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Author of the Night Angel trilogy and The Black Prism

New Writing Advice

*New for May 2014*

What is your writing routine now? How has it changed?

As I’ve said many times, but it bears repeating: the usefulness of my answers to questions like these is very limited. This is what works for me. Something completely different may work for you. However, given that caveat:

I get up every day around 8:00 am. I grab myself a coffee, and I head to my desk. A couple of years ago, I splurged and bought myself a treadmill. And then I got a desk that fits over the top of that. So now I turn on my treadmill, I walk between 1 and 2 miles per hour, and I type. I MacGyvered some straps to hold my keyboard down. Did I mention I have this funky ergonomic keyboard? I’ll probably have to post a picture. It takes a little getting used to, but I’m the kind of person who paces when I talk on the telephone. I find it somehow helps me focus. Also, writing can be an incredibly sedentary occupation, and walking is good for you!

Brent's Workspace

 

On my favorite days, I only have to do creative work, and I will walk for 5 or 6 hours, or until I get too tired to do it anymore, and just write, write, write. Currently I use Scrivener, but I wrote my first 4 novels in Microsoft Word. (I still currently have to edit in Word–publishing is still pretty tied to it, though some free alternatives can do in a pinch.) I like how I can lay out virtual notecards in Scrivener. When I worked in Microsoft Word, I would physically lay out real notecards, (I’d cut 3″x5″ notecards in half) but when you’re laying out 110 or 115 scenes, you take up an incredible amount of room. A gust of wind can really ruin your day. I did a corkboard, but if you move two scenes to an earlier spot in the novel on a corkboard, you have to unpin Every Last Notecard, move it, repin, and hope you never have to do that again. Scrivener does all that virtually–allowing me to move the notecards around and moving the associated text with it (no more cut and paste and pray). After the initial learning curve, it’s all very easy and intuitive, and it saves me a ton of time.

My day is often punctuated by emails from fans and business partners. Fan emails I put off answering until later, either in the afternoon or later in the week. Work emails sometimes need to be answered right away. And then there’s the general putting out fires kind of thing. Like, just yesterday, I got this message: “I want to buy your audiobook, but I can’t get it in format X!” (I don’t have anything to do with distribution of my novels, so technically this doesn’t come under what you might call “my job”, but if people can’t buy my books, I’m the one who’s not getting paid, so I try to refer these SNAFUs to the people who can fix them as quickly as possible.)

Sometimes when I’m stuck or just need a change of pace, I’ll look at Twitter or other social media or the news – I would not recommend doing that! Not even to myself. Hey Brent, stop doing that.

I find the beginnings of books are the hardest for me, so I’ve come up with some simple brain hacks that I use on myself. Until I get maybe a quarter of the way into a novel, I’ll make my daily word goal be 250 words. Just for scale, my answer to this question is over 500 words now. 250 words is ridiculously low, but that’s the point of it. I’ll write a couple of sentences, and I’m already a quarter of the way done with my goal. (Scrivener has this really sweet progress bar that you can watch fill up as you’re typing. Usually by the time I’ve written even 150 words, I’ve made the decisions that would have paralyzed me: which character point of view is best for this scene? At what point in time are we going to enter the scene? How much explication do we need to root readers in this setting? What conflict is on the table right now?)

At that point, I usually can breeze past 250, and I simply add 250 words to my word count goal. If I make it past 500, I make it 750. If I make it past 750, I make it 1,000. Once I’m past the beginning of a novel, I’ll try to write 1,000 words a day, and toward the end, I’m writing somewhere between 1- and 2,000 words a day. I usually work 6 days a week, although Saturdays I often only work 4-6 hours, depending on what else in real life is demanding my attention.

In my afternoons, I spend some time on the business side of things. Interviews, social media, web posts, reading contracts, composing posts like this one, returning business mail and fan mail, working on my forthcoming graphic novel and other side projects, and sometimes doing research for future books.

When I travel, or vacation, I work at my mobile office. Behold, my mobile office (also, behold my Syndrome hair):

Brent's Mobile Office

Before I got published, it was a lot simpler, although of course being unpublished has its own terrifically hard challenges! At that point, I was a stay-at-home husband. I would make my wife’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and write about 6 hours a day. And I think because I had a singular focus, I wrote 2,000 words a day, every single day. And still had time to play video games.

I miss video games.