Simple systems for the writing life.

So, here’s a weird thing.

I love systems.  But I hate routines.

Call it “the creative nature” or simply the knee-jerk rebellious reflex of Muse or my inner child, but “routines” are about as sexy as a glass of warm milk, and I tend to shy away from them, even when I know they will make my life easier.

Prior to my Year of Cruise, I would do one of two things:

  1. I would say “I am going to make my life easier!” and set up all these routines, which would eventually fall by the wayside as I got bored, confused or distracted, or
  2. I would say “I hate routines!” and then go in my usual pell-mell fashion, expending all this energy and still missing crucial steps or being frazzled and pissed off and inefficient.

This year, I finally decided to do something different.


You guys know I am an obsessive plotter.  I have a process that I’ve dialed in when it comes to creating a book.  It isn’t that I necessarily planned it that way from the jump.  It’s just after ten years and lots of trial and error, I know what  works for me and what doesn’t.

That’s not to say it’s static, either.  I still explore new solutions, and tweak the existing process.  For example, finding Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering two years ago (well, the previous ebook iteration called Story Structure, Demystified) was a game-changer.

What’s more, I have a structure for each scene, as well.  I know how a scene should open and close to best fit into the novel as a wholeAnd as I’m developing series, I also have a series arc, which ties into the novel arc, which is reflected by the scenes.  There’s a microcosm/macrocosm element to it, as well as something inherently organic.

How you do one thing is how you do everything.

I started to look at how I “plot” my life.

I understand the basic structure of a story — the rising action, the pacing, the exploration of character.

Were there any parallels between how I write stories, and how I orchestrate my life?

All my stories hinge on character.  In my opinion, if you don’t have a good sense of character, then plot goes out the window. 

Guess what?  Exact same thing with routines!

Just like a plot will ring hollow and “not work” if it’s contrived and externally developed without an eye toward character, routines won’t work if it isn’t something my “character” — ME — would do naturally, “in real life!”

Every scene, in my opinion, should have a focus that ties in with the overall story goal.  Days aren’t really that different.  Do I know what’s really important in my “story”?  And am I approaching my days with that story question in mind?

Pacing’s a key, too.  I’ve often harangued students for keeping up a break-neck pace, the dreaded “falling asleep at the edge of your seat.”  Stories need an ebb and flow.  Why did I expect my life to be any different?  Why would I schedule myself to the point of crashing, when I, too, need a rest period to punctuate the action?

There is no “right” process.

This post was inspired by some research I’m doing for an upcoming blog post on writing processes.  There are a million permutations on how people get from premise to completed novel, and it’s amazing to explore.

I think that one of my biggest missions in life, beyond writing the novels themselves, is to help other writers get the support they need to write their novels.  And I get the strong feeling that systems, and most importantly self-exploration, is a key there.

I’m not saying that everyone should do my crazy-ass “plot your life” thing.  But it does occur to me — maybe, as writers, we sometimes explore the goals and motivations of our fictional lives more than we do our own.

And that if we can explore our lives with the same passion that we devote to our writing…

Well.  I’m not sure what would happen then.  But I’m really, really curious to find out.

How do you use routines in your life?  What do you feel works about your writing process, and what doesn’t?  And do you feel like there are any parallels between how you write, and how you live?  (Or am I just crazy? <g>)

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