Joel Kelly's Blog

Joel Kelly's updates about his latest writing, his process, and his life as a Halifax-based author and marketer.

My writing process

As I work on my new book, "Scolding the Winds," I've been putting a lot more thought into my process. Here are my thoughts:

I try not to be too precious about my writing process. If you give yourself too many necessary routines, or put too much emphasis on your "muse," you won't be able to write when you really need to. So much of "writer's block" is really the inability to power through when you're not feeling inspired. But inspiration isn't necessary, only will and time are.

Of course, that perfect sentence, that great idea that turns the story around, those are things that you often can't plan for. But so much of your story won't be made up of those moments. So there's no use waiting around for inspiration to strike — if you have a path forward, keep going.

But, of course, that requires that you actually do have a plan. If you don't plan, then you'll always be waiting around for your brain to figure out where the story should go next. That's why I plan things out ahead of time.

I keep a notebook with me at all times, so I can write ideas, bits of dialogue, observations, etc.

I keep lots of notes, and plan out scenes ahead of time, in my trusty Field Notes.

As I've written about before, I'm a big fan of Dan Harmon's Story Circles. I use those to give myself a basic guide for the story as a whole, and individual scenes.

Here's what the story circles help me figure out:

  1. Where my characters are right now (emotionally, physically, mentally)
  2. What they want
  3. What it takes to get what they want
  4. What price they pay for it
  5. How that changes them
  6. How they'll now react to new situations, based on this change

So, the story needs to have this arc, or else it's not really a story. But individual scenes should have an arc, too, so the reader feels like they're along for a ride, not putting in work.

I write in the evenings, since I have a full-time job. I pick the time of night, not based on "inspiration," but energy. So sometimes I'll feel energized and write as soon as I get home, or sometimes I'll get to writing after dinner. And then on weekends I'll spend as much time as possible writing.

I try to write in 1,000 word chunks. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but it gives me a goal. And I completely agree with Hemingway on this one:

"You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again." - Link

You want to stop when you know what happens next, so that when you finally get time to write again, you don't waste the whole evening trying to figure out where to start. You should already know where to start, and your subconscious should already be putting together some ideas for the rest of the scene.

Finally, I write my actual documents in Google Drive, since I use a Chromebook at home, and I want to be able to access my stories wherever I am.

Do you have any questions? Any advice of your own? Leave them in the comments!