenplays, and is presently helping produce a card game. That last is elaborated upon in his latest blog post. I've seen the kingdoms he's cooked up and they're quite neat. Go ask him about Cyber Kong.

Ideally everyone plays along by posting on May 26th, a week from today. And ideally they will tag a few more people as well. But do we live in an ideal world? We'll find out in a week.


  1. Congratulations - and thank you for a fascinating look-see into some of your writing process.
    I hope your health issues back off too. Quickly. And permanently.

    1. I'd like a boost to health! The recent trend has been no fun at all. Thank you for reading, and for the well-wishes. I hope things are brightening in your world.

  2. That provided quite a bit of insight. I've been enjoying this particular blog tour, even though I only found 2 takers to participate on my blog. (It seems quite a few people are recuperating from the A to Z.) I intend to steal and paste your phrase "a bad book that's early sucks forever" above my desk. Inspiration when I'm tempted to rush just to get a particularly difficult chapter finished because I'm sick of looking at it. :-)

  3. Hey, we don't need another Martin - we need a John Wiswell!

    1. I'm very fond of the Martin we have. I'm hoping a few people will be fond of this Wiswell.

  4. Is We Don't Always Drown in the same setting as The House Nobody Built? The mention of imps and triclopes makes me think it is.

    1. Flattered you remembered! It is in the same world, but on the other side of the continent, where the Empire hasn't succeeded yet. The clashes between that realm and this are a big part of later novels.

  5. Ahh so that's what you've been busy with. It's good to finally hear what it's about, but I'm afraid there will be no Puddle in this one... #PuddleFanCLub 4 Life

    (I'll play along and post something before the 26th)

  6. Good luck with your stories. They all sound interesting.

  7. I found you via Gibney, and glad to find your blog. I read a few posts and am intrigued! Thanks and hope you are feeling better.

  8. Great John. A thousand words a day is a lot. Hope your health gets better!

  9. Your description sounds fantastic! I can't wait for your book to come out!


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