There Is No Process


by M.A. Grant, author of The Iron Crown

I have spent my entire life (I decided at the age of five that I would be a published author) listening to better authors talk about their works, their processes, and their suggestions for improving your craft. One thing I’ve learned is that I have no set writing process. I have hopes and prayers and regrets and triumphs, and somehow, I manage to get books out of this. Some wondered what my “process” is, so I’ve tried to explain below.

Step 1: Genius Strikes

Usually in the shower or after a dream, a tiny kernel will form. It may be a scene playing out in my head like a movie, or a snippet of dialogue. I write it down. I leave it alone, if it lets me. When I come back to it, it’s usually ten times its original size and says, “Feed me, Seymour.” So I do.

Step 2: The Playlist

All my books have playlists. I like to use iTunes because I’m a relic. There is no rhyme or reason to my playlists. They have mixtures of instrumental songs for my internal movie screenings of specific scenes. They have lyrical theme songs for characters or key moments. They are often long playlists, hours and hours worth of music, ready at the drop of a mouse-click to play on shuffle and repeat for as long as my brain, fingers, and tannin levels will allow when I get into a major writing sprint. My husband forgives me for playing them ad nauseam. Yet, weeks after a book is finished, he will often be caught humming songs from the playlist without knowing why.

Step 3: The Pinterest

I capture characters, clothing, settings, quotes related to the story’s themes, and any other visuals meeting the aesthetic of my book. It helps me soothe the brain tangle I’m usually caught in as I create my story. It also helps later with the Art Fact Sheets, where you describe your characters and book to help the cover artists.

image of three pinterest board previews

Step 4: The Brainstorm

My brainstorms often involve large papers and many, many sticky notes. My husband usually sits in on this with me, since I brainstorm best between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The first things I write down are either power scenes (big moments in the plot I love) or dialogue (since that’s what I’m most comfortable writing). I rough out the main plot after this, then fill the plot holes as best I can. Once I feel I’ve got a rough idea of the story and character arcs, I transfer it all to an official brainstorming document in Scrivener. I usually run my brainstorm by my critique partner, revise some more, then crack my knuckles and dig in.

image of brainstorm bulletin board with post it notes

Step 5: The Writing

Power scenes first. Always. These are the emotional touchstones I hold to as I write the rest of the book. I’m getting better about writing books in order, but if a really good scene pops to mind, I write it down before I lose it. After power scenes, I rough out dialogue in a pseudo-screenplay format that I can return to later to use. Then I try to draft the rest of the book in order.

Step Whatever/Whenever: The Breakdown

Honestly, this step happens frequently. Anxiety and depression have a nasty way of leaving you trapped in a cycle of exhaustion, guilt, and the fear that you’ll never be good enough. The longer I write “professionally” the more tricks I’ve learned to try to break the cycle. Talking with my husband. Exercise. Gardening. Cooking. Revising my playlists too many times. But sometimes the cycle can’t be broken, and there’s no reason to beat yourself up over fucked-up brain chemistry. You just have to wait until it relents enough to let you park your butt in that chair and start typing again, even if you feel like what you’re writing is utter horse-puckey. Most of the time, only you think it’s horse-puckey—no one else does. Because that’s how depression and anxiety work. They lie to you. So ignore your stupid brain and keep writing.

So there it is, my “process.” I wish it were cleaner, more professional and easier to share, but it’s not. My stories grow best in the chaos and uncertainty, and I’m fine with that. I hope you too will find ways to work with your writing process and create the stories you’ve dreamed of.

About The Iron Crown:

The Iron Crown by M.A. GrantAfter the last Faerie Civil War, the leaders of the magickal pantheons stripped the shining Seelie Court of its power and tasked the dark Unseelie Court with maintaining the natural balance of the world.

Ages later, a twisted intrigue throws the balance of all Faerie into ruin and ignites a new civil war.

Discounted by his family and haunted in the Unseelie sidhe, Queen Mab’s youngest son, Lugh, leads the Wild Hunt on quests across the dangerous Wylds. At his side is his best friend Keiran, a Viking rescued from death centuries earlier. Between Lugh’s uncanny gift for being in the right place at the right time and Keiran’s power of persuasion, they’re revered across the Wylds—as long as Lugh keeps his true identity hidden from the people of the Sluagh.

Keiran and Lugh have loved each other for centuries—as friends and brothers in arms. Lugh has long since put aside his romantic love for Keiran to protect their friendship. But with the looming war in Faerie and the ghosts of the dead dogging Lugh’s every move, Keiran realizes there may be room for romance between them after all, if only they can survive.

Rallying the Sluagh to fight in the looming war between the Seelie and Unseelie seems an impossible task. To achieve it, these childhood best friends will have to free Lugh from the restless souls haunting him and turn the tides threatening not only their growing love, but the balance of life and death itself.

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6 thoughts on “There Is No Process”

  1. Kari Lemor says:

    Nothing you write is ever horse-puckey! It’s all gold and I’ll read every word!

    1. MA Grant says:

      I’m so glad it comes across well! Just funny to discuss how your brain talks to you vs. how it talks to the rest of the world. :)

  2. Nan De Plume says:

    I can totally relate to the “no process” method of writing. As an improvisational writer myself, you won’t find anything but bullet point notes and perhaps the loosest outline in my arsenal of preparatory work.

    Thanks for sharing what “no process” looks like for you. It’s always fascinating how different authors make their work come together to create a final product that can be enjoyed by others.

    1. MA Grant says:

      Bullet points and outlines work well for me too! And I agree with you; knowing everyone approaches this process from a different place makes it even more fascinating to see the variety of the final products.

  3. Thanks so much for this!! My process is a bit like yours and it’s refreshing (and a big relief) to know I’m not the only writer out there with a process that feels messed up. And I’m not the only one who experiences “The Breakdown”. When that happens I despair of ever finishing another book ever again. It happens every time so I should be used to it but I’m not so it helps to hear someone as talented as you speak to my fears.

    1. MA Grant says:

      Oh, man, the Breakdown is a common part of my process. In a weird way, it’s comforting to know that now (after all this time). And it’s always helpful to hear other people sharing the same fears as you. Normalizing how not normal this process is has been so helpful over the years. :) Good luck with your projects! They’ll be amazing!

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