Dawn Montgomery

Own the Way you Write

In #amwriting, Write Talk on August 4, 2013 at 7:03 am

DM on writing

Ten years ago I tentatively stepped out into this writing world with a simple intention:

Write a book

I didn’t care how popular it would be or what my name would look like on the cover. I said…teach me how to translate the stories in my head to words on paper. At the time my life was full of rules and regulations. My job was very demanding and detail-oriented (calibrating medical equipment like x-ray machines, lasers, and ventilators were like that).

I needed something to let my imagination roam free so I could sleep better at night and vent my frustration in a creative way. Drawing and painting were things I loved, but it didn’t quiet my brain the way writing did.

There were hundreds of resources if you knew where to look. Plenty of people who would tell you exactly what you needed to know to succeed in writing as a career. I listened and absorbed as much as possible and then tried it all.

Snowflake method for plotting, Morgan Hawke’s Writing the Novella layout, Lynn Viehl’s Novel Notebook, Holly Lisle’s plot workshop, countless RWA and online workshops and events were how I spent most of my non-writing time. I won’t even get into the thousands of dollars in “how-to” books I purchased.

For a brief period I followed a by-the-seat-of-your-pants way of doing things (Panstering). Pure Pantstering is like dropping me in a fog-filled bog without a map or light and expecting me to stroll home in time for dinner. It didn’t work at all for me.

I couldn’t follow any of their suggestions consistently. No matter how many times I was told it would get easier and easier with every use, it didn’t. Trust me, guys, I didn’t try it once and say meh. I forced myself to follow these strict guidelines. Now, I need to note that Morgan, Lynn, and Holly have all put up disclaimers stating you should do what works for you and discard the rest. What they teach is invaluable, so don’t think I’m talking smack. I’ll get to what I learned from each of them in a minute.

These three are authors I respect more than anything.ย It must be a total fail on my part. Right? A quiet shame. While people talked about muses and amazing word counts with perfect Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, I stared at my novellas and novels with agonizing deliberation and wondered what was wrong with me.

It was two years into writing and I was an active participant in a fun writing group where we had monthly picture prompts for stories and no limit to the genres. Most of us had decided to pursue publication and several, including me, had succeeded. They talked about muses and how wonderful it was to have one. I asked, innocently enough, what if you didn’t have one? Well. Let’s just say I got quite a surprise about how screwed up my writing way was.

Lectures. Oh, the lectures about why muses are important and how I should picture this individual in my mind and how they’re pushing me to write. I have a very vivid imagination, but this muse thing seemed a little too much like an NCO hovering over my shoulder while I did intricate calibrations. My biggest issue with the muse is that it takes away your creative freedom. By saying you’re at the mercy of this thing, you empower it to prevent you from doing what you want to do…when you want to do it. I started writing because I needed that control. I’m not knocking muses, guys. Stephen King has one but he puts him to work at the same time every day. ๐Ÿ˜€ Many other extremely successful authors have them. That’s cool…for them. Remember, we’re talking about the path I took and my bumps in the road. I may not have a muse, but that has NOTHING to do with your writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

A weird thing happened while I was getting the lecture of my life on why being muse-less is a nightmare of wrong. I received an IM from someone else who said they didn’t have a muse either, but didn’t want to say anything because everyone else had one.

So then I started wondering. Everyone has an opinion on the “Right Way” of writing a story, but most of them conflict with one another. I knew it reminded me of something, but couldn’t remember what.

One day I was in the shop and we started up a conversation about holiday traditions. We had an extremely diverse group (religious and otherwise) from all over the world and every one of them had stories they remembered about Santa Claus. Each of them was an interesting take on the jolly ol’ elf and I was fascinated. Some of the stories had similar events while others were so far removed from what I know that I sat in stunned silence. Not once did anyone argue with someone else about how their version of Santa Claus was the wrong one. You should know this shop encompassed thirteen individuals, twelve of which were males. Our ages were 19-42.

No arguments about which one was right, but an appreciation that despite our religious and cultural backgrounds, we all knew SC. He was supposed to represent good will through giving gifts from the heart. We all agreed on that (though there was a jump over to commercialization of Christmas, but I digress).

Writing is like that. You, as an author, give the gift of story to your reader. Does it really matter how many elves (tools) you needed to build this story? How many times did you have to start over or discard the story because it didn’t work? The reader doesn’t care about the process. They care about the gift you give them (Take a second to see it from the eyes of a reader and you’ll agree. I know I’m that way).

So why does one person tell another that their process is wrong? I’m not talking about edits, mind you. I’m talking about the writing process.

