Answering your Writing Questions!

Hey, folks—

Thanks again for another year of your support (or the first year of your support, as the case may be.) A monthly income means a lot to a writer who normally gets paid twice a year—it puts a little slack in the budget for emergencies and makes the need to plan everything in advance a little less rigorous.

A reminder that a paid subscription here or on my Patreon comes with the privilege of AMA,

so here’s one I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. (Still trying to finish that novel and I am so close I can taste it!)

A subscriber asks: “I love it when you publicly rewrite sentences, showing your iterative thinking. Is that how you draft? Can you say more about what that process is and what it does for you creatively? Thanks!”

So, the answer is complicated, like everything else about writing. But yes, it pretty much does reflect my process. There’s a piece of writing advice that goes, basically, you should just write, not edit as you go, not tweak your sentences or go back and put in material to support the plot threads you are working on now.

Well, I do all of these things, and I do them iteratively. For example, I might get to the end of a paragraph I’m working on and realize I need to use a word I already used in the paragraph. In that case, I go back and recast the earlier sentence and move the word to where I need it more. I also tend to write paragraphs and sentences out of order, and one of the things I have learned since my earlier work is to control my line of direction better. So I often write a sentence that’s a mess, fix it, and then move on. Or break up an unwieldy sentence into two or three sentences.

I tried to follow the conventional wisdom once, while I was writing Chill (Sanction in its UK edition) and I broke myself so badly I was a year late finishing the book. The weight of all the stuff I needed to go back and fix just dragged me to a halt.

Also I tend to get in the zone for any given day’s writing by editing the previous day’s, and rushing and not doing that messes up my ability to hold the story in my head so I feel like I’m just whacking a pile of sacks with a stick, looking for snakes.

The moral of the story is: whatever your process is, find it and don’t be afraid to use it, even if it doesn’t follow the conventional wisdom. (As long as it works, of course, and by works I mean produces finished work of the best quality you’re capable of at that point in your career.) Also don’t be afraid to try new stuff, adopt it if it works, and ditch it if it doesn’t!