Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!
In this solo episode I share my personal writing process, tips and tricks I use to get my books written, and how I possibly make things harder than they need to be.
Other topics I discuss include:
- How I navigate writing a book with ADHD.
- How to not be overwhelmed by the “shoulds”!
- Why hyper-focus is my super power but can take a while to kick into action.
- Why I both love and loath deadlines.
- The role of music in my writing process.
- Why I can’t write in the small moments and don’t write every day.
- Why it’s important to start with a pretty notebook.
- The importance I place on the word “something”.
- And my answer to the question: Are you still a writer when you’re not writing?
If you’re interested in other peoples’ writing processes, or feel like you’re doing it wrong, check out the often chaotic and quirky way I go about writing a book, and take comfort in the knowledge that there is no one way in being an author.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Visit Claire Taylor’s website to learn more about The Liberated Writer course and her book Reclaim Your Author Career, here: https://www.ffs.media/
Listen to Episode 58: Author Alignment & the Enneagram with Claire Taylor, here: https://jobuer.com/episode-58-author-alignment-the-enneagram-with-claire-taylor/
Visit Becca Syme’s website here: https://betterfasteracademy.com/
Listen to Episode 20: Intuition and Success with Becca Syme, here: https://jobuer.com/episode-20-intuition-and-success-for-authors-with-becca-syme/
Listen to Episode 55: Write to Riches with Renee Rose, here: https://jobuer.com/episode-55-write-to-riches-with-renee-rose/
Learn more about NaNoWriMo here: https://nanowrimo.org/
Learn more about Scrivener here: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener-affiliate.html?fpr=alchemy
Learn more about ProWritingAid here: https://prowritingaid.com/
* Please Note: I am an affiliate for Scrivener. As an affiliate I get a small kickback at no extra charge to you.
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review. You can also support the show by buying me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. Your support helps me keep this podcast going.
Join my Alchemy for Authors newsletter and download your FREE copy of Manifestation for Authors here.
If you enjoy Gothic Suspense, you can join my reader’s newsletter and download a FREE copy of my short story collection, Between the Shadows, here. You can find all my books at https://jobuer.com or visit https://Books2Read.com/JoBuer for links to your favourite store.
Find the full transcript of this episode below.
Episode 65: How I Write a Book
Jo: Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. This is episode number 65, and I just can’t get enough of saying what episode it is because it is still mind blowing to me that I am here still doing this, episode 65, you know, it makes episode 100 seem all that much closer. Something that would have been completely unbelievable to me to be at this point with Alchemy for Authors like a year ago. So that’s really exciting. I am recording this on the 21st of October, 2023.
I hope you’ve been enjoying a great couple of weeks since the last episode dropped. It has been, in all honesty, pretty darn busy for me over the last while. Lots of late nights and travel and some overnights and admin deadlines with the day job, as well as a short story deadline last week to get to my editor. So it has been pretty go, go, go in my life, lately. I have also been doing, and I just wanted to mention this because I am just having so much fun with it, but I have just started Claire Taylor’s Liberated Writer five-week course. Which, Claire Taylor, I mean, she’s amazing. She is like the Enneagram guru for authors. If you haven’t heard of her, she came on the show back in episode 58: Author Alignment and the Enneagram with Claire Taylor. And she’s written an absolutely brilliant book that I am so in love with called Reclaim Your Author Career. So Claire is all about author alignment and using your strengths and your dispositions to create a writing life that really works for you. And so I enrolled in her five week course called The Liberated Writer, and there is lots of reading. There’s a few videos and that to get through. There’s homework as well. There are also live calls that unfortunately being on this side of the world, in New Zealand I just can’t make, but there are replays and I am seriously enjoying it. I’m only one week into it about to start the second week. And I just wanted to kind of give it a bit of a shout out because if, or when she launches this again, probably in 2024, I just want you to keep this in the back of your mind to maybe look into doing it, because like I said, I’m only a week into it and I’m already getting a lot out of it. Just reflections on who I am, how I operate and how I want my author life to operate and look like as well. So there we are.
So it has been busy, busy, busy. So I will admit that as I’m recording this, I am feeling a little bit exhausted and pretty darn tired, to be honest. And what that can mean is I can get a little bit rambly. So I apologize in advance for that. I’m going to try and keep on track, but, you know, if you’ve been listening to this a while, you know, I can go off on tangents. But I am really thankful that I do have a bit of downtime now to record this. And then on my agenda for this weekend, it’s a long weekend here in New Zealand, I actually get to settle back into writing my present work in progress, another Gothic novel, that is due to my editor mid-November.
This is a book that I started, gosh, actually, I think I started it mid-2021. Okay, so it’s been a long time. And the title is Broken Lies, And it’s been one of these books that I’ve been eager to write. It’s a sequel to one of my other gothic suspense novels, Unspoken Truths. But there was lots of ups and downs and I couldn’t quite get in the right mind space to really make it work. So instead, I went on a bit of a tangent and I wrote a paranormal cozy, Hades’s Haunt, and now I’m back here back in the world of Broken Lies, which I’m actually really enjoying.
So I’m excited to actually have a bit of a break now. A little bit of the crazy from the day job and the rest of my life has settled down a little bit. It’s not completely gone away, but I’ve got a little bit of a breather. So I’m excited to do the thing that I’m most passionate about, which is writing because writing is really what it’s all about for me, anyway. It is my first love ever since I could hold a pencil. And if you tuned into listening to this podcast, maybe you feel the same way. Just, just a thought.
Anyway, so I wanted to record a solo episode this week, to talk about my writing process. So I interview a lot of guests on this show, and I have lots of amazing guests whose episodes will be released over the next couple of months as well. And they often talk about their own writing experiences. And of course, I always share a little bit of my own examples of how I write as well. So some of this might be things that you’ve heard me say in passing before. But I thought it’d be really fun to chat about what my writing process is like from start to finish. So not including the publication part, I can maybe do another episode if people are interested in that later on. But just what it is like to be me and to try and write a book. Because I think it is always really fun to hear about different people’s processes and the way that they work. Particularly if you’re new to writing or you’re finding yourself spiralling a little into comparisonitis, which can hit all of us, let’s be honest. Feeling that, I don’t know, you’re doing it wrong. That, you know, you don’t have the perfect orderly writing routine and so there is something wrong with you. Or yeah, that you’re just feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all the “shoulds” out there, that I should be writing every day. I should be writing this many words every day. I should be able to write faster. I should be… whatever your “shoulds” are.
