How I Write

As I write this, I have just 'pushed the button' and sent the completed file for 'Price of Admiralty' up to Amazon for publication; their site indicates that it will take between twelve and forty-eight hours before it is uploaded and available for sale. I'm hoping I'll wake up to see it on sale tomorrow morning. (Well, I'm hoping it's had a million sales during that time, but I think for the moment I'll go for being realistic – just getting the novel from first conception to uploaded to Amazon was a big enough struggle.) I'll be posting on the blog a bit more regularly than I have been up to this point, as well. For today, I thought I would outline 'how I write', a complete overview of the writing process as I have evolved it for the last two novels.

  1. The first conception of the series. This happened around two years ago...well, in a sense it happened around twenty years ago, but my first thoughts relating to something called 'Battlecruiser Alamo' date back to around 2011, though my desire to write military science fiction is of course a lot older than that. At this stage, about the only thing I had in mind was to try and keep it 'hard', and to set it in systems close to Sol. This process lasted close to eighteen months, and included three early drafts of the book...which I sincerely hope will never see the light of day, but which at least did get me set-up for what was to come.
  2. I commissioned the first five covers in the series back in December from the artist Keith Draws. This seems an odd way around to do it, I know, but it actually made sense at the time. Partly I was taking advantage of a special offer, but as well it made it seem more real in my own mind. Having the covers ready to go kept me moving forward when otherwise I might have abandoned the project; I wanted those covers to have books worthy of them, as strange as that might have sounded.
  3. Onto the merry-go-around next, writing the first book! Note the lack of any sort of detailed notes or structure. I learned during a series of false starts that I am not the sort of writer who is able to work to an outline. Nothing more than a bare couple of paragraphs, in any case. I appear to be what is known as a 'discovery writer', one who simply sits down and starts. The only thing I had in front of me in the way of notes was a list of character names, simply to keep them consistent. Even then, I changed them quite a few times over the course of the book. I set myself a target of 6,000 words a day for the first book, and ended up averaging 4,500, which I thought quite respectable; for the second book I set a target of 4,500 and ended up nearer 5,500 – so I'm getting to where I want to be.
  4. The half-way point, and a pause. I'd got to around 30,000 words in, and had managed to introduce the characters and the plot, then I realised I probably needed to work out where the plot was going to actually go! This basically amounted to spending a day sitting at my desk thinking about the outlines, thinking about what I was doing, and putting down some notes on paper...almost an outline, really, but by this point the plot was forming itself up in my head.
  5. Then write the rest of it. I think the hardest part of any book isn't the beginning or end, but the middle. Aside from some nerves, the beginning and end are the most exciting times, bringing a new project to life or bringing it to a close, critical moments. In the middle you are stuck, working in the plot and character beats you need, trying to make sure the pace is strong, working in hints of background and world-building. All difficult stuff, because you have to make sure at all costs that it remains interesting to the reader. Finally, at last, the finish comes.
  6. The beta readers. Every book I write gets read by at least four, usually more people to check it for story, plot, errors, all manner of stuff. I try to keep a good big mix – and indeed, I will be asking for more beta readers as time goes by to keep the pool fresh. Both times, they've managed a pretty fast turnaround, which has been a pleasant experience. For the second book, two of them finished their first read the day I sent it to them. Good times. All their comments get compiled into a single file so I can go through it later.
  7. Then...I write the next book. Because I like to leave a book to simmer for a bit before going back to it, I don't even touch it for another month. Oh, I might make a few tweaks if they occur to me during the writing of the following book. That happened a few times – either because I simply had an idea, or because I decided to foreshadow something, a name, a ship, or something along those lines.
  8. Then, the revision. First of all, I incorporate the changes from the beta readers that I agree with, which is usually almost all of them. I'd say about 75% of changes went right in, and another 20% made it into the book in a modified form. Occasionally something I just think needs a different tweak, or – after discussing it around – I decide to leave alone. Then I go through the whole book again myself, twice, working on story, word choices, typos, and so on – the proof read. Because it's just how I roll, I'll do the formatting stuff at the same time. Then, last – a computer spellcheck. They cannot be relied on, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. Mine actually caught a couple of things I and my readers had missed.
  9. Upload. And the nerves begin.

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