Blog

Concluding the Cozy Experiment

Alas, all good experiments must come to an end. If you’ve been reading along, you may remember that last fall I asked myself a question: Was it possible for me to write more quickly, publish more frequently, and have more fun? I’d been frustrated by my slow writing pace and I wanted to improve. So to answer my question, I decided to write a series of cozy mysteries, fast. Along the way I tried different techniques, and I made notes about what I was learning. I’ve written about the experiment here , here , here , and here .

Today marks a happy little milestone. My third cozy mystery, The Case of the Floating Funeral, is available to pre-order . Woot! And as I was putting together a reflection post about my third cozy, I realized that I’ve answered my initial questions. I pulled out my calendar, subtracted out vacation time, and saw that I’ve written and published three cozy mysteries in seven months. As someone who used to take a year (or three) to finish a novel, that feels really good! Best of all, I had plenty fun along the way.  While I’ll continue to use what I’ve learned, I’m ready to move my attention to topics beyond authorial velocity_._

And what have I learned by writing cozy mysteries quickly? Plenty. Here are my top six takeaways:

  1. Planning my story out in advance helps me write more quickly. But there’s a catch. I need to let my outline evolve – the story surprises me as I go – and that’s good!  A tight outline is too paint-by-numbers and a lack of an outline leaves me flailing.

  2. Working like a banker is ideal, because creativity thrives under conditions of routine.

  3. Some aspects of my editing needed less attention (over-edited prose is unflavored tofu) and some areas needed more attention (proofreading is haaaard).

  4. At each stage in the writing process, I should write as if I’m producing a final draft. No shitty first drafts! And no leaving a mess to clean up later. This mindset doesn’t eliminate the need for editing, but this whole “write trash and don’t worry about it until editing” ethic writers are encouraged to adopt is pretty damaging, IMO. Do your best work each time, and it will still need some improvement. But the flip side of editing is that I need to set a deadline and stick to it! That’s my counter-measure against getting stuck. Without a reasonable deadline, I’ll fiddle with my current story until the end of time and publish nothing.

  5. I’m physically capable of writing a novel in 12 days. But working at that speed isn’t sustainable if I want to have a working brain at the end of the day. Everyone’s different, but my productivity sweet spot is somewhere around 3000 words of fiction per day, 5-6 days per week. And if I were writing part-time, I’d keep the 5-6 days per week part and drop my daily word count way down. Consistency is king. Writing works best when we “get into the groove” and it takes time to shovel that groove out and maintain it.

  6. It helps to have a touch of that classic artistic arrogance if you’re going to make art. I’m not talking about being a jerk. But there will always be people who disagree with your choices, and your job isn’t to appease backseat writers. ☺️ Art involves choices, choices are what make a work unique, and tastes differ widely. As I get stronger in my own voice and perspective, I react to feedback differently. I used to think “Oh no! They hate it! I’m screwing up!” and now I ask myself “Are they pointing out a problem with my writing, or do they wish I’d written a different story with different characters?” It takes practice to discern that difference.

Not too bad for seven months of experimentation, eh?

What’s Next?

MOAR books of course! Now that I’ve set a sane-but-swift writing pace, I want to maintain it. As planned, I’m going to swing over to work on my Emerald City Spies series next. My overarching goal is to wrap up all my series-in-progress, and after three cute-and-fun cozies in a row I’m in the mood to hang out with my devious business bitches for a while. 😜 I have a couple more cruise cozies to develop, and I’m also doing prep-work for a Kat Voyzey PI novel.

Onward!

PS: My next cozy mystery is out in one week on May 15th.

Pre-order The Case of the Floating Funeral 

Beginnings Always Feel This Way

Good morning, world.

Today’s post comes to you live from the land of I finished my next novel and I’m full of emotions. That’s right. The Case of the Floating Funeral is written and it’s time to switch over to copyediting and proofreading mode. And I’ll probably end up rewriting the final scene a few more times in the process. Gotta stick that landing, you know?

