On Literary Markup Languages

 (from the Twitterverse) recently tweeted about adding notes to his work so he can go back and check/fix things later. It got me thinking so I thought I’d share the basics of my writing process. I imagine most authors do pretty kuch the same list. Mine’ll be tinged with tech style because my background’s in IT.

  1. Read voraciously. Like, A LOT!!! Get as much general knowledge passing through my brain as possible (most of it won’t stick) to use as fodder for ideas. I use Evernote (Disclaimer: Evernote doesn’t know I exist and will, no doubt, never use me for advertising or give me any money) to clip articles that I might be interested in from everywhere. Think, news websites, science sites, anything 3000 Facebook Likes drops into my timeline, etc. I do this because I can then sync them to my tablet and read them on busses and wotnot. That’s just my thing though.
  2. Whenever I find an article that could be useful for a novel – a seed idea – I move it to a folder for that purpose. Right now I’m in pre-planning on a sci-fi novel so whenever I read a science article (because I’m interested) and think it might be useful for my novel, I save the article there for later. If it’s not useful I delete it when done.
  3. Never start a novel by writing the beginning of the novel. Noob! I spend months basically daydreaming it out as I walk various places and dictate lots of notes into my phone. Eventually, I get busy with the copy-and-paste and move them all into a real planning doc. By the time this is finished, my plan will be vague, full of holes and contain no character names, place names or any other useful identifiers. Perfect. It’s time to write.
  4. A few months of regurgitating whenever comes into my mind onto the screen and I’ll have a few chapters bashed out with lots of events, no feelings, smells and too little dialog. Editing passes 1 through 3 fix some of those flaws. By this point I’ll have half of the names, if they come to me spontaneously as I type. No, seriously, I’ll have all of the names here, but each name typically takes me 2-3 hours of passive time in a cafe. More on names some other time.
  5. Now here’s the reasons I wrote this long-winded blog post. I go back over my text and highlight it in some important ways during editing.
    1. GREEN – I highlight in green all details that I find in my text which didn’t come from my planning doc. these need to be reconciled with my planning doc before I do anything else. This prevents (most) inconsistencies. It also adds 50 pages to my planning doc as I fill in the details of my characters, places and timeline.
    2. RED – When I’m working on the timing and pacing, I highlight anything that refers to times in red. This allows me to scan the novel (knowing it well, as I do) and recheck that my night doesn’t contain, for example, 50 hours worth of events.
    3. YELLOW – Anything which I’m unsure of, linguistically, gets highlighted in yellow. This tells me to go check a dictionary or Wikipedia or whatever I need to, to confirm something.
  6. Typically, 80% of my highlights are green, because I plan only the most important scenes in detail and let my mind (and fingers on the keyboard) wander when my plan only tells me how the scene has to begin and end but not how it has to get there. I find this works really well for me.
  7. One last thing. I also add level-2 chapter headings all throughout my text (typically at the beginning of every scene) which act as spoilers to say what happens in that section. They might be short but can be 3 lines long. When auto-copied into my working contents page, they help me to layout and pace my novel much more easily.
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