Once I realized that others were feeling the same doubts and worry I suffered through, I started paying attention to those disclaimers I mentioned earlier. In order to really apply anything to my writing, I had to understand my OWN process first. How do you do that? Write a book. Document how you did, where you struggled. Then, once it’s done, look back at it. What do you need to do? Add words? Take away words? Overhaul dialogue?

Let me tell you what I found out about the way I write.ย 

  1. I create short and sweet character bios, usually with a picture of who I think represents them. The ABCharacter Traits I’ve mentioned before is greatly influenced by Lynn Viehl. If I have a detailed world, I’ll set up some specifics in my notebook, paste in some pictures, and follow Lynn and Holly’s world building guides.
  2. I create a very vague outline.
  3. My first draft pours out the words in quick, concise, and boring sentences without emotion and barely any description. I write down (in a notebook I keep handy) a couple of sentences about what I want out of each scene just before I write it. My attempts to try it any other way end up causing me heartache, headaches, and busted deadlines. The first draft (my roughest draft) is for me, and only me. It’s difficult to let even a writing/critique partner see it because it’s raw and uncut. I’ve only done this on a handful of occasions with the disclaimer that it’s my very (very) rough draft. Criticism, however, rears its ugly head here, and I’ve learned to keep this draft to myself. Only extreme desperation and absolute trust from someone who understands how I write this draft will let me show them my content at this point in my career.
  4. I take a few days off from the first draft and think about what emotions I want in each scene, the motivations I need to emphasize, and areas I want to make more vibrant. All from memory.
  5. I sit down and begin the second draft. During this session, I weave in emotion and tighten dialogue. The senses are expanded and sentence structure is strengthened. My word count jumps significantly despite nixing any scenes that don’t forward the story (this includes worthless subplots). Here is where I apply Morgan Hawke’s five senses and several other aspects of her writing way. Once it’s done, I’m comfortable sending the copy to critique partners.
  6. Again, the book sits for a couple of days while I review Holly Lisle’s editing workshops and a few of my personal notes on known bad habits with grammar, structure, and storytelling. My critique partners will get back to me with their notes, and I’ll jot down recurring issues in my notebook. Here is where rules and structure are important, btw. This part of the process is necessary. Editing. Is. Necessary.ย 
  7. I then do a full sweep of grammar and content, tweaking it for submission. My CPs notes are invaluable at this point. I may have to overhaul a scene or two. If a lot of changes have to be made, I’ll send it back to my critique partners with notes on the sections I’m most concerned about. Replies come back. I do the final edits. Once I finish this, it’s sent off to Beta Readers for evaluation, or, if I’m on a tight deadline, it’s formatted and submitted.

This is my Santa’s workshop. My house. The way I do business. It’s en ever-evolving process, but it works for me. If my Writing Way (or anyone else’s) causes you to break out in hives, I urge you to see if some aspect resonates with you before dismissing it completely as something you can’t do.

Also, if you don’t like my Write Way…I don’t care. And you should feel the same way. Here’s why: that person who is telling you what you’re doing is wrong will NOT be sitting up at two in the morning with bleary eyes and a pounding headache writing the book FOR you. If anything, they’ll ask you what’s taking so long. LOL.

A note to make here…there’s no point in being angry with them because you took their advice on your writing process and lost valuable writing time. Own the way you write.

Does this mean you should ignore everyone’s advice and just blindly stumble on? Nope, but you should look at the advice objectively before applying it to the way you work.

For example, there is little point in me taking a workshop or searching for articles on how to cut down your rough draft’s word count. Remember, I have to add content. My rough drafts are nothing but skin and bones. On the other hand, if there’s an article or workshop on how to strengthen scenes with the five senses or expand on the emotional arc of a character, I’ll take it. Those are areas I work on between one draft and another.

Embrace the way you write. Love the process because it’s not going anywhere. For goodness sake, realize there IS NO RIGHT WAY. That’s why the blog’s title is The Write Way, My Way. Take whatever works from any of these posts and discard the rest. You’ve got stories to tell. Don’t waste time and energy getting fussy over someone else’s toy workshop organization.