Finishing a novel is such a strange feeling. On the one hand, you feel proud and happy. Yet at the exact same time you want to nudge your manuscript under a rug with your foot while pointing to your left and shouting “look, a bunny!” At least that’s how it goes for me. Preparing a creative work for sale always results in conflicted emotions:

I AM AMAZING AND THE WORLD MUST KNOW

I TOTALLY SUCK AND I SHOULD HIDE

Strange, right? Pride and fear manage to live side-by-side on days like today.  And they’re both poking me with their bony little fingers. So I try to slap them away. STAAAAAHP IT! 😆

There’s a trick I used back when I did a lot of public speaking. Even though I enjoyed giving talks, my body refused to believe that I liked it.  My heart would race and my palms would sweat. My smile felt like a fakey-fake sticker affixed to my face. I could even hear my pulse in my ears. And let me tell you, when your logic-circuits tell you that you’re going to do just fine but your body insists that you’re about to be eaten by a rabid grizzly bear, it’s extremely annoying. So I had a trick I borrowed from another consultant: I’d notice my body freaking out (like it always did) and I’d say to myself: It’s fine! I’m just revving my engine at the starting line.

When emotions won’t listen to reason, you can reframe them a little. Sometimes it even helps to mock them. Ah, yes. Here come my emotions! Those drama queens. Flipping out right on schedule.

So that’s where I’m at today, blog buddies. I finished another manuscript. The Case of the Floating Funeral will be my seventh novel.  Woot! And my emotions are going haywire. So I’ll take a breath here and say: It’s fine. I’m just revving my engine at the starting line. There’s nothing wrong. Beginnings always feel this way.

And it works!

It works because it’s true.

 

PS: You can get notified when my book goes live.

Death Valley Dreamscapes

Patrick stands on a white path made of salt looking at distant mountains. A panorama of a brown rumply mountain rising up behind a flat plain of white salt and brown earth A panorama of the salt flats of Death Valley. The salt has risen from the earth forming a lattice-like pattern of rough diamonds with flat centers and roughened margins of earth.

In Death Valley we walked across a sea of salt surrounded by distant mountains. We saw pink and green and purple mountains. Rippling dunes of soft sand. Martian hills dotted with angular black stones. Alien landscapes. Impossible vistas.

Was Death Valley a real place, or did I dream it? I have photos… but I still can’t be sure.

One Day in Zion

On the lower left corner, a section of road. Above the road and cars, a dramatic red wall formed of rock rises straight up. Chunks of rock are missing, as if someone took a huge chisel to the side of the cliff in places. A dramatic wall of red rock cliffs above a scrubby desert with large dry bushes. Another view of the red rock cliffs of Zion national park.

After a long drive through Utah, we spent a full day at Zion National Park. After dark, we went back to stargaze. We stood in the dark until our night vision improved, surrounded by rocky cliffs and a canopy of stars. Moonlight cast shadows on the ground. Mule deer grazed just outside the campgrounds, staring at us with wide-spread ears as we passed by.

I love the city life, but time in nature fills the spirit up like nothing else. ❤️ I’m so glad we came.

Yet it’s been a strange time to travel. When we left Seattle a week ago, the COVID-19 outbreak was limited to a small group of cases at a nursing home in a neighboring town. But since then, more cases have appeared and local governments have done a hard turn into mitigation strategies. It’s been shocking to see how quickly it’s all unfolded. Tens of thousands of workers are working from home, local events have been shut down, and I hear our always-terrible traffic has disappeared.

On the whole, I’m proud of my city and state. Government, business, and individuals are coming together to make things safer in an uncertain time. Emerald City Comicon is postponing next weekend’s event, prioritizing public health at what I assume is a high economic cost.

I see lots of good choices being made in Washington State in a time when good choices are difficult. It’s been too long since I felt anything positive about government and industry. So I suppose that’s a thin silver lining to come from all this.

Here on the road, we’re reducing risk as best we can. Every hotel room gets a thorough sanitizing with bleach wipes before we settle in, including all knobs, switches, and remotes. We wash our hands a lot, and carry hand sanitizer in our pockets. I wipe down our cell phones too, and we’re avoiding crowded areas. Our biggest risk comes from eating out, probably.

Over the next week, we’ll swing west, and then north, gradually making our way back to Seattle to hole up in our condo. There, we’ll dine on my stash of frozen burritos while I finish my book. And I’ll fall asleep thinking of Zion, shining silver and black in the moonlight.

This place won’t be leaving my heart anytime soon.

The Cozy Experiment: Part Four

Greetings from the land of bookish beginnings! At the moment, I’m 14,000 words into the first draft of my next cozy mystery, The Case of the Floating Funeral, and things are ticking along nicely so far. It’s time for an update on my Cozy Experiment, in which I’m trying to have more fun, write more books, and publish more frequently.

Tip: you can find my past posts here , here , and here .

For my first two cozy books, I focused on productivity. I’ve been asking: How do I write a first draft in a month? And how do I go through the editorial and publishing steps more quickly? Now, I’m focused on process & craft.