So this episode is just from my personal experience of how I go about writing a book. It is not necessarily the most efficient way of writing a book. In fact, it most definitely isn’t. And there are things that I would love to be able to change, but I’m also learning a lot as I go with every new story and book that I write, of where my strengths and weaknesses are. And I’m trying to just adapt to go with what works for me. And so I thought it might be a little bit helpful to hear another perspective, another example of how I muddle through with writing a book, as a reminder that if your writing process, whatever that looks like for you, is working for you, regardless of what other people think, if it is working for you, then you’re doing it right. So just keep going. All right.
So I hope you really enjoy this little behind the scenes of how I go about writing a book. So when you’re ready, as always, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit down and enjoy the show.
Okay, my lovelies. So here we are, and I am going to be chatting today about my writing process. So first up, I think, particularly if this is maybe one of the first episodes of Alchemy for Authors that you’re listening to, it will help set the scene a little bit if I just talk a little bit about who I am and some of the things that might impact upon how I go about writing a book.
First up, two years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD and I know there are a lot of people that I seem to see in my circle, actually, who are in the similar boat of having a late diagnosis of ADHD. So if you are in that boat, then you’ll probably understand when I say that having that diagnosis brought with it a lot of reflection on who I was as a person. So it really impacted upon who I thought I was and my identity in a lot of ways. Because for a long time, I thought that the reason that I couldn’t do a lot of, or the reason that I found a lot of things a lot harder than the people around me, was because there was something innately wrong with me. Having the diagnosis of ADHD was actually quite freeing in that it meant I wasn’t a freak, there wasn’t something broken with me. It was just that my brain works a little bit differently. And so even though ADHD presents itself very differently in a lot of people, if you are neurodivergent, you might relate to some of the quirks that work for me in writing a book. Or even if you’re not neurodivergent, we are all different and so it might be that you can also relate to my writing process in different ways as well.
But what it does mean, having ADHD, is because it impacts upon my executive function, for me to write a book, it can be incredibly hard because it requires that motivation and that ability to sit down and actually write, which I know is hard for most people, but is particularly hard. For me, it usually takes quite a period of time before I hit what almost feels like a bit of my superpower, which is hyper focus. And when I’m hyper focused on something like writing a book, then it is really, really hard to stop doing what I’m doing. And I can get a little bit agitated when something interrupts my writing.
It also means that I have to often bribe myself and trick myself and gamify things to get my butt in the chair and get the words on the page. It also means that when some of the systems I put in place lose their novelty, I need to change up my process a little bit as well. So keep that in the back of your mind as I go about describing a little bit of my writing process. And it might help it to make it a little bit more sense.
So as far as published works go, to date I have four short stories that were published in literary journals in New Zealand. Oh, I don’t have the dates right in front of me, but probably between 2014 and 2018, I know, four years or so. But that gave me that first sense of encouragement that I could actually write and that my words had some worth to them, that people actually wanted to read them. So in 2020 was when I officially kind of started down the route of self-publishing. And I’ve spoken about this in other episodes. That was a choice of mine because I love having the control of all aspects and I’m impatient. I don’t want to wait for somebody else’s approval or for somebody else’s timelines. I want to do things on my timeline. Which is tricky because I’m not always the best at sticking to timelines and meeting deadlines, I will say, and it is a huge struggle for me that I hope with the more things I write gets a little bit easier.
So, my first published work in 2020 was a collection of short stories. To date, I have two collections of short stories, two gothic suspense novels, one paranormal cozy mystery with two more to follow, one novella, and two contributions to anthologies, one which is presently with my editor to be out in the world published in April next year. So right now, I am working on a gothic suspense novel, the sequel to a previous novel of mine, Unspoken Truths. And yeah, and I am facing that looming deadline of having to get it to my editor mid-November, and having to reflect a little bit on what my writing process is and where I might need to tweak it in the future. Because generally for me, things get written, my stories and novels and whatnot, gets written simply by me having a really high dependency on anxiety induced panic. Yeah, not a healthy way to be.
But I’m going to start anyway with just how I go about from the beginning, like generally of writing a story or writing a novel.
So usually, my ideas come from setting. So all of my books are very heavy on their setting, the setting really determines everything from the characters, the plot, the mystery, everything that takes place. And more often than not, they are based on places I’ve visited or places I know or amalgamations of places that I’ve been to, that kind of thing. Occasionally, I will get a scene come to mind. It can be something really simple, like for Unspoken Truths, the scene was simply a woman holding an axe and being absolutely devastated that she had killed somebody. So with Unspoken Truths, I had the setting well and truly in place. I knew it was going to incorporate a school, and it was going to be a rural school here in New Zealand. And I had that one scene. And I had no idea who the woman was. I had no idea how she got to the point of even holding an axe. That was all I really had. And that’s what I started with. Because I am not a plotter, I don’t often start with knowing what’s gonna happen. I tend to get little nudges along the way of writing, little bursts of inspiration or little visions of little scenes that could be incorporated into the story as well.
My stories and my books usually take a long time to percolate in the back of my brain. If you’re familiar with CliftonStrengths, Becca Syme talks about them a lot, and hopefully you’re familiar with Becca Syme, but if you’re not, I’ll put the links in the show notes, to go check out her website and her podcast and all that good stuff. She was also on episode 20 of Alchemy for Authors: Intuition and Success for Authors with Becca Syme. For my CliftonStrengths, I very strong input, intellectual and ideation, which means that I need to spend a lot of time with just those seeds of an idea, percolating, percolating, trying to form a little bit of a story or a bit of a direction to go. And that process alone can take weeks, months, or even years sometimes. In fact, with my novels, it generally does take years. So, other people might see it as procrastination, but it is definitely part of my process. Gathering little bits of information, feeding that creative well, to slowly build the sense of story and the atmosphere that I want to create.
