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The Reality of Writing: Beginning, Middle, and End

One Writer's Thoughts


There is no magic box with all the answers on how a writer should work. Figure out what works for YOU.

First, I want to clarify that writers are different (Yeah, that comes as news to many people.). We all have processes, quirks, and styles that make us as unique as our writing.

There is no magic box with all the answers on how a writer should work. Figure out what works for YOU.

I have seven years in the industry and over twenty novels and short stories to my credit, but that still makes me an infant compared to many others. Every day is an education, and every day requires that I be willing to learn something new about myself, my characters, my style of writing, and my processes. What worked in the beginning may not work 2, 5, or 10 years into your career. It took me a long time to find what works best for me, and every writer has to do the same.

The Beginning

To plot or not to plot. I don't like it. Others swear by it. I've done full-on plotting a few times, but find that it stifles my creativity. These days, I scribble out notes, maybe three or four pages for a full novel, of major points I want to hit along the way. I may be in the driver's seat, but the characters are ultimately the ones navigating the story, which means I need to be flexible and ready for any twists they throw my way.

Once I have my pages of long-hand notes, I sit down and get to work. The story comes alive and I write one page at a time until I run out of steam, or my hands cramp. I'm usually good for about 1,000 words per day. Sometimes I'll get up to 2k - 3k, but that's on a fantastic day. I stop to research, go for a walk, or sneak into the kitchen for an hour of baking. I might stare at the shelf of books in my office and feel either inadequate because those books are all written by amazing authors who are far better than I, or those books will motivate me to keep writing. The day fills up quickly because I have two other businesses to run.

I took to writing long hand with Christmas in the Rockies (McKenna Grey) and kept it up. When I've hit a wall, I type the handwritten pages into the Word document. This process often sparks new ideas and I can fill in any gaps while I type. Once those pages are neatly on the computer, I go back to paper and pen and start the process over.

I listen to soft music in the background, drink water or herbal tea, sneak a piece a chocolate when the writing frustrates me, and then keep going.

The Middle

The middle of a book is the toughest for me. EVERY SINGLE BOOK, and it doesn't matter if it's a short story or novel. The middle is my nemesis. No matter what trick I try—even when I used detailed outlines—I end up spending twice as much time in the middle as I do the beginning or end.

On a terrible day, I'll shut down the computer or set aside my paper, and be annoyed that I walked away early, but it happens. The notes that I wrote earlier will be updated and changed as the story progresses.

The middle lasts a long time—too long. I usually fill the time I'm working through the story to start on another, or get started on marketing material. Then I go back to the book at hand. There is a moment when everything falls into place, when the characters and I are in perfect harmony. From that point on, the story comes so easily that by the time get to the end; I have to figure out how to extend, rather than rush, the ending.

The End

Gosh, reaching "the end" is a delightful feeling, but the work isn't over.

My first draft is really a second draft since I've filled in, tweaked, and edited as much as possible during the typing phase. I then print everything out (I know, the paper!), give it to the beta reader, and wait for it be returned with a lot of red ink. If I've done things right, there won't be too much of that.

After that, I go through the notes, make more corrections, and read through the manuscript one more time to clean it up as best I can before it goes to the editor.

My editor, Lorraine Fico-White, is fantastic and patient. We have three to five passes depending on the length of the manuscript. Novels also get an extra pass with an additional proofreader before going back to the editor. The editing stage takes time, but it's what makes the book ready for readers.

I use a style guide, a system my editor recommended when we first started working together, to keep facts about a series organized. This way I don't give a character green eyes when they are supposed to be blue, or red hair when it's supposed to be blond. The guide tracks all my secondary characters, relationships, and even layouts of important structures, like Hawk's Peak ranch in the Montana Gallagher series.

We don't always agree, but we trust each other to make the right call. Sometimes I will fight with every breath for something I want to keep, and she'll do the same if it absolutely has to be changed. Sarcastic comments and bewildered questions in the margins keep things light and fun.

When the manuscript is pretty and ready for readers, it gets formatted, encased in a cover, and off it goes into the world. I usually take a week or two off from regular writing to unwind, but I've already started the next book.

There's no fancy writing software involved. I have a whiteboard where I keep the book cover mockup and a few notes and pictures related to the work-in-progress. I tried note cards once and they annoyed me. I didn't enjoy having to shuffle through them, or I lost them. It's hard for me to lose a big, green sheet of lined paper. Mostly, it's just me and the characters.

That's it. No magic, no secret, no set method for every writer. We find what works and that's it. Prolific writers who have mastered the art of plotting will swear it works for anyone. Those who have mastered pantsing, will swear that can work for anyone. The reality is that YOU must figure out what works for you.

The biggest takeaway from this is that writing is hard work. We authors like to share the easy and glamorous sides of writing, which often leads to the person next to us saying, "I'm going to write a book."

I recall a conversation I had with a woman once while I was checking out at a shop. Her daughter wanted to write a book, and she asked me how one starts. I gave her a blank stare for a few seconds and finally said, "Sit down and write." She asked if it's really that easy. I told her, "No, sitting down is the easy part. Writing is long hours, days, weeks, and months of hard work. When you've spent all of that precious time writing, revising, and editing, then the really hard part comes—getting people to read it."

The conversation didn't continue much longer, but I got the impression she planned to steer her daughter onto another career path. Nora Roberts said it best it best when she said, "I love my work, even on a bad day, I love my work. Being a writer is a gift I'm grateful for, even when it's a bad day." And that's the attitude a writer needs to possess if they are going to be successful.

No matter your writing process, you have to put in the work. Don't spend too much time thinking about the best software, hardware, or other (and numerous) tools of the trade. You can't be a writer, especially a published one, if you don't put in the work.

Happy writing!

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