Michael J. Martinez: Respect Your Writing Process

Mike — fine, “Michael” — is one of the good guys. You just know it when you meet him. It radiates from him in waves. Just look at this picture of him! He’s nice. He’s smart. He’s just an all around good dude. (Cue to the flash-forward scene where we discover a closet in Mike’s house that’s full of puppy skeletons.) So, when he was like, “Chuck, I’d like to –” and I was like, “SHUT UP AND KISS ME,” and he’s like “–write a guest post for terribleminds,” and I was like, “Ha ha ha, I gotcha, I was making the funny with the other thing, sure you can guest post.” So, here’s Michael. He’d like to talk to you about — *crash of thunder* — your writing process.

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It occurred to me recently that I went from first draft of The Daedalus Incident, which ultimately became my debut novel, to the release of the final book in the trilogy, The Venusian Gambit, in about five-and-a-half years.

*ducks onslaught of thrown items from frustrated writers*

Guys, that wasn’t a humblebrag. For one, the concept behind the Daedalus trilogy was about seven years in the making prior to that first real novel draft. Prior to that, it was a d20 open-source RPG concept, a Word file full of random worldbuilding and a yellow legal pad full of mad scribblings and coffee stains.

More importantly, though, I’m kind of flabbergasted it went by so quickly already, but a lot of that has to do with my writing process. See, prior to this whole “Hey, I should totally write a novel” thing, glaring act of hubris that it was, I was a journalist for The Associated Press. I covered politics in Albany, N.Y., tech business out in Seattle and Wall Street in New York. So when I see writers on Twitter looking for peeps to do a 1h1k challenge, I’m all like, “Fine, but what do I do with the other 40 minutes?”

My writing process is, in a word, fast. Writing under the fire-eyed glare of underpaid, coffee-and-sweat-stained editors with angina and sleep deprivation will make you fast, man.

Like many of you folks here on Chuck’s blog, my wife Kate is also writing a novel. She’s also, I believe, a far better writer than I am. That’s not to say I suck – I smash words together with reasonable proficiency – but she really takes care with every sentence, and her prose has a sense of lyricism and crafted beauty I’ve yet to approach. I’m not sure I ever will.

On the other hand, she’s not as fast as I am. Her process doesn’t allow for fast. And you know what? That fine. Because her process is working for her.

My process involves taking 2-3 weeks to write an extensive, Excel-based outline, followed by a race to the finish to write the first draft in 3-4 months. (I have a day job and a family, so I do chunk it out over time.) Then I revise…and revise…and revise some more, followed by another revision. But all in a start-to-finish kind of way, and all fueled by the training I got as an AP reporter.

Kate is different. She doesn’t outline, and she tends to circle back and revise one section before hitting the next. And then if she makes a left turn on something, so to speak, she’ll loop back and revise more. If my process is a series of 50-yard dashes, hers is a stroll that tends to take the shape of that loopy white line of icing on top of a Hostess cupcake.

But she’s gonna get to the end of that cupcake with a kick-ass novel, and probably one that will really be something special. It’s going to be a beautiful work.

Now, there are definitely times when she and other writers look at my output and wonder what they’re doing wrong. And when they say that, I point them out to my host here on Terribleminds.com. While you’ve been reading this post, Chuck pounded out another novel and stuffed it in the guts of a dead tauntaun to keep it warm.

But they’re not doing anything wrong. And neither are you.

If I compared my output to that of, say, Chuck or Seanan McGuire, I’d get depressed quick. Comparing output and success? That way lies madness. Write to get the story out and get people to read it. Don’t write to try to keep pace with anybody. It’s not a race.

If you have a writing process that works for you – and by works, I mean that it helps you produce the level of fictiony goodness you’d be proud to have others read – then who cares how long it takes? Who cares when you revise, or how often, or where in the squiggly path between beginning and end it occurs? Outline or no, synopsis or no, doesn’t matter.

If you’re putting ass-in-chair and writing regularly, and you like what you’re getting out of it and getting a sense of progress with it, keep going. You’re not racing me or Chuck or anyone else. Just respect your process and make the most of the chances you have to make your story rock.

Of course, if all goes well, then you’re going to have to adapt your process somewhat, because someone will want to publish your novel and then you’ll have to start hitting deadlines and such. But you know what? I wish that problem on every aspiring writer out there. It’s a good one to have.