So because I write a lot of gothic fiction, it is heavy with a particular kind of vibe. I want to create a particular type of atmosphere or feeling for my readers when they dive into the stories. There’s a little bit of spookiness there. It doesn’t go all out horror. But I want people to just feel a little bit uncomfortable as they read my stories. Even in the happy parts, there should be just enough discomfort for my readers to know that things are not always as they seem. And usually I need to put myself into that feeling as well when I’m writing the book. Immersing myself in that energy a little bit.
So I will spend a lot of time on the lead up to actually sitting down and writing, indulging in movies or TV shows or books or art or anything that has that similar kind of theme or vibe that will put me in that state of mind. Music as well, actually. I’ll talk about music. But music’s really important for this. That will get me into feeling that kind of vibe that I want my readers to feel through my words. And there are real positives and negatives to this. Positive being that it makes it easier for me to write when it comes to writing, because I’m so immersed in that feeling and that. But the negative is that I am a very feeling person and, immersing myself in a little bit of that darker stuff over time can impact upon my mood.
I do find I tend to, when I’m writing a book, I tend to identify with some of my characters and what they’re going through a little bit too much, even if it’s something that I’ve never experienced myself. But I do tend to identify sometimes with their emotions and that can filter out into my real life as well. So at the moment, my protagonist is a little bit cynical, a little bit, I want to say like a little bit negative, a little bit down. She’s not as perky as like my main character, Alice, in my last novel, Hades’s Haunt. And so I find myself, bringing those energies a little bit more into my real life where I’m just finding myself a little bit more cynical about things, a little bit more glass is half empty rather than half full kind of person. And it is one of the reasons why my present work in progress has taken so long to actually be written. Because after writing, Unspoken Truths prior to this, I was really burnt out because there’s some really dark emotional scenes in that book that, I felt on a lot of levels and it took me kind of a lot of time to recover emotionally from that book. And that’s why I really needed to write a cozy paranormal mystery to kind of cleanse the palate with that a little bit before I dived back into the sequel here.
So going back to the role that music plays in my stories, or not so much in my stories, but with my writing process, it is huge. So for me, before I start the actual process of writing, I always create a playlist. And so I spend probably far too much time finding songs that I feel bring the vibe, whether it’s their tune or their lyrics or just something about it brings the vibe of the book. And then I spend a heck of a lot of time just listening to that playlist, every opportunity. So every time I’m in my car, if I’m doing any chores, or anything at work that I can get away with having my headphones on, or anything like that. I’m really drowning myself in that music to really get in the vibe of my story.
And so I often choose music and songs that have lyrics and that, that somehow relate to some of the themes or the atmosphere that I want to create with my story. So I listen to a lot of dark, kind of gothicy, indie, alt rock kind of music, that tends to be where my music tastes lie. Yeah. And they’re usually quite dark songs and I’m sure if people listen to my playlists, they’d think I was a little bit of a dark persona, I guess, from what I choose to listen to. But I do spend a lot of time listening to music to really get into the right mindset to actually start writing. When I am writing, I quite often have it playing in the background too.
At the beginning, I couldn’t have songs that had lyrics. I found it a little bit too hard to focus. But now I actually find that because I think I’ve listened to the song so often, it’s not really of a concern to me. I tend to block out the lyrics, but I innately know the song so well, they’re so familiar to me that it’s the vibe that comes through. So I usually, very quietly in the background, have my playlist going as I’m writing as well.
Maybe as a side effect of my ADHD, because I’ve heard that this is quite common, I can get a little bit hyper focused on single songs. And so, particularly with my short stories, it is not unknown for me to play one song on repeat over and over for the entire duration of writing an entire story. With my novels that can sometimes happen with particular scenes, particularly if they’re more of the climatic scenes where there’s lots of action and things are really coming to a head. There might be a certain song that I feel like really reflects what I’m trying to write that I’ll have on repeat and repeat and repeat. So it’s not like the lyrics or anything, make it into my writing at all. It’s simply something about the vibe of the song or the emotion that it’s creating in me that, um, gets my creative juices flowing. So that might seem a little bit weird if somebody was to be spying on me writing. And I don’t know if my husband’s noticed, he’s not usually in the same room when I’m doing my writing. I will play the same song repeatedly for however long it takes to write a story or a particular scene. And I know if anybody else was anywhere in the vicinity, it would probably drive them crazy. But I have found that that is what works for me.
With my writing process in general, I am not somebody who can write every day. I often hear this toted as the one right way to be a real author or to be a real writer or to have any success is to ensure that you are writing every day. And I suspect for a lot of people, that’s really good advice. I have tried that for quite a few years. I wanted to be one of those people so bad. And this was well before my ADHD diagnosis, and I would set myself challenges of writing every single day. And I could do it. I completed NaNoWriMo a few times and I love NaNoWriMo. But a month is about my limit for doing that. The reason being, I am a person who writes in bursts.
So when I have a deadline, when it is essential for me to be writing, then I write pretty much every day and it is all consuming and it is probably not very healthy because I tune into that hyper focus a little bit more. And when I’m ready to start writing, I go all in and I write until the book or the story is finished. And that can be for, you know, like I, I can actually write a book or a story in first draft in a month or in six weeks or so. That’s something I can do. I’m usually pretty worse for wear at the end of it, but it is also at this point, the way that I get anything finished. I’m sure there is healthier ways. But it is really easy for me to, if I step away from the story, then I lose the story and then it’s really hard to get myself back into getting my butt in the chair and writing again.
Whereas when I have a looming deadline and my anxiety about letting people down has kicked in, I am a machine and I can get it done. However, writing every day doesn’t always work for me. And part of that maybe also goes back to my CliftonStrengths again, that I need the input. I need to gather inspiration and that and spend a lot of time with ideas and that percolating before I actually dive into writing a story. And so sometimes I simply just won’t have anything to say if I haven’t done that. And I think I’m probably more prone to burn out when I do try and force myself to write every day. It’s probably not of a particularly good quality. And although part of me wishes that I could write every day and maybe I can, and maybe I just haven’t quite found the right strategy or put in enough commitment towards making that work. But what I am finding works for me is actually going all in when I have a project and then taking a long break afterwards. Because that is usually what happens.
