How I Do It
I sometimes get questions about how I go about writing. I didn’t think I was that famous yet, but whatever. I’m going to divide this into an artistic side and a technical side, and deal with the technical side last because most people don’t care about that.
The Artistic Side
Some readers have come to me after reading Without Bloodshed and Silent Clarion and asked me how much time I spend outlining my books before writing them. The truth is that I don’t outline in exhaustive detail. I tend to write a paragraph or two describing the plot points I want to cover in a given chapter or scene. This gives me a rough plan for the story while giving me room to improvise. Furthermore, I tend to deviate from the outline as I write the novel, because the characters take the story in unexpected directions… Especially Naomi and Claire.
Speaking of which, you will find that unlike other authors of fantasy and science fiction, I don’t start out with worldbuilding. I have my reasons, the main one being that I lack the background or the patience to do so convincingly. Instead, I prefer to start by understanding my characters. I worldbuild only as necessary to place my characters in context.
I do, however, adhere to certain basic principles in my worldbuilding…
- There is no such thing as the supernatural.
- Any phenomenon can eventually be explained through scientific inquiry with time, effort, and technological progress.
- Every character has desires.
- Every character has reasons for their desires.
- Every character feels justified in pursuing their desires.
- Any character can have conflicting desires, and must decide which to prioritize.
- Any character can find themselves in conflict with another due to incompatible desires.
The upshot is that I don’t write characters who are good, bad, or indifferent “just because”. Hopefully you’ll be able to relate to them and their struggles.
The Technical Side
It’s always funny when somebody sees me writing on my lunch break at work or at a pizza parlor and realizes I’m not using Microsoft Word or Windows. For some reason it blows their mind that I’m not using Windows on a laptop that obviously wasn’t made by Apple.
I do the vast majority of my writing (and built this website) on a secondhand Lenovo ThinkPad T430s that I bought off eBay. It currently runs Fedora 25. It’s a good, solid laptop with an excellent keyboard, and probably one of the last Lenovo ThinkPad models to come with a built-in optical drive.
I do all of my outlining and drafting using Vim with a variety of plugins for writers, including plugins to enhance Vim’s functionality with Markdown and Emacs Org-mode. I can also use Emacs, especially for Org-Mode, but I find Vim more comfortable. It helps that I learned vi in college at a for-profit school where many of the programming classes were done on SPARCstations where your choice was between vi and ed — and nobody in my classes was crazy enough to write C programs in ed.
I format my drafts using Markdown because doing so allows me to preserve my drafts in a format that doesn’t depend on proprietary software. I can work on any computer that groks Unicode, whereas writers sticking to Word are limited to computers that run Word, or compatible applications. With pandoc I can convert from Markdown to any other format with a single command, which lets me send Word files to my publisher. :)
If you think I’m nuts, remember that George R. R. Martin still uses WordStar 4.0 for DOS. At least I don’t have to fuck around with emulators. :)
What About Ideas?
Incidentally, and in case you were wondering, my cats bring me ideas whenever they manage to get out of my apartment and go walkabout. (I’m kidding. I don’t let my cats out.)