The hero isn't always the good guy, or girl.

evil plot bunnies

Trust the process

A reader question:

What do you do when a new idea forms/is imagined you’re still working on a book? Do you work on it right away or finish the current project first?

At any given time I have between one and seven projects in varying stages. I’m definitely distracted by new ideas. However, putting away the current project isn’t something I’m keen on. There are a few reasons for this.

Foremost, I understand myself. I can’t tell you how many “hobbies” I’ve had in my life. From the extremely expensive (building my “dream car”) to the seemingly cheap. Yes, I had a hemp jewelry phase, and it wasn’t cheap in the slightest. I’ve the bulk bought rolls of colored cord to prove it. And don’t even get me started on oil painting. Do you know how much a good sable brush costs?

Writing sometimes doesn’t come cheaply either. If I calculated the hours I put into this work, I’m getting paid between .02 cents to .14 cents an hour. That’s hundreths of a cent, not 2 and 14 cents, respectively. The decision to put something down and potentially never come back to it has become a deliberate thing. I learned this when I shopped my suspense series to trad agents. Shelving a project for six to nine months because it was in reviews and rewrites was excruciating. I had a choice at that point. Go through another year of this singular effort (aka the ONE STORY to RULE THEM ALL) and get repped, or go rogue?

Of course I went rogue.

I’m not patient. At all. It likely was the worst thing I could have done for my career, but the best thing for my sanity. At that time I also talked to a book career coach who understood me because, get this, they understood neurodivergence! Huh. So all those times I was called “space case” weren’t me be distracted or lazy or bored? Things began to click. The hyperfixation, the inablity to just “let it go,” the extreme self doubt, the odd sleep cycles, my whole life. I wasn’t alone! Yay! and boo. I faced the very real possibility that writing was one of my hyper fixations.

One I really loved. Then I had a bit of an ephiphany. I’ve been writing stories my entire life. Ever since I could make them up. Those hours playing by myself and making the little people act out their lives in the little A-Frame, or the castle? Me telling myself stories. The times I’d talk to the trees in the woods, imagining fairies and such? Yup. This helped me understand that even if I wasn’t a “professional” writer (and nope, that’s only my self-doubt talking because YUP, I’ve gotten royalty checks) that my passion for stories wouldn’t disappear tomorrow. I needed that reassurance.

And I needed to develop methods to support my need for the dopamine fix, AND satiate the need for order warring against themselves in my brain. A process, a good one that had phases and milestones and timelines, and… Wait a minute, that sounds like my damn day job.

Could I really manage myself like a project?

Huh. Yeah, I could. Up until I finally figure out how I’m tricking myself into the work. Then I build other safeguards, like an “out” process IF the story isn’t working. Maybe even organize it into steps. Like a ten-step process or something? Yeah, that would work, as long as it isn’t boring AF. Right?

Step One: Make the idea simmer. If it is good, it will wait. If it is half baked, I’ll find it six months from now and it will be a bunch of BS. There may be a nugget or two that works, but if it isn’t good, it isn’t good.

Step Two: ask “Will the time investment involved PAY?” That’s why I write short stories often. Low time investment, no kicking myself for sunk costs when I could have been doing something I’m more passionate about that my current fan base enjoys.

Step Three: Write a bit and wait it out. I’ll hit a roadblock eventually. It happens right after the “Break into Two” moment when I figure out I’ve done something that doesn’t fit the plan. Or it has gone down a tangent that isn’t going to be easily married into the concept. A good example of this is “Ashley” and her presence in my latest book, “Dueling Flames.” The parts where she is on page or her past comes up got rewritten so many times. I vacillated between making her a villain, giving myself a growing list of villains for the book, or making her a foil or a mirror. All of those possibilities made their way into the “plot” in some ways, and were eventually worked out as I did Step Four, explained next.

Step Four: Work backwards from the end. Some of the ideas only have the one detail “And they lived happiliy ever after” worked out. Other stories may have a nice little murder figured out as well as the HEA. (Yeah, I plan for at least ONE in every book. I’m viscous to my characters in that way.) By working from what I have figured out, I can stick pins in the murder board and weave their strings back to the events already written. In this way I get insight into the motivation of the characters involved. And also, poke holes in it. Poke holes in the reactions people have to the events. Tie real thought back into what ends up in the story and what doesn’t.

I’m not a true plotter, nor am I pantser. And, worse still, I do not ever intend on writing a garbage draft. I can’t. My obsession with “perfection” is too intrinsically tied to my sanity. Wasting time in that fashion is simply NOT done. Thanks Mom for that programming. And I love her despite that. She was a product of similar conditioning in an era where that type of behavior was considered essential to raising “sucessful” children. Who cared if they wanted to off themselves for it? (shh!)

Which brings me to the next step.