I will hyper focus on a book for, you know, however long, or a couple of months maybe, or a month or whatever, to get it done. And then I might not do any significant writing then for another good few months. And I used to beat myself up about that in the very beginning, because as a beginner kind of author, and that is a, as a newbie to the writing world, we hear it all the time that you have to be writing every day, or you’re just, you’re not going to be any good, or you’re not going to be successful or the rest of it. And I believed it. And I’m a bit of a good girl in a lot of ways, and I want to please people and I want to do the right thing and want to follow those people who are succeeding. And now I just realise, you know what, like there is no one way of being successful in this career. There is no one way of getting books written. We are all different. And so, again, leaning on the teachings of Claire Taylor and the Enneagram and Becca Syme and CliftonStrengths, when we lean into our strengths, we’re going to actually in the long run, work more productively and efficiently and probably have a much better result and be a little less prone to long term burnout as well.
So that is something worth mentioning too. Becca Syme is a huge advocate for what she calls QTP. And I’ve really taken this on board, but QTP stands for Question the Premise. Everything you hear is the one and only way of doing something: question the premise. Because I’ve said this repeatedly and so many episodes, but there is not one way of doing things. So if you are like me and you do not write every day, just know that there are others like you out there and it is okay. It does not mean you’re failing at this whole writer author thing. It just means that your process looks different than the people who are vocal about writing every day. Your process though, is still just as valid.
When I do focus on a project, like I mentioned before, I really try and clear all decks and just give it my all. So that means that I really do try my best to make life a little bit easier for myself. I might get takeaways a little bit more so I don’t have to cook or lean a little bit more on my husband to do a little bit more of the cooking because he’s such a sweetheart with that. It might be that I turn down a lot of social invitations. That I say no to things more often. That I find ways to be more efficient with my day job and leave work a little bit earlier on days. I might ensure I set my alarm a little bit earlier in the morning, or cut back on housework or whatever it is so that I allow myself a little more time and space, because generally, generally, I really start going with a project when I’m almost able to touch the deadline and the panic has set in and I’m beginning to panic a bit about getting it done .
And I both love and hate deadlines to be completely honest with you. I think I need deadlines to get things done. When I’ve had projects that have not had deadlines… yes. I’m just, I’m not gonna see things through. And I’ve noticed that happens with the day job a little bit too. Sometimes it can take me longer to do things that I could have probably completed a lot earlier had I made a bit of a deadline or had somebody cracking the whip at me or some expectation or accountability and place. I do feel a sense of accountability in getting my work done and getting my stories written to my editor, because I adore my editor. And even though I still often have to push my deadlines back, I try really, really hard not to mess her around too much because I’d be really upset to lose her as my editor because of my own inability to manage my time well.
So one of my weaknesses, because, you know, like I can’t just share the things I do well, and I’m not, obviously there’s lots of things that you could be listening to this going, well, if you just did this, it would be make your life so much easier, and you would probably be 100 percent right as well. I am not a plotter. Again, I would love to be a plotter. I’m sure it would be so much more efficient for me. I’d be so much more productive. And there are things where I can somewhat plan out. Like when I’m writing a short story, the last short story that I wrote, that’s with my editor at the moment. I did have a real basic skeleton of a plan as to where I was going for that. So shorter works, I find I can, like, if I know the whole story. It doesn’t often happen that I know the story. I’m usually a lot more of a discovery writer. But, when it comes to my novels, like I said, I’m usually just starting with a setting. Maybe a scene gradually over time, in my imagination, I might start to see some characters coming out of the woodwork. And, then I sit down pen to paper and it’s kind of like, all right, what am I writing? And I just go for it. And it can be quite ugly and that at the beginning where it’s really just me describing the setting until I start to find a story unfold of its own accord. But, yeah, generally I don’t plan. As I’m writing, however, sometimes I will get a glimpse of the next scene or the next chapter and so I will take some notes in that as I go.
As part of my prep before planning, I do tend to spend quite a bit of time researching if I need to. So, with my novel, Unspoken Truths, I spent quite a bit of time researching because there were two points of views in my novel in two timespans. And so I had to learn a lot about clothes and language and lifestyle and that in rural New Zealand in the late 1930s to make my story work. And until I had a bit of a background with that, I didn’t feel comfortable moving ahead. I didn’t do all the research. Quite often, I do, not the most efficient way, but quite often I’ll do a little bit of research as I’m writing. Or I will just kind of leave notes for myself to go back and fill in actual details or fact check at the end when I’m going through and revising before I send it to my editor.
I don’t do anything like character sketches or anything in depth like that. It’s one of my weird quirks, that I find if I spend too much time planning anything out, like doing character sketches, planning how my story is going to go, then it’s like I use up all my creative juice and that, and I’m done with it. So when it comes to sitting down and writing and following the plan and following those plot points, the excitement’s not there anymore. And I’m kind of over it. It’s one of the weird, unfortunate quirks that I bring into my day-job as a teacher.
If you’re knowledgeable about education and teaching, a big component of it is lesson planning. When I first started teaching, I spent a lot of time planning my lessons and ticking all the boxes and different schools have different expectations with that. And it was time consuming and it took me forever and I overthought things and over researched things. And when it came to actually being in front of the students and teaching to the lesson plan. I was so unmotivated. It just lacked lustre and I wasn’t interested anymore. I could be excited when I was planning, but it didn’t necessarily transfer into the classroom because the novelty of the lesson was already over and done with in a way. And so if you’re neurodivergent, maybe you understand this a little bit better than people who aren’t. But I still find that nowadays, I teach much better if I have just a real skeleton lesson plan, and can fill in the gaps as I go, as I’m in front of the students. They’re usually much more dynamic lessons and I get more enjoyment out of them, which I think my excitement and enthusiasm is a little bit contagious to my students and gets their engagement up, than if I go in with a perfectly planned lesson, that might feel good at the time to have completed a nice plan, but it just, I just find it demotivating when I get to the class and have to then rehash the lesson that I’d already feel like I’d lived through in some way. So that’s one of my little weird quirks that I absolutely see in my writing as well. If I plan things out too much, there’s the satisfaction that I get from the planning at the time, but when it comes to actually writing to the plan, when it comes to writing to what I plotted out, I’ve lost my excitement for it. I’m no longer engaged and I want to do something completely different. So I find bare bones skeleton plan if at all works for me or planning as I go.
