Thursday, January 26, 2006

Writing Process

I wrote an article on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye that will be published by Mystery Scene Magazine in the spring, and one of the things I talk about in the article is Chandler’s writing process: it was interesting and a little bit quirky. He wrote with a typewriter, but typed all his drafts on yellow half sheets of paper so that it would be easier to retype pages when he made revisions.

Loren D. Estleman’s process could probably also be categorized as interesting/quirky. He still uses a manual typewriter, and is an avid collector of and expert on manual typewriters. In fact, I sent him a signed copy of the “Riordan’s Desk” photograph used as the graphic at the top of this blog as a sort of thank you for providing a blurb for my first book, and he was able to identify the make, model and year even though the manufacturer’s name is covered in the photo.

My writing process is probably not as interesting as Chandler’s or Estleman’s (because, frankly, I’ll probably never be as interesting as them period), but it is a little quirky. Since I’m giving a sort of soup-to-nuts description of the creation of my forthcoming book, Candy from Strangers, I thought I’d describe it in this post.

I don’t compose on a manual typewriter, but I don’t use Microsoft Word either. I use an Adobe package called FrameMaker. FrameMaker is a high-end technical writing tool that’s commonly used in the software and other high tech industries to do product manuals. I started using it because I was exposed to it in my full time job as a software engineering manager, and grew to like it because of its power and extra capabilities. I liked it so much, in fact, that I bought the company ...

No, just kidding. I liked it so much that I contacted Adobe and they ended up doing a case study about my writing The Immortal Game with it. (The case study also provided me with a bit of free publicity, so I’ll come back to this when I talk about creative marketing for novels in a later posting.)

FrameMaker runs on Windows and Unix. I currently use the Windows version of the program, but when I wrote The Immortal Game, I actually used one of the early Unix workstations from Sun. I suspect my novel is the first and only to be produced on a Sun Sparc 1, famous for their “pizza box” design.

Here’s a picture of a typical page showing the double-spaced format I use for each chapter:

I put all completed chapters for a first draft in a notebook like this:

At the front of the notebook is a table of contents that I update as I go. I fill in the title and word count for each chapter that I complete—and then I tally up a running total of words for the book to that point. I never have a target word count for a book, so there’s no real point to the tally except to satisfy my curiosity about how many words I’ve written. Here’s what that looks like:

Once I complete a chapter, I send it out to my writers’ group for critique. And when I get the annotated copies back, I file them away in a “banker’s box,” organized by chapter:

Then, when I start the rewriting process, I go chapter-by-chapter pulling the annotated copies from the box to guide me as I work on the rewrite.

I’ll talk more about finding time to write, what I try to accomplish in a single session of writing, writers’ groups and the process of rewriting in later posts, but the foregoing provides a pretty good sketch of the high level process I use to pull together a book.


At 7:45 PM, Blogger Aldo said...

This is fascinating.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Adrian McCarthy said...

Commenting on an old post, but this made me curious. What format do you give the manuscript to your publisher? Do they use FrameMaker? Do you convert it? Or just pass them hardcopy?

I have a friend who wrote one of those giant technical tomes, and his publisher was so thankful that he was willing to use FrameMaker that they bought the software for him. But I'd be surprised if the fiction market works the same way.

I've recently switched from TeX to plain old text.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Mark Coggins said...


No, most fiction publishers use Quark or (more commonly now) Adobe InDesign.

There's a filter to bring InDesign files into FrameMaker, but not the other way round, so I need to export to Word, which InDesign can import.


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