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Michael J. Martinez is the author of The Venusian Gambit, the newly-released final book in Daedalus trilogy from Night Shade Books. He’ll also have a short story in the Cthulhu Fhtagn! anthology out later this summer from Word Horde. When not writing, he brews his own beer, travels a fair bit and engages in suburban-dad things like lawn mowing. He can be found online at http://www.michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

22 comments

  • *Wishes she could give Michael a massive hug of gratitude but worries that might be weird. Smiles at him with misty eyes instead. Still worries that might be equally weird.*

    Thank you for this post! Over the last couple of days, first Chuck and now you have helped to pull me out of a massive self-pity-sinkhole of my own making. It only takes a few days of having writing sessions that consist mostly of “Urrrgghh, this isn’t what I mean, it all sounds like toddler-bibble…. bleurgh, just keep going I’ll come back and fix it later…” for me to start sinking into that ‘where’s my chocolate SHUDDUP IT’S BRAIN-MEDICINE’ style of writing. On the plus side I get to eat a load of chocolate and not care, but that’s also the minus side because I’m not supposed to do the first and AM supposed to do the second if I DO do the first… you get the picture.

    I have different approach planned to writing the next book after this one (there’s nothing like doing a process all kinds of wrong to learn how to do it right-er next time, is there?) But for now I’ll carry on with the one that’s got me this far. It’d probably make proper novelists cry, but I’m learning all the time and one day I’ll be almost as smart as they are. :)

    • The hug is less weird than the misty-eyed smile, because then I’d think I died in a dream you had and you’re happy I’m alive, and I’d wonder if it was prophetic or something and I’d go to my panic room. So have a hug. Or a thumbs-up, at least.

      And honestly, do what works. You can’t fix a story that isn’t on the page to begin with. Fuel up on chocolate-brain-medicine and let fly!

  • i love excel for making character profiles. everything from weapon choices to bar orders. I also have done floor plans… didnt work out.

  • Always find it fascinating to hear how different authors write, revise, find their inspiration. Wow! An outliner and a discovery writer in the same household. That must be the literary equivalent of a Les Paul officionado marrying a Fender strat enthusiast (guitar-geek speak). It must lead to some interesting conversations. Do you each critique/edit each other’s work or do you leave that to outside parties?

    • I’ve read a fair amount of Kate’s stuff, whereas the military-infused historical fantasy I write isn’t her cup of tea. She’s read other stuff of mine, though. So yes, we’ll occasionally give each other’s writing a whirl. It goes quite well, actually.

  • Great! This post actually sounds like you Chuck. I thought it was and it got me thinking what kind of writer am I? I think I’ve crossed over that beginners ‘what am I doing?’ and into the ‘hey I can do it!’ It takes me a bit to get started, and then I do well running for the finish line. Any day now I’ll be approaching the start gate with all the horses lined up and breathing heavy. The music will be horns blasting at first, and then a continuous melody which fits my genre as we circle the track; any suggestions for historical fiction 1920’s-1930’s?

    Great cover … good luck with the book!

    • May 14, 2015 at 9:20 AM // Reply

      Michael – thanks for the reminder that everyone is different and that’s ok. Excel gives me heebie-jeebies, but I’m learning the joys of outlining anyway. :-)

      Gardenlilie, you might enjoy http:// http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com. Tam’s writing is lovely and she also reviews other books on those eras, and her site is full of 20s, 30s, 40s goodies.

      Happy Thursday, all.

  • Excellent post! Comparing ourselves to each other is something I think most of us are guilty of. It’s always reassuring to hear (see) that everyone is different from outside your own mind.

  • I never even considered using an Excel sheet for character development! *tapping chin thoughtfully* I usually give my characters an interview which I hope will take them from ambiguous glob to honed creation. :) Think I’m gonna have to try the Excel technique out. Question, I had no idea your wife was writing her own novel–so cool–how often does she ask you for pointers or collaboration? Or does she at all? Love, love the DAEDALUS trilogy and can’t wait to read the next thing you have up your sleeve. Awesome post!

    • Steve! I really like the interview idea. I may have to give that a whirl. As for my wife, Kate’s always had a strong interest in creative writing; I think seeing me tackle this whole novelist thing has prompted her to try her hand. And we do talk shop quite a bit — we met when we were both working at the AP in Albany, so we’re steeped in writing, as it were.

      To everyone else: you guys gotta check out Steve’s books. He’s a great writer as well as a mensch.

  • That cover is so f-word-ing weird I MUST read the trilogy to find out WTF. (Wait, I can use that actual word here, right?) Anyway, wow.

    Also enjoyed the actual article!

  • Hmmm, I enjoyed the article but honestly, the cover art was a bit off-putting. For some reason, it reminded me of the movie The Time Bandits. It seems to cut across a time period where British soldiers turn zombie and Sleestaks slink in the background. But then, my brain hurts whenever I think of time travel so what do I know?

  • Today I wrote 1.75 pages of a TV pilot in the morning and then got distracted, and then gave up (granted, I have a day job, but still), and that’s starting to trigger my depression. I could have done so much more. This is how it’s been recently. Just miserable. However, I’m looking forward to your book, Mike (almost wrote “bike, Mook.”) thanks for posting.

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