So it’s okay if I kind of skip ahead to a chapter or a scene and just make a few notes and have just a general idea of where I’m going. What this does mean is that I do often paint myself into a corner, get myself stuck with, holy heck, how am I going to wrap up all these loose ends or get my character out of this situation they’ve got themselves into? And that can take a little bit of brainstorming sometimes, and a little bit of free writing for me in a journal or something like that to brainstorm a whole lot of ideas and things like that, and then kind of work my way into how I’m going to make this work. That can also mean there’s got to be a little bit of rewriting as well. I know, not the most efficient, but so far, knock on wood, it seems to be working for me. So there we are.
One of the tools that I always have with me is a notebook. I know there’s more tech savvy ways of doing this, but I like a good old-fashioned notebook. And I like the ones with the dots instead of the lines. Like a, is it a bullet notebook or something like that? So I always have a new notebook because I do love stationary. So I have a new pretty little notebook that I have for every new novel. And that is my ideas, my scribbles, my brainstorming when I get myself into corners. It’s one of the places that I keep my word count goals and things like that. And I also use it to take kind of notes as I go, just like, scene one or whatnot, this character, these colour eyes, and they said this or something.
To be honest, it’s usually after I’ve written the draft that I go back and do that properly and give a, like a page in my notebook to every chapter or something, where I just write it down bare minimum notes of anything that could be really pertinent that I need to keep for consistency. So, I use that notebook for, yeah, just a little bit of research and consistency. And it’s my all-round kind of novel notebook kind of thing. I don’t know what you’d call it, but I always have one of those. And there’s that fun little thing that I get excited to start writing because of the novelty of having a new notebook as well. It’s one of the things that can actually help me be motivated. Again, might sound a little bit strange, but I’m sure there are some of you that are nodding your head going, yeah, I get that. I get that.
I usually, have a couple of places where I keep word count goals, and this is because it’s again, it’s hitting that kind of gamification thing to keep my brain focused. So, the way that my ADHD kind of presents itself, I do actually really like to do lists and I like ticking boxes and I like kind of keeping score and challenging myself in certain ways. And so in my notebook, this is why I like the dots and that, I usually do like little kind of, I don’t know what you call them, like, not a bad graph per se, but, I usually draw kind of columns and divide them into increments of 500 words or boxes or something and divide them into increments of 500 words for whatever my arbitrary word count is going to be that I think it will be for that novel, which is usually around that 80,000 to 90,000 words. To be honest, I would love to get it down to 60,000. My first draft is usually insane and maybe 10 to 20,000 words over. Yep. Not the most efficient. I get that. You’re thinking, why are you making it so hard on yourself? But I like to draw those up in pen and stuff like that in my little notebook, and then I get to shade in and colour in every time I do 500 words. And sometimes I might set a goal for myself that, Oh, I want to reach this by the end of today. And just seeing on paper, there’s something about seeing on paper, and being able to colour in those squares, those boxes that, I don’t know, keeps me motivated.
There are other things that I have used in the past. I sometimes use the NaNoWriMo, stats part too. cause you can go into your NaNoWriMo account any time of the year, even if it’s not in November. And I quite often do that. I’ll set up a project in there just so I can put in the different word counts and see the little bar graphs and all that and keep track of the time and how I’m feeling and get to see all that cool kind of data. The NaNoWriMo website is, you know, it’s kind of, it’s a fun website. So it kind of gamifies it for me too. And so, yes, I know it’s redundant having word counts goals and things in a couple of different places, but I don’t care if that’s my little way of keeping myself going. So there we are.
I have in the past too, used things like the Pomodoro technique. I’m not sure if that’s how you say it, but, where you set an alarm or something or a little app on your phone and then it goes off and it tells you that you can take a break and so you want to be writing for that whole time. Another thing I’ve used a lot in the past that worked for a long time for me that I’m kind of a little bit over now, but might work for you, is I downloaded an app called Flora and I might’ve talked about this before on previous episodes. And I think there’s different versions too. But it’s like a little app where you set a time limit where you’re not going to be touching your phone and you’re just supposed to do whatever you’re supposed to do in that time. For me, it’s usually writing. And, if you don’t touch your phone or check social media or do any of those things and you reach that time limit and that little alarm kind of goes off, then you get gifted this little, virtual tree or plant that you can plant in your little virtual garden and you get these cool little trees and you, yeah, it’s a bit of a game thing which was really fun. Because if you don’t meet your goal, and you pick up your phone or you get distracted or you take a phone call when you shouldn’t, and you’ve set the timer or whatnot, your plant dies. And even if it’s a virtual plant, you know, that hurts the heart a little bit. You don’t want to see your plants shrivelling and dying. So that did work for me for quite a while. So might be something that you want to check out if you haven’t already.
As far as writing software goes… so this is a lot of information. I hope that you’re kind of enjoying seeing behind the scenes, but you know, it might be of interest to you anyway. Software, I use: I love Scrivener. I definitely don’t use it to its full potential. I know that. But how I do use it, I couldn’t imagine not using it. There’s just something about it that I just really enjoy. You can keep track of your word count and set session targets and all that kind of stuff, which is cool to do as well. There’s no like alarm or anything that goes off or anything that’s too exciting with that. It’s just this little bar that gets coloured in as you go. So that’s why I like the more tactile colouring in boxes in my notebook or seeing the word count graphs and that on NaNoWriMo. But yeah, but it is kind of cool because you can set it up that you write different scenes. All down the left-hand side of Scrivener, you can create different scenes and chapters, you can easily move them around. You can create little index cards. So you can see the layout on a pretend virtual cork board of how your scenes are progressing. So you can move things around that way as well. There’s a little box that you can have on your right that you can take any notes or anything as you go along. Uh, like, Oh, remember to come back and research this, or even take notes. Sometimes if I’m doing a little bit of a skeleton kind of plot, like, remember, you need to have this happen in this scene. I might just jot that down to make sure I remember to include it as well.
