The Writing Cycle

After the idea comes the actual work. I view writing as a continuous four-stage cycle.

Stage 1: The idea. After the main storyline, you need to know where you are starting each time you sit down to write. Where is the story at that point, and where is it going in the immediate future? I usually do this a chapter or two ahead at a time. Always remember your one sentence original idea. I like to start every day of work by reminding myself of it.

Stage 2: Research. Often I find upon researching an idea that there are many other aspects to the subject that I was not aware of. In many cases research drives the creative train. There is a very thin line between being realistic and telling a story. Real life is sometimes pretty amazing and sometimes you have to bend reality a little for the sake of your story. Bend it too far though, and no one will be interested in sticking with you. Also you must make sure you have internal validity to your story. For example, if you are writing science fiction and have faster than light space travel, you must have certain rules as to how that travel works and you must stay within the boundaries of the rules you set up. Remember the diagram? Research is key to building that background box. I constantly research, pretty much every day, even while I am writing, because it gives more opportunities to develop the plot.

Stage 3: Writing. Sit down and write. Just get it down on paper. It almost always looks awful the first draft. But at least it's written. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing that. Worry about the awful later. Use 'bum glue' as Bryce Courtenay says. There is absolutely no other way to finish a manuscript other than writing it, one word, one sentence, one paragraph, and one chapter at a time.

Stage 4: Editing. Go back and look at what you wrote. Clean it up. Throw it out if it doesn't fit (don't literally throw it out—never, never, never discard something you wrote. You never know when you might need it in another story or after the first draft of the manuscript is done. Label it and save it.) To start my writing day, I usually begin by going back and at least reading what I wrote the previous day, cleaning it up as I go. This not only edits the work, but also gets me in the proper groove to continue.

Now I am going to be very honest with you. Unlike most writers (or at least unlike what most writers say) I have no real set routine. Sometimes I wake up and jump right into writing. Sometimes I spend days editing. Sometimes I spend days doing nothing externally, but spinning wheels in my head, trying to figure out what I'm doing with the story (but there are less and less of those days lately because—you got it—I have good outlines.).

There is no typical workday for me other than the fact that I do work at something. I have listed out all sorts of routines and suggestions in this book so far and I have used all of them at one time or another. But don't feel like there is a golden rule. If one day you want to write standing on your head on the New York City subway—then go for it (just be careful—it's a jungle out there.). Sometimes I sit down and outline chapters just like I suggested in the outlining section. Sometimes I don't outline the chapter, I just begin writing it. Do whatever works. But work.

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