The Cozy Experiment: Part Four

Header: An old-fashioned typewriter and the words

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.