Something that I’ve been using a lot more recently too, is it’s got this dark mode where, it pretty much blacks out the rest of the screen and you’ve just got your piece of paper and a way you go with writing. And I kind of liked that it makes it nice and clean. And I usually have the font nice and big and, yeah, it’s hard to explain, but I do like it, and if you haven’t checked out Scrivener, go check out Scrivener. There’s just something about it. It’s pretty cool. I’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes as well.
From Scrivener, when I have finished doing the draft, I usually put that into a Word document, which is pretty easy to do. So I usually put it into a Word document simply because that’s how my editor likes it. And then she makes comments and stuff on my work through my Word document. And from there, I usually use the Word document to then format my story too. But I’ll talk about the publishing aspect from formatting and everything, maybe in a different episode, ‘cause I already feel like I’ve been talking for ages.
So, yeah, other aspects of my writing process, like I said, I do gimmicky kind of things to get myself writing, even if it’s just like colouring in word count boxes and that. I do make sure I have my favourite snacks and drinks and stuff like that available. You know, just anything I can kind of make myself more excited to get writing.
One of the funny things is, so I have an office that I quite like. It can sometimes get a little bit a crazy messy because I also use it for the day job a little bit as well. I bring a lot of work home. But I do have a lovely desk and I do have a lovely set up that, if I am writing in my office, I like things to be really tidy. And so that can be a little bit of a well, an incentive to tidy the space, but also that can be a little bit of a time suck too if it’s being bombarded with work that I’ve brought home and things like that, it can get out of hand easy. And, I also find over the years that even though I have this wonderful office, and I have a pretty good setup and everything in here, I tend to actually do my best writing on the sofa, in our living area. And I don’t know why that is and it’s not probably healthy to write that way. But that’s where I tend to get the bigger word counts. My office set up, I tend to use more for the podcasting aspect of things. So yeah, so that might be something to keep in mind with your own process is paying attention to where you actually work better. Some people work better in cafes and that, or their local libraries. It might be a particular room. Some people work better in bed. For me, it is sitting on my sofa, usually my cats are curled up beside me. That’s just an added bonus, but there we are. It took me a while to kind of work that out. So if I want to be more efficient and I’ve got the choice between the sofa and the office, at this point, it’s actually better for me to be on the sofa. So there we have it.
I’ve also found, and other people might find this as well. And that is that I have learned that I need to push through usually the first 45 minutes to an hour of writing. So here is something where I differ from, or go against a lot of the advice that is out there of how you should be writing. Or how you should be more productive with writing. And that is that a lot of people, a lot of us, are time crunched, let’s be honest. Like we have so many obligations and expectations on us. And a lot of us are working day jobs or have families or just other things taking up our time and our energy and our focus. And so, I’m not, dissing this advice at all that, if you’re really committed to writing, find those little segments of time, find the five minutes here, the 15 minutes here, the waiting in the doctor’s office, use dictation if you need to. You can do that while you’re waiting in traffic in your car or, you know, finding those little moments to get some words down. I actually love that advice. And I just find it near impossible to work for me. Yeah, like, it is one of my quirks that I really do need, a big chunk of time to write.
Now, fortunately I’m in the situation like, I don’t have kids. I possibly, in that respect, I have less responsibilities. I do have a very, very time-consuming day job, and this year, in particular, I’ve had a lot of other family obligations and responsibilities and things going on as well. So of course, I can find it really hard to actually have chunks of time to sit down and write. But wherever I can, I need at least an hour or so to write, because it does take me 45 minutes to an hour to actually get into the flow, to get into the zone. That first 45 minutes to an hour is really freaking hard, to be honest. It is hard for me to stay focused, to not be wanting to get up and down every two seconds for random things, or to think I’m hungry when I’m not really hungry, or to think I need a drink when I don’t really need a drink, or I need to, oh, I need to go play with a cat now, or I need to, oh, let me just answer this email, or… I can find a million things to do, and it is so hard to stay focused and make myself get any words on paper for that first, usually 45 minutes to an hour. It is excruciating and I will get barely anything done.
But if I have a larger chunk of time, I know myself well enough to know that if I try and keep my butt in the chair, and my computer open in front of me with Scrivener ready to go for that period of time, and slowly put down the words as they come, that there will come a time where all of a sudden everything clicks, and the words are just flowing. And this is where, I feel like it’s a little bit of one of the positives to ADHD is that after that period of what feels like absolute torture, something happens and hyper focus usually kicks in for me. And then I am in my zone and this is why it’s really good for me to have, if possible, if there’s any possibility, a good few hours, half a day or a whole day. Because when that hyper focus kicks in for me, I can write and I can write and I can write, and I still generally take little mini breaks, maybe every hour or so. But, I have surprised myself sometimes in being able to write like 10,000 words in a day. Now that is insane and I don’t recommend it and it is not my normal writing pace. And that is like taking an entire day for me because I’m not a particularly fast writer at all. But I can achieve amazing things when that hyperfocus clicks in. It’s just not something that is always on call. And so for me, when I have tried to adopt the really well-meaning advice of finding those small moments to write like, the standing in line at the grocery store or the waiting in traffic in the car and that, it’s not necessarily productive time for me.
I tend to find that time is better used for me, me personally, either listening to my playlist that I’ve created for my story so that I can kind of be in that feeling of my story and just like, be aware of any ideas that might come to me then. Or, spend that small time observing the world around me and listening to conversations people might be having in the, you know, in the grocery line beside me or something, and just paying attention to how I might describe something. And if it might have a place in my story, that is my time for, again, CliftonStrengths, that input of soaking up information just in case it might have a place in one of my stories. I do almost always have some form of writer’s notebook with me, or I don’t go anywhere without pen and paper anyway. So sometimes I might hear like somebody call out somebody else’s name. I’m like, Hey, that’s a really cool name. And I’ll jot it down. Or I use my notes app in my phone as well.