Here are some notes on how that’s going:

Painting and Banking

Writing six books in a year when you’re used to writing one is a big jump! I’ve gotten organized by spending more time up front figuring out what my book is about before I start writing it. I write the blurb that goes on the back of the book first, then I make a beat sheet and start getting to know my characters, and I even start working on the cover. I’ve got all that stuff down before I start writing.

Does the book diverge from my plans? Do characters grow beyond what I expected? Absolutely! And that’s fun. But all my prep work has left me feeling like a house painter. I put up scaffolding, check colors against the light, and mask off all the trim before cracking open that first can of semi-gloss. Careful preparation makes the writing process go more smoothly, and smooth is a very good thing when you’re trying to write six books in a year

To switch metaphors, I’m also getting organized by working like a banker. I’m talking about waking up at the same time every day, drinking the same coffee, sitting in the same chair, and working for a predictable number of hours. As a lifelong night owl who prefers to dance to her own drumbeat, this isn’t how I saw things going for me! But I can’t deny the results I’m getting. The more predictable my butt-in-chair time becomes, the more work I get done.

My biggest relief? None of these things makes the work any less creative, or any less fun. It’s all just scaffolding.

My takeaway: Creativity thrives under conditions of routine.

Writing Fat & Breaking Rules

I’m also learning how to reduce rework. Here are a couple examples:

I’m trying to write fat. My tendency is to write a first draft that’s skimpy on sensory details and then go back and add in those pieces in the second draft. Mysteries are tricky, structurally, and in the first draft I’m trying to keep the damn story straight. But I’ve found that writing a thin first draft means that the second draft takes weeks of work. Also, it’s awkward to shoehorn in the details later; they sound far more natural when I handle them in the moment. So that’s an improvement I’m making: Switching from thin first drafts to fat ones.

Also, I’m doing more editing as I go. Writers are told that they shouldn’t edit as they go, so this goes contrary to the “rules.” But I’m not talking about endless cycles of rewriting. I’m talking about finishing a few chapters, then taking 30 minutes to read them out loud, checking that the rhythm sounds good. A cursory style and grammar check takes only a few minutes, and it leaves my first draft in good shape.

What do all these process improvements add up to? Cleaner and better first drafts that don’t require a butt-ton of editing. Yay!

My takeaway: Writing clean first drafts is a time saver.

Craft Work

When you spend multiple months with your nose pressed up to your own writing, it’s natural that you’ll notice some of the weaknesses in your own work. One of my weaknesses is the stiffness in my third-person POV. To summarize, there’s a big difference between me writing “Ellie saw…” or “Ellie thought…” and simply dropping behind Ellie’s eyes and describing what’s happening from her unique viewpoint. Most beginning writers (me included) start with first person POV because there’s an easier intimacy with the character. Now that I’m writing third-person, I need to recapture that closeness with a slightly different camera.

Right here is a big advantage of writing more quickly! Now that I’ve got the basics of “write faster, publish faster” down, I can pick a skill to strengthen for each book. Thus I hope to “level up” with every story I write.

My takeaway: Writing quickly gives you more chances to level up.

The Lightbulb vs. The Wardrobe

February marks my fourth consecutive month of the cozy experiment. And I’m loving the writing life. It’s so different than the work I’ve done before.

In all my other jobs, I’ve felt responsible for maintaining a certain level of… outward energy. It was as if my feet were attached to invisible pedals, and I had to pedal furiously to keep a lightbulb lit. The lightbulb was my career! And this wasn’t a bad thing. I often enjoy doing difficult things, and keeping my lightbulb lit was a point of pride for many years. But I ended my days feeling wiped out.

In contrast, writing has a different feel. Those invisible pedals are gone, and there’s no lightbulb to be found. It’s more like… I climb through a wardrobe into Narnia six days per week, only it’s my version of Narnia. (So many murders!) And when I climb back out of the wardrobe at the end of the day, my energy isn’t gone. My batteries are still at 100% For a while, I thought this was a fluke, but maybe it’s the new normal?

Life is uncertain, blog buddies, and it’s always possible that I’ll need to return to the lightbulb life. And if that happens, I can certainly deal. But it’s been so strange and wonderful to be able to fully apply myself without feeling like the walking dead by Friday afternoon. And while I’d be a fool to expect this will last forever, because nothing does, I’ll grip the writing life with both hands and hold on for as long as I can.

Anyway, I’m due back in Murder-Narnia for my shift, so I gotta run. Thanks for following along with me while I figure things out.

Pagination