#ROW80 update

ROW80LogocopyRemaining on the list

  1. Final Frustration with Spirit Lake has me setting it off to the side. I just don’t have time to untangle whatever I’ve done wrong with it. My critique partner’s response to the rough bit I sent was that it seems like there’s a different story there and asked if writing an earlier event in the heroine’s life might work. So I’m thinking, maybe. It’s a genre I’m branching out into so I’m okay with taking it slow while I get my feet wet.
  2. The Collector is done. It was submitted, but I missed the deadline (my memory was off by a day). The editor’s quick response and sweet message was kind, but I’m kicking myself for not double-checking the date! So now I’m going to expand it a bit and send it elsewhere for consideration.
  3. Last Rites is a completed novella I found in an old WIPs folder. It’s dark, sexy, and fun. I’m a much different writer now so I have to overhaul it. A lot. LOL! It’s a fun project because I love the story.
  4. Hidden Confection is a short novella (around 10k words) with a looming deadline. It takes place in the Kitchen With world and is set for holiday release this year. I agreed to do it back in the spring, but T&R took away more time than I ever expected.
  5. Voodoo Carnival won’t make the August 5th deadline, but it was a personal one, so I’m not stressing it.

Week’s Goals:ย 

  1. Hidden Confection at 75% completion (7.5k)
  2. Last Rites at 25% overhaul
  3. Have some unforeseen editing to wrangle, but once it’s done, I’m done with it for a while.
  4. I’m following Kait Nolan’s advice this week and pushing myself 10% harder than last week by upping my writing for Voodoo Carnival by writing one scene a day.

Iโ€™m part of a fantastic group called A Round of Words in 80 Days, and if youโ€™d like to see how everyone else is doing, check out the listย HERE.

Would you like to be a part of our writing challenge? Check out the rulesย HERE.

Keep Writing!

  1. Actually, you and I write much the same, and that’s reassuring for me, as a relative newbie. ๐Ÿ™‚ And as someone who may have read quite a bit about writing, but who’s not taken any workshops yet. Hurrah!

    I’m with you on the whole, do it your way, not theirs principle. I could never understand why people try to persuade someone to change how they do something, if it’s working for them. To me, it’s like someone foisting their religion on me … it’s just wrong.

    Best of luck on ALL your many projects. I’m exhausted just looking at it all.

    Shah X

    • LOL! Shah, you see where I’m coming from. If no one talked about their process, all we’d have are a bunch of people telling us what we’re doing is wrong because EVERYONE ELSE does it this way.

      I was used to someone telling me I was doing it wrong. That was the military thing. It wasn’t enough to get the job done as each supervisor, shop NCO, new medical group commander, etc. would have a new process that had to be implemented whether it wasted time or not. So when I really got into writing, I wanted to break out of that stifling mold and do it my way. I no longer had to do what didn’t work. It was liberating. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. You and I have a fairly similar history. Lots of classes and craft books, caught in hard rules, to no rules, to our own rules. Substitute Bob Mayer, Candace Havens, and Alexandra Sokoloff for Hawke and Viehl–Lisle in common. Your path into writing and to your present state is a mirror. Our methods are a bit different now, although not by a large margin. Nice to see someone that has traveled the same path and come out the other side with a sense of calm and peace. Well done. Oh, and “no muse,” I’m more in line with Lisa Cron’s belief that the “muse” is the subconscious mind, not an outside force. What you said about people basically slaving themselves to the muse concept is dead on–an unhealthy affectation in my opinion.

    Good goals–Focus breeds success. Have a fantastic week, Dawn!

    • Welcome to the blog Gene! Your three influences are a fabulous trio!

      I’m so glad you found a path that works for you. I’ll have to check out Lisa Cron’s take on the “muse”.

      I wish you the same success, Gene!

  3. You seem to write posts when I need them. It’s as if you’re a mind reader ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have a couple of questions.
    1) How long does it usually take you from start to finish on the MS?
    2) How many hours a day are you usually putting in on average?
    3) How many books do you create and finish a year?

    • Hey Audrey! You ask the good questions. ๐Ÿ˜€

      1) Man, this one is tough. It took me six months to write a 94k novel, but during that time I wrote three short stories and a short novel as well. Each project takes as long as it takes, I suppose. Let’s say I write, on average, 500 words a day per project. So a 94k novel takes me six months. A 40k one takes me almost three. A 10k novella takes me 20 days. Etc.
      2) 4-6 hours a day on average. This is completely dependent on the number of projects I have going at one time. I run two writing groups, write this blog, and spend an additional two hours or so on Facebook talking about books and my geekdom. In an hour of dedicated writing time I can write 750-1000 words. Some days more, some days less. With four projects, that’s an hour or so on each book, minimum. I’ve been told by some this is brilliant and by others it’s a complete waste of time. That I should write one book to completion and go from there. Here’s my issue with that. If I have one book, and only one, I get bored and burned out on it. When I start to hate the characters or plot, my word count drops until I find myself avoiding the computer for days. Not good stuff. This is a hard lesson I learned during the Thunder and Roses, when, out of a sense of obligation, I poured my entire attention into the book. Three months into it I had a writing meltdown. A very dear friend suggested I write something off-the-cuff and remind myself why I liked to write. I did so and the gates opened back up. So I spent the next three months working on multiple projects and happier for it.

