One of the common question writers are asked—at least I am—is, “What is your process when you write one of your novels?”
It seems like a simple question, with a straightforward answer. It is not. Or, as is often the case, my wife will ask, “How’s the new book going?” I’ll say, “It’s hard.” And she will say, “you always say that.”
Maybe that’s my process, along the lines that George Bernard Shaw once suggested: “Hard writing makes easy reading.”
To begin, over my years of writing, my method—if you wish to grace it with that name—has evolved.
When I wrote my first novel (No More Magic) I carefully outlined the plot. Knew the ending. I had notes about the characters. My goal—aside from finishing the story—was to reach one hundred manuscript pages. My most recently finished novel was 475 pages.
Moreover, other than the few series I have composed (The Poppy books, the Crispin books) the novels differ one from the other, so each book has its own way of coming into being.
My process, if you will, these days is not to outline the plot. More often than not I have no particular ending in mind. As I have suggested elsewhere, I like to discover an ending. Indeed, I like to discover the whole plot as I go along. Over the years structure is built into my thinking.
Over the course of my years the major difference in my writing method is that I use a computer, and that in turn means I rewrite a book many more times. One of the results: The books are also longer, more complex.
I also do much more research (for my historical novels) than I did previously. A current project, a story set in the Nineteen-twenties, had me seek out and find a 1924 edition of the popular Boston Cooking School Cook Book. I might as well set out the proper food. Indeed, small details are much more important to me. In the story mentioned above, which takes place in a real rural town, if you wanted to contact Frank E. Daugherty, the local plumber, his phone number was—59.
I suspect that every writer has her/his own method of writing. Time, place, writing location, hours of work, and so forth are all individualized. The true method you need is to find what works for you. If ever there was a circumstance when the ends justify the means, writing is it. Just keep in mind what the British novelist, Somerset Maugham once said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”