Writer: noun. A person who transforms coffee into words.
So I got tagged by the lovely Anna Butler, whom I had the pleasure of spending time with at last year’s UK LGBTQ Romance Meet, in a post about writing methods. Apparently I’m supposed to tell you all about how I do what I do, and “wing it” is not an appropriate answer. Heh.
Of course, I don’t wing it. Most writers don’t. Not really. That, I suppose, is the point of this post. So, without further ado, here goes. Maybe we’ll all learn something from this.
What am I working on?
The second Puddledown book, of course. Set two months after the events of The Dead Past, we’re rejoining Hugo and Tommy as they take their first steps on a future together. I promise mystery, intrigue, and more angst than you can shake a stick at.
In addition I’ve got a couple of smaller projects on the back burner, including a merman story with a difference, and a menage slave-world fantasy.
How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Well, that means I have to define my genre. Generally I’m lumped in with m/m romance and while I don’t denounce that title, I’m not sure it really fits me, either. I find it problematic because there’re so many subgenres within m/m, from mysteries and thrillers to sci-fi and fantasy, which are all considered primarily romances because the leads happen to be gay. Because being gay is all about sex, of course. But this is a rant for another time 😉
My Puddledown books are primarily historical with a bit of mystery thrown in. There’s a strong romantic element, but you’ll find The Dead Past seriously lacking in the rumpy-pumpy. I wanted to make Hugo and Tommy’s story authentic, and that means ixnay on the OK-homo. The idea of Hugo hopping straight into the sack with anyone is, to me, ludicrous. But m/m readers usually expect sex (although there are clean romances out there, JF Smith’s being the first to come to mind).
Is this because het romance has a long history dating back to the days when sex couldn’t be written explicitly, whereas m/m began life in erotica? Perhaps. Again, these are musings for another time. But I can’t deny the lack of erotic elements sets this series apart from more typical m/m fare.
Why do I write what I do?
How many times and in how many ways have I heard that question? ‘Why not write more mainstream romances?’ my friends and family ask. To them the equation is simple, bigger audience = bigger paycheck. For someone who writes for a living, the mercenary matter of money is always a factor.Then from within m/m, I get the same question spun a different way: ‘Why would a gay woman write about gay men?’
My answer to both is always the same, I write what is in me to write. I’m not saying never to straight or lesbian romance, or indeed moving away from romance entirely. I’ve had a traditional sci-fi up my sleeve since forever which one day I will ready for publication. But right now the characters who speak to me are male, and they’re looking for love.
Perhaps part of it is that I understand what it feels like to be gay, if not to be attracted specifically to men. I went through the same process of self-realisation and coming out that my characters do. I can write their experiences with authenticity, but it’s a step removed from my own life, and I must admit I like the disconnect. I don’t want everyone to be giving me side-eyes every time one of my characters decides to get a little bit freaky.
How does my writing process work?
The million-dollar question! First, it involves an idea. This is where I find Scrivener invaluable. I don’t use the software as recommended, but more as a sorting house where I plan what I want to write. I have a file for plot bunnies, where ideas I might want to one day write hang out until one of them calls loudly enough I can’t ignore it. As a result, I’m not the sort of author who knows twelve or eighteen months in advance what I’ll be writing. I need to be inspired, I need the characters to speak to me. Ace, for example, began life as a short story while I was watching Wimbledon, and it grew into an 85k novel with a sequel just as long. Oops.
I try to plot. Honest, I do. This is the screencap from my Puddledown file, for example (no spoilers!!). I have the three books and the short I’ve planned so far for the series all in little folders, each containing a chapter-by-chapter outline and timeline. I have fact sheets for all the main characters, the setting, and the secondary characters. I have research files for details like pipe smoking, fox hunting, and modes of address for the aristocracy. I keep track of what I’ve written here.
As to the actual writing, I’m old school. I have hardbound notepads and a gorgeous Waterman fountain pen. I write in purple ink. I date the front of each book, and note what titles I’ve worked on inside it. When I’m working on more than one title, I’ll start one at the front of the book and one at the back. I like having that record of what I’ve written, even if it does take me a while each evening to type up.
I also belong to several writer’s groups, and they employ another tool I find invaluable: a group-wide progress spreadsheet. Each month we set personal targets (I usually aim to write 60,000 words a month) and update each day how much we’ve written. You only need a couple of blank days on your timeline, or see your target receding into the distance, to give you incentive to write. The Muse is a fickle creature, but when she’s not talking, she must be bullied.
So I plot in Scrivener, write longhand, type up and record my progress. It’s probably a bit long-winded, but it’s the method which works best for me. Writing on a computer slows me down and the internet is waaaay too much of a distraction. Indeed, I leave my house completely, otherwise it’s far too tempting, when the Muse is silent, to decided my DVDs need to be alphabetised immediately, or my bookcases need to be rearranged. So I write at my local Starbucks, where I have my own table (and if you sit at it, I’ll get growly and glower until you leave), and the staff know to keep me topped up with latte, which (top tip!) I always drink from a take-out cup because it keeps warmer for longer.
Yes, I know, that makes me one of those tarty poseurs you see in coffee shops writing the Next Great Novel. I too have had those uncharitable thoughts. However, it honestly works for me. I’m out of the house, free from distractions, and with my pad and pen to hand all I can do is write. I can do 5k a day easily in there, although the downside is I drink so much coffee while I do it that I’ve had to limit myself to one-shot lattes because caffeine overdoses are unpleasant, to put it mildly. There’s nothing like driving home with the shakes to put you off coffee for life. Or, y’know, at least a week.
Passing the baton.
So now I’ll hand over to two exceptional writers who’ll post about their process on the 19th.