I was intrigued by Daniel's forum post about cutting and editing work and the various routines writers employ so I thought I'd write a little here about my own routine.

The first thing is, I never outline. I'll make some notes of character names, minor details, occasionally pieces of dialogue that I may or may not use, but that's it. That's not to say I don't plan. For months before starting on a book I'll think it through, inhabiting the story until it's become completely mine. If I'm having trouble with this process I might write an opening chapter to set me on my way (this chapter won't always end up in the book, and if it does it might not end up at the beginning - more of which later - but putting something, anything, down on paper is sometimes the best way of getting the engine moving).

As a result of all this thinking, by the time I start writing the process is surprisingly swift and efficient - after all, I'm writing a story that's in my head, not piecing it together from hundreds of scrawled notes. I write around a thousand words a day and two months or so later I have a sixty thousand word novel (the market doesn't like this length, but it's what I always deliver). I revise it for another week or so, which usually results in a net gain of maybe a thousand words, but that's it, no second draft, and the edit by my publisher is also usually very light. Daniel said he hates going back over his work - so do I, and I believe the secret of the single-take lightly edited book I'm describing is that mental planning.

Finally, back to that phantom first chapter I said I sometimes write. With my forthcoming book, Who is Conrad Hirst?, I'd been struggling with timelines. The book is much more complex than it appears on the surface, showing a hitman for a German mob boss as he tries to kill his way out of the business, but also detailing the process by which he got into it - two timelines, one leading up to the moment at which he decides to quit, one leading away from it, and in the middle, the pivotal moment itself. I kept thinking that moment, that epiphany, had to open the book, but something didn't seem right. So I started writing it, the opening chapter, and was five or so pages in when I had an epiphany of my own - it wasn't the opening chapter at all, it was the conclusion. Everything fell into place, I started writing again, this time with the real opening words, "Dear Anneke..." and two months later the book was finished.

I'll probably post here in a few weeks when the book comes out, but if you're one of the people who reads it, please, whatever you do, don't be tempted to read the conclusion first! You'll see why when you get there....

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Comment by Kevin Wignall on October 19, 2007 at 11:37pm
As a rule, I'll write down things that I might forget (names, etc), but that's it. Interesting to hear that some others have a similar process. I've taken up to two years thinking about a book but I've never taken more than three months to actually write one.
Comment by Daniel Hatadi on October 19, 2007 at 11:18am
I heard that James Lee Burke (or was it Jeffery Deaver?) spends months outlining, then writes the book in weeks. I suppose that's similar to what you do, so I'm wondering if you keep notes as you go, such as the character details you talked about, or is it all in your head?

Not quite like your process, but sometimes I have periods where I've spent a couple of months thinking about the next number of scenes. That's when I have something of a burst and write 5-10K in a few days or a week. Generally, when that happens, I'll spend the next few days or even weeks having no idea what to write about next.

I love how everyone has such a different process.

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