So those little chunks of time for me are better used for gathering ideas, for gathering inspiration, for maybe mulling over, Oh, what do you think? I wonder what my story, what my character is going to do next, kind of thing. But as for writing, uh, it just, it, it doesn’t work. I’ve got the Scrivener app on my phone and I’ve tried that and I’ve tried, you know, just writing an email to myself and all that, but I just, I can’t. I can’t write on the go like that. It’s not for me. So maybe you’re beating yourself up a little bit about the fact that that advice is not a good fit for you too. And just so you know, you’re, not alone.
One thing about my writing process, when I’m actually writing too, and I know I’ve mentioned this before in different episodes, I am a person that I don’t edit as I go. As much as I can, I try not to edit as I go. I’m all about getting the words on the page and that I really learned from NaNoWriMo. So yay, NaNoWriMo, where it was all about the word count. Even though I’m not all about the word count now, I am all about just getting the words and the ideas on the page. Now what that means is that quite often a lot of words will escape me and my brain will go blank and I can’t think of what I want to say. And so I use brackets or highlighting a lot in my stories. So whenever I get to a part in a sentence or a paragraph or something where I’m like, Oh, I can’t think of the word for that. Or I need to be more specific about what type of tree. I’ll just put a note to myself in brackets or I’ll put down a couple of possibilities, it’s a willow tree, oak tree, whatever, and list those down: willow, oak, birch tree, and put it in brackets or highlight it so that I know that I need to come back when I’m doing my next read through and actual edit to actually make a decision and decide. So yeah, I use brackets and highlighting and that a lot and just get the ideas down. If I really can’t think of the word, because sometimes my brain goes blank, I will literally write the word something in brackets. So the word something just goes in brackets to remind me that something needs to replace something, the word something. So that’s one of my little tools that I use there.
I do write my stories pretty much from beginning to end. There are times when I need to move chapters around, and Scrivener makes it really easy to do that. So that’s really cool. But yeah, I do tend to write my chapters in order. I am a discovery writer. So there are definitely times where I’ve learned to just trust the process because it can be a little bit scary embarking on a story, having no idea what your story is about, where it’s going, what’s going to happen, and how you’re going to get your character out of the situation they find themselves in. So a lot of it is really just trusting the process. And that’s one of those things that I feel like I’m getting better at. Just knowing that, I don’t know, it’s like handing it over to some kind of higher power or the muse or something like that. But just knowing that when it’s time, the story will reveal itself. The characters will tell you what they need to do. I know that all sounds a little bit… esoteric and woo woo, and I don’t really have recommendations as to how to go about doing that, other than you just got to find a way to kind of let go and relax into leading your story unfold as it will. And trust that it will unfold as it will.
So usually, like I’ve mentioned, I write the entire story, I get it down, and then I will go back and I will do the edit. I don’t normally let it sit too long, which is recommended because I lose interest then and I’m off onto another project. Also, because I don’t always manage my time as well as I would like to and leave things a little bit more to the last minute. I don’t often have the time to let my story sit before I get to the editing stage. So sometimes it is a pretty quick turnaround from going to writing to going right back to the beginning of my story and doing an edit. I usually only do the one proper full edit of my own, where I go through and quite often that edits can look a little bit like rewriting. A lot can change in that edit. I fix up all the things I have in brackets or have highlighted that I need to fix. I pay attention to any notes I might’ve left for myself in Scrivener or in my little notebook or anything to check. I do my researching, to fill in any gaps as I go at that point, if I hadn’t done research prior. Because when I start writing, I don’t want to spend too much time researching on the go because that’s a rabbit hole that I can get lost in for a long time. So getting that first draft down, I try to keep that as my top priority at that time.
So, yeah, so then I go back and I do my one full edit which is usually very time consuming for me. It takes a long time because like I said, it is almost a rewrite and I usually do that in Word at that point. I usually have it in Word ready to go before I send it to my editor, I usually put it through ProWritingAid as well. I quite like ProWritingAid and that’s just really good for picking up on things that I might’ve missed in my main edit, particularly if I’ve like put an extra spaces or miss some punctuation, or repeated a word too often or something like that. It can pick up on all that cool stuff. ProWritingAid is just a tool though. It’s not perfect and I do find I often have to ignore its suggestions because I just don’t like it suggestions. And so there we are, but I always put it through that too, before I send it to my editor who does a thorough edit. She does developmental editing as well as all the nitty grit stuff too. And then I usually spend that time while she has it freaking out that it was, you know, a piece of crap and she’s going to think, what the hell was Jo writing? And so there’s usually a little bit of that insecurity and nervousness while she’s looking at over. And then when I get it back, I usually go through the usual process of also freaking out and being really reluctant to open the file for anything from a good few days to a good few weeks. And then when I do, I tend to scan through all of her notes, just looking for those things that are like, you need to rewrite this chapter or get rid of this chapter or anything big that I’m like, uh, okay, I need to set some time aside for that. And I also look for those lovely little nuggets of positivity that she puts in like, Oh my gosh, I love this piece, or I love that you said this, or just anything like that to make me feel a little bit better about my story. So it is usually when I get it back from my editor that I let the story kind of sit and ferment for a while before I can build up the courage to actually face it again. So there we are.
So that is pretty much my process. And I realise as I have been sharing all this with you, it probably looks really ugly, cause it kind of is, but you know, like I’m sure most of our processes are a little bit ugly to other people. And I would love to be somebody that had it just streamlined and was super-efficient and productive. And maybe that’ll come because I’m always tweaking and, you know, trying new things and stuff too. But maybe you are just as much of a chaotic writer as I am and this has made you feel a little bit better in yourself that you are not alone and it is okay to break all those, I guess writing rules that people like to spout about how there’s one way of doing things. And that’s just not true. I’m still getting my books written. Yeah, it might not be the most efficient way, but hey, they’re still getting written. They’re still getting good reviews. They’re still getting read and they’re still making me royalties. So yay.