Step FIve: Let it go, in small chunks. PLAN for a chapter or five to go into the trash. Do it EARLY to avoid scrapping or rewriting an entire story. If it isn’t working no amount of hammering is going to make it fit. Dump it like that bad boyfriend. Don’t invest nine years of your life trying to change something broken. Get out before it smacks you in the face… Um… yeah we’re still talking books here, right? Trust me, dump it early.

Step Six: Some scenes stand out, get them written as soon as you can. I did this in “Dreams in the Dark.” There was this scene stuck in my head of Indy holding Edie’s ex at gunpoint and telling Edie that yes, he really does love her. (Despite never saying it before.) Maybe that was me, mixing up movies (Indiana Jones and Star Wars – same actor, sue me.) with my book character, who really was a swaggering, thieving, scruffy nerf-herder with a knack for finding dinosaur bones. (True, fictional story, go read Stone into Stars.) Now, did I know whether old Eddie lived or died at that point? No. I needed to do a lot more research on the very BEST ways to get even with a narcissist first. That was real life influencing that decision. And it helped bridge where I was stuck in the middle of the story with the end. Filling in the gaps got easier at that point because I knew where it was heading.

Step Seven: Distractions like research aren’t always bad. You may have seen some of my “rabbit hole” posts. If you haven’t, check them out. There’s everything in there from West Virginia dueling laws to Pantone color theory. Writing is like self-directed school. Learning everything about something is a good thing. It adds depth and nuance to the stories. And it is fun! (for me.) Plus, bonus, I can turn that into blog content when I just cant do the thing with the brain where the stuff happens for the painful marketing part of the job. (aka, adapt your long-form content into multiple channel short form content. ICK)

Step Eight: Daydream the EFF out of every scene. If I had a dollar for every imagined kiss that never made it to paper… But OH, that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of writing sexy romance. Letting the leads play. With each other! Loving LOVE, and the way the building of a new relationship is just so… SWOON. I’ll spend hours out of every week during the months that it takes to write going over those scenes. Will it work this way or that way? What would they say? How would they react if? Is she thinking this, or this? Is he thinking this or this? It’s a great game full of all sorts of dopamine.

Step Nine: A new plot bunny means longevity. Getting that next great idea, I’m eyballing YOU, Wombat, dang it, means that even if Jackson and his ex aren’t talking to each other, there’s another story lined up to take their place if they need to work a few more things out before they can fall in love again. (HINTS and SPOILERS there.) You got to let that bunny boil a bit. (whoops, another potential spoiler.) The distraction of a new idea means that I haven’t run the well dry. I can take comfort from that. When Truth as Poison was released into the Wilde, I almost quit. It was a LOW point. Dad just died, Covid was STILL sweeping across the country, and my goodness, LIFE was uncertain. It could have been the end for me there. I slogged through finishing the third DeSantos book out of sheer spite.

And in that slog, found both the title and a mantra. Thrive. Grief is necessary, but so is the climb back. Figuring out how to carry that grief with you to a state where it isn’t a huge black hole is something. I won’t say it is an accomplishment, but it is a passage. Like walking through the cave and emerging on the other side. The journey in itself makes its mark. When you finally stand in the sun and breathe in cleanly, there’s a joy. Taking that next step forward becomes an act of happiness and light. Eventually it happens. Thriving despite pain is an end goal. One that really doesn’t have an end, per se. You can continue to take one more step. Savor the GOOD things, while holding those painful moments dear because their bite makes this singular moment of happy that much more meaningful and brilliant.

Oh plot bunny built on obligation, you taught me how to be tough.

And finally when Boots walks up and says, “Hi, I’m Boots, wanna f*ck?” You embrace it with JOY and EXHILARATION and write the shit ouf of the fun stuff.

Step Ten: Because I need to round this out. Finish the project you’re working on so you can get that next dopamine hit of the opening lines, the falling in love, the character traits and quirks, those sexy scenes, all of that. It won’t happen unless you get this project off your plate. Do it! Do it WELL! Don’t rush, but don’t procrastinate. Something else is WAITING…

TL;DR

Yes. I’m distracted by the new shiny, I do SOME work on it, shelve it, finish the current work, dust off the next project and wait for MORE ideas.

For example:

  • Boil the bunny/shut the fuck up friday – Wombat
  • Divorcing a king isn’t easy. Doing it twice, deadly
  • There’s NO WAY that all happened in one night
  • True love finds a way
  • Dragon Lady, mother of demons, is sexy AF. Also deadly AF.
  • Space… the final frontier for Mob bosses.

And those are just the ones that have lasted beyond being shelved.

The ten steps of the process listicle:

  1. Make the idea simmer to stick later.
  2. Evaluate the cost of your idea.
  3. Expect the road to be blocked.
  4. Work from the end and fill in the holes later.
  5. Let it go, in small chunks. It’s better to delete early.
  6. Some scenes stand out. Write them out of order.
  7. Distractions (aka research) aren’t bad. Embrace them.
  8. Daydream the eff out of your story.
  9. Plot bunnies are your next story. Celebrate longevity.
  10. Finish what you’re working on so you can move on.