On Leigh Bardugo‘s sixteenth and final stop in her Siege and Storm blog tour, she shares where and how she gets into “writing mode.”
Phase 1: Drafting
I work with an outline, but the outline has to start somewhere too. I begin with a series of beats or scenes that I know will be in the book, then I begin to fill in the blanks between them—sometimes I just ask questions: How do they get from A to B? What is the significance of X? I start with a single page that has twelve distinct moments, then the process of creating a first draft is just a matter of expanding from those initial story beats.
For me, the trick of drafting is momentum. I literally try to type as quickly as I can. When I get stuck I just write questions or problems into the draft and move on to the next thing. The goal is to get the story and the flaws in the story onto the page and out of my head. During this phase, I need noise and company. Otherwise, the scope of what I’m trying to do just feels overwhelming.
I have two favorite cafes where I like to work. One has fantastic music and even better food. The other has neither, but it’s just a few blocks from my house and there are outlets at practically every table. (The latter is also where I saw Nathan Fillion, so I can’t help but feel it has its own magic—not that I got anything done that day.)
I’ll often try to meet a friend for what we call “Friendly Surveillance.” We try to keep each other off the internet and will even hide each other’s cell phones.
Tools of the Trade:
Every time I start a new book or a major revision, I buy a three-subject notebook in a different color.
Noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes the noise or the bad music are just too much, so I’ll put on my headphones and either set them to cancel or actually listen to music. For my Siege and Storm work mix, you can check out that on Novel SoundsHERE!
Also, there’s a program called Mac Freedom that I can’t do without. It shuts down the internet for up to 8 hours so even if you want to log on, you can’t. My third book would not have gotten written without this. Actually, this blog post wouldn’t have gotten written without it.
Drink of choice: Skim latte
Food of choice: Fish tacos
Snack of choice: Wasabi peas
Phase 2: The Bunker
When the first (very rough) draft is done, I go into the bunker. This means I disappear into my house and I don’t leave. It’s also when I begin to break the book out into chapters. While I’m working on a given chapter, I always keep a “discards” file open at the same time. This helps me edit with impunity because I know that nothing is gone forever.
Once the draft is starting to make sense and hold together, I focus on individual chapters. I read through a chapter on my laptop and make changes in the file. Then, I print it up and read it aloud with a red pen in hand and my notebook nearby so I can make changes and additions. At this point, the pages look like the work of a crazy person—all scrawls and arrows and numbered lists. Then it’s back to the laptop to transfer the changes to a new file, and then on to the next set of pages. Once I reach the end of the manuscript, I do it all over again, and then again, until I feel I’m ready to string the chapters back into a complete draft.
Final Read Throughs:
Now, hopefully, I have a real draft in my hands—one that feels almost ready to show to other people instead of weigh down with rocks and cast into the sea. I read through the manuscript in large sections, usually around 50 pages at a time, making notes and minor corrections. I read it all out loud.
Whiteboard + two colors of marker: I wish I could have a whole office with walls that are whiteboards. It would be glorious. For now, I settle for one big whiteboard that I keep on my mantle. I’ve never gone to the trouble of hanging it because I like to carry it around the house. I’ve even taken it into the garden on occasion.
Drink of choice: I make this weird little concoction of powdered cocoa, coffee, and milk every morning.
Food: Whatever is in the house. Book 1 was bags of raw broccoli. Book 2 was all about seaweed snacks from Trader Joe’s. Book 3 was dried pineapple. When I’m anxious (oh lawd, am I really going to confess this?), I’ll just sit there with a spoon and eat jam from a jar. Don’t you judge me.
This brings me to another part of my process: Days off. I’m learning to recognize the signs of burnout a lot better in myself. When I’ve finished a particularly grueling section, I’ll give myself a day or half day off. That means I don’t do anything but watch movies or catch up on tv shows and relax. I don’t go online and most importantly, I don’t feel guilty about it.