I’m an American writer living in Hong Kong. I got my start writing creative non-fiction about expat life in Asia, but found my true passion when I began writing the books I love to read: fantasy and science fiction. I wanted to build my own worlds and craft the kind of high-stakes adventures that keep me up at night.
I published Seabound, a post-apocalyptic adventure set on a souped-up cruise ship, in the fall of 2014. My writing process evolved as I completed three more books in that series and started the Steel and Fire YA fantasy series. I’m now a full-time author and recently launched my seventh novel. My writing process continues to be a living thing, growing and changing as I learn from other writers and from my own experiences. Here’s what it looks like right now:
Stick to a routine
Having a regular writing routine is the most important part of my process. I write five days a week from 11 am to 7 pm. Forcing myself to get dressed and walk to work puts me into “writing mode” whether I feel like it or not. I go to the same Starbucks every day and work right through lunch. My Starbucks is in a busy international area, and it’s helpful to have life and variety around me while I write. I usually run out of steam around 4 pm, so I take an email and Internet break and then dive back in for another few hours.
I get a lot of my ideas while working on other books. There’s no better time to get inspired than when I’m already in “writing mode.” If an idea comes to me, I’ll write it in a notebook or add it to an existing document on my computer. By the time I sit down to start a new book, I’ll already know a bit about the characters, the world, and the story arc. This saves me from the dreaded blank page! I like using a 3-act structure when I’m planning a new book. I type out a basic outline and fill it in with short paragraphs for each major plot point so I’ll know where the story is heading.
Hammer out a rough draft
I usually write my rough drafts quickly. My record is 67,000 words in eight working days. In general, I bang out my initial drafts in a month, NaNoWriMo-style, because it helps me keep up the momentum in the story. I want to write page-turners, and it helps if I write as if I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I also do a lot of my world-building here. It’s easier to come up with fantastical ideas and settings when I’m in the thick of writing the story than when I’m writing the outline. There will be plenty of time to make sure the world-building details are consistent in the later drafts. This part is all about making up cool stuff and seeing where the story takes me.
At this point I consider the draft virtually unreadable. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll die with a draft in this state and someone will discover it in the future and be . . . underwhelmed.
Build the structure
The next step is to print out the draft, read it through, and plug the events into a storyboard like this one. Looking at a classic story structure helps me see where the holes in my existing story might be. This is where I make final decisions about the plot and world-building and decide where to add or expand chapters. I’ll do this multiple times for different POV characters. Each person needs his or her own story arc.
Craft the second draft
Writing the second draft is the most extensive and painful part of the process. It’s also a lot of fun. I get to take the raw material I’ve created and mold it into a book. I add and rearrange chapters, expand and intensify scenes, fill in the setting details, and make any big plot changes. I’ve had drafts grow by 40,000 words during the Draft 2 stage. At this point I also do a lot of polishing and rewriting. By the time this draft is finished, I feel pretty comfortable letting my trusty band of critique partners see it.
Collect and consider feedback
While my critique partners read and work their magic, I usually jump into another book. Momentum is really important to my productivity, so I continue to write even while I’m waiting for feedback. I sometimes read books on the craft of writing during this stage. It’s important to keep learning, but I don’t like to get distracted by how-to books when I’m in the middle of a fresh draft.
When my readers get back to me, I listen to their advice, paying special attention to issues of pacing and character development. These things are hard for me to judge when I’m so close to the characters and have spent so much time in the thick of the plot. My first readers help me isolate the issues I can no longer see on my own. Anything is fair game for revision at this stage. I’ve been known to kill off characters and add whole POV sections based on the advice of my early readers. The books are invariably better for it.