Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fantasy writer Gail Z. Martin shares her secrets for getting a book written

Writing is a very personal activity, and we each do it in our own, idiosyncratic way. My guest this week is fantasy author Gail Z. Martin, whose newest book, Ice Forged: Book One in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), launched in January 2013.  Gail is also the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series (Solaris Books) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (Orbit Books).  Here she offers some candid thoughts about how she writes.

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A Method to the Madness

Anne asked me to write about my process for writing.

Which made me stop and think: Do I have a process?  And if I do, can I explain it?

Here’s where I wish I could launch into a detailed explanation of my very cool, very “literary” (you have to say that word with a bit of a British accent and separate the syllables so it sounds very upper crust) process of wandering through the woods, listening to classical music and reading philosophy.

Ah, yes.  Ahem.  Except that I don’t really work that way.

Well, sometimes I listen to classical music. 

The reality goes more like this.  I get an idea.  I noodle on the idea while I walk the dogs and do the dishes and drive in traffic.  The idea expands.  I write an outline, which tends to make my agent and editor very happy.

I noodle on the outline and revise it. I start writing, and visualize the scene, so when I’m typing, I’m just transcribing the “movie” I see on the inside of my eyelids.  I keep on going this way, asking, “and then what?” and typing away, often with a glazed look on my face.  Family members complain that they can walk in front of me, speak to me, wave their hands and jump up and down and I don’t notice.  (This used to freak out my college roommates.)

This is especially true when I’m working on something new, like my new book Ice Forged, the first book in a brand new series.  It took a lot of noodling to get to the point where I was clear on where I was going in a whole new world!

I start out each day reading what I wrote the day before and making minor tweaks. I ignore the outline until I get stuck.  Then I dig it out and noodle on it some more.  I print out the first hundred or so pages and read over them, which usually gets me unstuck.  Every couple hundred pages, I’ll read from start to end point, which generates ideas, identifies continuity errors and reassures me that the project is actually turning out well.

Once I reach the end of the first draft, I’ll print it, read it, and mark it up.  Then I give it to my husband, who goes over it again and marks it up some more.  Next, I’ll sit down at the computer and make all the changes, then print it out again and start the reading/mark-up process.  We’ll do this seven or eight times.

Then I’ll turn it in, my editor will read it over and mark it up, and send it back.  I’ll revise.  Then the copy editor will do the same thing.  And I’ll revise.  Finished!

Every writer I talk to has a different process.  Some write in absolute silence, while others need to be in the middle of a busy coffee shop to focus.  Some never read anything they’ve written until the end, others second-guess themselves at nearly every paragraph.  Some writers share their work-in-progress with a writing group or their beta readers.  And judging by the acknowledgements in the front of many books, some writers consult a huge team of experts, researchers and supporters in the process of birthing their book.

So how do YOU write?  There’s no right or wrong—it’s whatever works for you and produces a good outcome.  Does your writing process make you happy, or increase your stress?  Does it improve your productivity or slow you down?  The good news is, if your writing process isn’t working for you, there are lots of other processes you can try on for size until you find the combination that is perfect for you.

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For more about Gail’s books and short stories, visit her website. She's on Twitter @GailZMartin.

Read an excerpt from Ice Forged here.  Purchase Ice Forged at Amazon, BN, and many other sites.


  1. I love your way of noodling, Gail. I noodle in freewriting, because I worry about not paying enough attention when I cross the road. (Can't multi-task, really.) It's wonderful there isn't a one-size-for-all process. Wishing you lots of success with Ice Forged! The cover's very cool.

  2. It's best not to noodle when walking in traffic. My family has kept me from wandering out in front of cars several times when my head has been working on a book.

  3. Wow, your noodling sounds exactly like mine! In fact, alot of your process is similar to mine, however I have to have total silence to write. No music, no nothing, no barking dogs. Maybe that's why I don't seem to find nearly enough time to write!

  4. Ah, the part where you sit in front of your computer with a glazed look on your face, and your family members commit mayhem in front of you and you don't even register the havoc, reminds me so much of me. I get frequent complaints from my family that I never listen. I do try. I really make an effort. But I get so wrapped in the story that when the person trying to talk to me asks my opinion on what they were talking about, I generally have to apologize and have them start from the beginning.