      When I worked full time, I’d put in these hours on the weekends but during the work week I’d be lucky to hit 250-500 words (total) a day.

      3) Fantastic question. Each year has been different based on where I was in the world. I wrote 750k words in the year+ I was deployed away from my family, but didn’t finish anything during that time. Last year I transitioned out of the military from Alaska to San Antonio so I finished three novellas. This year, I’m much more stable and in one place so I’ve finished two novels (one 94k and one 40k), three novellas (30k and under), and three short stories (less than 5k).

      I hope I answered your questions. Let me know if you need me to clarify anything.

      • Thanks Dawn. Now I know why I’m “hating” my current WIP. Maybe I need to try and multitask with another one as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. At last. Someone else who thinks a muse would be intrusive, that shadow who leans over and says, “No, not there!” Thank you for describing your overall process. I admire your ability to separate the writing from the editing, to really let those early drafts mature before you attack away with revision and that meat grinder of all, final edits. I too am wondering how long from start to finish (mine currently takes me 2-3 years). But maybe that’s because I don’t have a muse! Very helpful post. Have a good 10% harder week!

    • I have writing friends who have to edit while they write and I am in awe of that. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

      I plan for 500 words a day per project. Anything more than that is gravy. For my ambitious projects, I’ll do a scene a day. That can be anywhere from 1500-2000 words, but I typically do this only when I have nothing else going (this week is a challenge, but we’ll see how I do with Voodoo). Some days are less and some are more, but I’ll check my average for the week to make sure I’m staying on target. If, like Spirit Lake, I go two weeks without making my goal, I reevaluate my schedule, the book, and where I’m at in it. If it moves into three weeks, I’ll shelve it until I can work through the problem (usually when I least expect it)…unless it’s contracted, in which case I tear it apart and pour all my effort into it.

      When I do edits, I will plan for five pages a day in the first round. By the time I get to the final edits, it’ll be two chapters a day until it’s done. There are some other things I do in edits, but this is the most basic schedule I use.

  5. Well, now I see a few directions that I can take, the main one being, BE MYSELF. At least I am not alone in this crazy creative world of writing.
    I see where I need to improve by reading your process. I need a partner to critique what I am doing, and follow the first advice given to me…just write, add and edit later, get the story out of your head.
    Since I have never taken any courses on writing, I may see if I can find a workshop or two that may help, any suggestion would be welcomed and appreciated. And a great big thanks for the advice!

    • There are some things you need to know about critique partners. First…you have to trust that they won’t abuse the relationship. They can’t talk about anything that happens in your books. Where you’re struggling. Nothing. They see you at your worst and best. Second…it needs to be someone who understands how you write. If it’s someone you’re trying to emulate, they’re more of a mentor than a critique partner. It doesn’t matter how many books they have under their belt, a quality crit partnership is built on a level playing field. They have to respect you and you have to respect them or it won’t work. Third…don’t pay for a critique. Not yet, if ever. Fourth…know that finding the right critique partners take time. I have one CP who was all wrong for me seven years ago, but now that we’ve both grown as writers and matured, we work together like you wouldn’t believe.

      There are some fantastic courses available for free. Online workshops. Development tools. One of my favorite sites is ‘s. She has a fantastic way of breaking things down and has hosted several online workshops (with my favorite price tag…free). She written in several genres, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Romantic Suspense, Dark Fantasy Romance, young adult, etc. I’d recommend scoping our her blog for fantastic tips. I’m always hesitant to suggest a workshop with a price tag because only you can know if it has something you need.

      It would be easier for you to tell me what you want to learn (and everything doesn’t help LOL) and I can point you in the right direction. Or, if you don’t know, just say you want to know where to start. I was recently a part of a Marketing for Romance Writers workshop and attended several on Romance Divas. Coffeetime Romance has inhouse workshops all the time. There are tons out there for whatever genre/subgenre you’re interested in.

      I love the advice you were given! It all begins with you writing. Edits won’t write the next 20k words in your book. Neither will workshops, blog hops, or anything else. Only you can write it.

      Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you have anything specific you’re looking for. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Let us just say, the beginning, LOL. I self-published my first attempt so fast that, as I step back and look, it is not what I would like it to be.(I get in a hurry) I am re-editing and will re-publish it when I feel it is polished.

        A good start would be basic fantasy writing, then I will move on to the query and marketing. I have looked up several different things about them and seem to come up with conflicting advice on all of it. Being new at something with such a vast field is a bit confusing, and more than a bit overwhelming.

        I can always be reached at cdsimmons7397@yahoo.com


      • Okay, since we’re talking fantasy…I have two places that might help you with everything you need. One is a book and while it’s definitely not necessary, it has a way of simplifying fantasy (and science fiction) in a way that can’t be beat. The other one is a website packed full of things to help you. This comment is link heavy, so bear with me. LOL. I’ll also start up a link page with resources on querying and marketing.

        The first is a book. Say what you will about his political posturing, but Orson Scott Card breaks down fantasy like nothing else I’ve read (fantasy is where I first wanted to write, so I spent a lot of research and $ in that area). His book is called How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s a slim book and you’d easily overlook it on a book shelf, but trust me…it’s a great one for your library.

        The next place I’ll direct you is Holly Lisle’s website. She has an amazing amount of articles that break down everything. From

        http://hollylisle.com/how-to-start-a-novel/ How to Start a Novel (make sure you scroll all the way down on that page if it looks blank. The layout is broken in my browser)
        http://hollylisle.com/how-i-drew-a-map-and-sold-three-books-and-a-world/ Fantasy Map Building (scroll down again)
        http://hollylisle.com/worldbuilding-my-novels/ Worldbuilding from Start to Finish
        http://hollylisle.com/fantasy-is-not-for-sissies-real-rules-for-real-worlds/ World Building is not for sissies
        http://hollylisle.com/scene-creation-workshop-writing-scenes-that-move-your-story-forward/ Writing Scenes that move your story forward (She has several articles as well on what to do when you get stuck)
        http://hollylisle.com/how-to-finish-a-novel/ How to Finish Your Novel
        http://hollylisle.com/how-to-revise-a-novel/ How to Revise Your Novel (A more in depth one: http://hollylisle.com/one-pass-manuscript-revision-from-first-draft-to-last-in-one-cycle/ )

        If you can afford it, you might consider taking her Revising the Novel Workshop for your book. It’s a steep price, but well worth it. All of these go straight to the site without any affiliate links.

        She also has FANTASTIC (and free) http://hollylisle.com/faqs-about-selfpublishing/ Tips on self publishing.

        I really hope these help!

      • You are ACES! Thanks So much for the info. It is mind-numbing pouring through all the stuff out there, and without guidance, you could lose a lot of time and money. Not to mention, my confidence in what I wanted to accomplish with this.


      • Glad it helped! Don’t go through it all at once. It’s like Alice walking into Wonderland. Makes no sense to her, but everyone else gets it. Over time you’ll start to wade through what you need and when. Keep writing and don’t stop. Confidence comes when you start to get a handle on what’s expected from readers and editors.

  6. Had some crazy link problems in my response today, so sorry if you got multiple notices of comment updates. I had to fix them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Dawn,

    I’ve always stubbornly refused to be anyone but me. I’m thinking that’s helped in my writing.

    I have a little handmade art doll. She is my dollanganger, and was made by a very talented friend. She sits on a shelf in my study, and I call her my Mobile Muse, because, at only a few inches high, she is highly portable.

    She isn’t really a muse, though, more like an inspiring talisman, like the jars of shells and rocks I keep close to hand…

    I learned a long time ago that I love buffets. Buffets of ideas, projects, goals – so that I can explore and make choices. One thing at a time doesn’t even work for me when I’m hometending.

    I love this post, and the reflection and learning in it. May we all continue to grow into our very own versions of the Write Way, Our Way!

    • sweetie, you know that’s the truth. Relying on your own hard work and sweat makes it mean more in the end.

      I wonder if you would take a picture of your talisman. ๐Ÿ˜€ I have my travel monkey who was with me during my last deployment, my first valentines day bears, my kids pictures hanging on the wall right above my monitor, and a handwritten note from a friend with encouragement. I look to those when I need encouragement and to remind myself why I’m doing this. Unfortunately, looking at any one of these objects have failed to inspire me on a new story idea or given me a breathrough in a scene. They just keep me happy.

      An idea buffet. ๐Ÿ˜€ Now that’s an interesting concept. ๐Ÿ˜€ Making choices rather than working on one thing straight…yes!

      *high five* As long as we keep writing, just about anything is possible!

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