Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Questions about my process

I received an email yesterday in response to the Reddit AMA, and I asked the author if I could respond in public and use his email as an informal Q&A. He said to go for it; so here it is.

Hey Hugh,

Hey Mike!

I have a suggestion for a blog entry for you if you’re willing. How about a rundown on your writing process? It may not resonate with all of your fans, but if there’s more of them like me (who are trying their own hand at storytelling) then I think it would be a great blog post.

Great idea!

I tried again to post on your forum to start a thread on this subject, but my iPad doesn’t seem to let me. A blog post might be better anyway since you seem to get much more traffic in that format.

Yeah, my forums are screwy. Why don’t you send me your iPad and I’ll spend a few months trying to diagnose the problem?

Specifically, a “typical” day for you as a writer (if there is one) would be pretty cool. What I am interested in personally though is how you go about writing your stories. Are you outline-heavy at the beginning? How often do you edit yourself as you are writing? (not necessarily grammar and sentence structure…but instead plot and character development, scene transitions, etc.)

My typical day starts at 6:30 with a bowl of cereal. I check my email and read any new Amazon reviews. I peek at Goodreads to see if anything there requires my attention. By the time I’m done with my cereal, I’m ready to start writing.

My manscripts stay open all the time, and I never turn my Macbook Air off until it seizes and I have to do a hard-reset. Swiping three fingers over to the left brings up one of my works. I currently have four that I’m working on.

I try to end each writing session in the middle of a piece of dialog or during some bit of action. It makes picking up the next day far easier. Stopping at the conclusion of a chapter is poison. Never check your email or do anything at the end of a chapter. It’s like parking a rig on an upslope. In fact, writing a manuscript is easier if you pretend you have no reverse gear at all. It makes you seriously consider where you leave the thing. Always keep a quick and easy escape for when you buckle back in.

I aim for 2,000 words a day when I’m writing. While revising, I don’t keep count. I need far less self-motivation when revising. I can do it all day. I start with a general idea of my story and characters (daydreamed and memorized). Then I’ll make a list of scenes, which become my chapters. I type these out and arrange them, and then I start at the beginning and just write as loosely as I can.

I very rarely revise while I write. I only do this when I feel stuck or bored with the story. I’ll go back and read/revise from the beginning to “get back into the book again.” This often comforts me by seeing that some part of the work is decent, and I up my game moving forward. I stagger back and forth like this sometimes when I get near the end of a work. Satisfying conclusions are always the hardest for me (this might be true for most writers. I suspect it is).

If you’re like me, ideas for stories almost pop out of nowhere… That isn’t the problem… the problem I have is the confidence to go on with that idea. Second guessing and self-doubt plague me during the whole process. Do you have the same type of issues? And if so, what helps you to push on?

Self-doubt drips from my every pore. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gained readership. I’m convinced that there’s a billion better reads out there and so why are people wasting time with my drivel? And yeah, the ideas are numerous; the time is short. Picking one story and sticking with it is difficult, especially since the act of creation is more exciting than the slog of hammering out the details.

The good part of this is that you’ll only write the “stickiest” of stories, the ones that you can’t shake loose. And these are the ones the readers are dying for.

I read your Reddit posts. They’re really really interesting and informative. I figured though that the subject matter was more about self-publishing as an author instead of just you as an author… That’s one reason why I didn’t ask you this stuff there.

Thanks for slogging through those posts! I had a great time participating in the AMA. Glad someone suggested it.

So think about it. I’m excited to hear about how you do your thing… I think others would enjoy it as well. I know I’ve told you this before, but you are the one who inspired me to really get serious about my writing… I’ve spent 20 years just piddling around with it. I should have started sooner.

That’s an incredibly humbling compliment. And I share your pain. I wish I’d begun writing sooner. Not that I think I could have created stories with as much depth at a younger age, but I would have a lot more practice and source material to build upon. Alas, I comfort myself by taking pride in having taken this craft seriously at all. I could have looked back in another twenty years wondering why I squandered that time and didn’t write more.

Mike

Thanks, Mike.

Sent from my iPad

Seriously. Send that thing to me for a few months. I want to do some troubleshooting with it.

10 replies to “Questions about my process”

LOVE this blog post!!!! And I love that Mike guy for making you write it on here because I doubt I would have found it anywhere else.

A few thoughts 1) I absolutely love the advice to not stop writing at the end of a chapter! I had NEVER thought about that before, but it makes perfect sense! When I would write for my creative writing class, I always finished the day by ending a chapter. No wonder it was so hard to get back into. I was a fool.
2)I think that self-doubt or fear of failure is what stops almost all of us from going out and trying to write something. I am so un-confident(I don’t think that is even a word) in my writing that I’m not sure who I would feel safe sharing it with for the first time.
3) I also love how you say you never revise as you write because I am the same way! I always hated having to turn in “rough drafts” or “outlines” of all my papers because I self-edit as I write. I do not move onto another sentence unless I am completely finished with another. This may also be a small roadblock for my writing….

Great post Hugh! I’m glad I could contribute at least a little bit ;)

Like Jillconn posted – the suggestion to never stop at the end of the action/dialogue is a great one. I almost smacked my forehead after reading that suggestion.

I think I might be doing too much revising along the way.

All great advice and thanks so much for the insight.

Sent from my finicky iPad (lol)

From Mike:

…I’ve spent 20 years just piddling around with it. I should have started sooner

That’s always been me.

Picking one story and sticking with it is difficult, especially since the act of creation is more exciting than the slog of hammering out the details.

And that’s why.

Everything you’ve done had been inspirational to a lot of others now starting down the indie route. Thanks.

BTW: started Molly 1, good stuff.

Very interesting, since I discovered you, I’ve been toying with taking a crack at writing a short story, if only for my own amusement. At night, I often lay in bed developing stories in my head…have since I was a kid, but until I read how you set up and arrange an outline, never knew how to start…this gives me food for thought

Very interesting topic. I’m always amazed at how many writers find it effective to stop in the middle of the action. That never works for me. Too many alternate scenarios have time to take root and change the flow of the story.

Since reading your work, we’ve wondered what the method to your madness was. Thank you for giving us a better idea of how you write. Now, how about some tips on creating those hooks you mentioned some time ago. ;)

I’ve switched from Raisin Bran to Grape Nuts. Bland but not bad for you. Really, it tastes like soggy dog food. Gets me nice and depressed for some post-apocalyptic writing.

Cool insight. Thanks for sharing. It’s funny how when you read these things from writers that, while differences are many in the details, so much is the same in the larger scope, even going back into time, into the practices of old masters. You seem to be carving your way towards your own memorable history. I continue to root for your ever-growing success.

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