Yeah. So some of the things, you do not need to write every day, you do not need to write in those short amounts of time. Some of us need the bigger blocks. That’s okay. Find ways to grab those bigger blocks when you can. If it’s really impossible, see if you can rearrange your schedule or take some days off or do anything you can to just give yourself a bit of extra time to really dive in, if that’s how you work and you need to just hyper focus a little bit for longer breadths of time.
But if you do have smaller amounts of time, is there something else that you can be doing to still use that time productively, even if it’s not writing? And for me, I believe that it is still writing when you’re just lost in your daydreams or just, you know, listening to strangers conversations and grabbing those lovely nuggets and that, that’s all still part of the writing process, you know, filling that creative well. To me, that still counts. I do recommend, though, find ways to try and stay in that vibe of your story so that it is still percolating in the background and you can, like, it just makes it particularly if you’re like me and you’re not a plotter, it can make it a little bit easier to get back into your story if you’re still feeling all those story vibes. Right?
So there we are. I hope you got something out of hearing about my writing process and that it reminded you to QTP, like Becca Syme says, question the premise of what you’ve been told is how to be a writer. But yeah, I hope you kind of enjoyed hearing about this. I, of course, would love to have more time to write but you know, we’re given what we’re given. Our life circumstances are different for all of us. So we just need to find what works for us for where we’re at, at this moment, and that can change as our circumstances change, that can change. And I’m always hopeful that down the line, I’ll have more time for writing and be less maybe reliant on the hours that I put into my day job as well.
A big question: am I still a writer in those times when I’m not writing? So like I said to you, quite often I can go months without writing in between different projects. Does that mean that I’m no longer a writer? 100 percent no, I don’t believe that for a second. There is this idea out there that I often hear people say that a writer writes every day. And if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. I I’m going to call bullshit on that, to be honest with you. I still feel like I’m very much a writer in between projects. Simply because I’m just filling the well, the creative well, whether I’m doing it intentionally or not, or I’m percolating a new idea, getting that kind of bubbling up inside me. And that takes time and that’s my process before I start physically putting words on paper. So, yes, I do believe I am still a writer even when I’m not writing just by the way that my brain works and is thinking often about story.
So yeah, there we are. That’s my writing process. If you’re just starting out, my advice to you, which again, question the premise, is to experiment, try different things, try writing every day, see if maybe that does work for you, try writing in the small moments. Does that work for you? Try writing in bigger blocks. Is that better? Try dictation, try bribery, try whatever it is that gets those, that helps you to get those words on the page. My other little piece of advice that again, take it or leave it, but this aligns a little bit more to the idea of manifestation and making things a little bit easier for yourself. I do suggest that if you can, if you’ve got a goal and it might just be completing your book, try and sit in the energy of knowing that you are going to reach that goal, that you are going to do it, and try as much as you can to commit to only bringing good energy to your project. So that means that when you think about your project, when you’re ready to sit down and you’re staring at that blank page, as much as possible, keep your thoughts positive. Think about how lucky you are to be sitting here, able to create a new world or something to entertain other people, to entertain yourself. This is something that we get to do as writers, as authors, we get to do this. No one’s twisting our arm saying that we have to write. We’re not performing neurosurgery, nobody’s going to die if we don’t get to the words on the paper. Writing, writing our stories, this is something that we choose. So keep in mind, even in those frustrating times, when it’s all too easy to go, Oh my gosh, my writing is crap and I’m not feeling it and I just can’t write the story. It’s too hard. And I’m going to not going to be able to meet my deadline. When all those negative thoughts are starting to come at us, as much as possible view your book, your future book, your future story, whatever it is through the lens of love and positivity. Renee Rose, who was another guest on the show back in episode 55. She talked a bit about how loving on your book can just help its manifestation and abundance come to it and everything like that so much easier. And I really found that with Hades’s Haunt, it was a book that I only ever brought the happiest, coolest, laid-back vibes to, and it was such a joy to write, even though it wasn’t an easy book to write, but it was much easier than my others. And, yeah, it’s still performing sales wise and that, in a way that I wasn’t at all expecting, and I do believe it’s because I kept my thoughts and feelings and emotions around this book really uplifted, knowing that I trusted in the universe or whatever, that this book was going to come to fruition and, yeah, and that the whole process was going to be easy, even on the days when it wasn’t really that easy. I kept it in mind that, you know, I was trying to manifest that it would be.
And yeah, we’re just very, very lucky people that have, we get to spend our time doing this, creating stories, creating worlds. And then if we choose, sharing these worlds with others. So regardless of our circumstances, this is something that we’ve chosen to do. And so we need to enjoy the process. Just enjoy it.
So I would love to hear what your writing process looks like. You can feel absolutely free to send me an email at email@example.com, or if anything in this episode resonated with you, I would love to hear from you. You can also connect with me through Facebook or Instagram. My handle is @jobuerauthor. All these links of course will be in the show notes.
I am always so thankful for you taking the time to tune in, to listen to me talking. It makes my day to know that my little passion project of Alchemy for Authors is actually reaching other people. So if you’re so willing, you can support the show further by rating or reviewing or sharing this podcast with your friends. You could also make a small contribution to the running of the show by buying me a coffee at www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. So this show is a one woman show. I do it all myself, my friends. So your support, your messages, you’re cheering me on from the sidelines, just know that it is really powerful fuel to keep the show going and to keep me going as well. So I really, really do appreciate it.
Next episode, I have another amazing author back on the show. So make sure you subscribe on whatever platform you listen to this on, or you can join my newsletter at www.subscribepage.com/manifestationforauthors. That way I can keep you in the loop of when new episodes release and you can download a free copy of the PDF Manifestation for Authors, that you get just for joining my newsletter.
So I am wishing all the best for those people who are busy prepping right now for NaNoWriMo, which is starting in just a very short little while here. And the rest of you just know that whatever your writing process is, if it works for you, if you’re still getting words on paper, then it’s the right way of doing things. No matter what anyone else says.
So have a wonderful week, my friends, and I will see you again shortly. Bye for now.