The Cozy Experiment, Part One

Well, it’s official. I’m cheating on Power Play with another manuscript. My indiscretion began innocently enough. I was outlining a new cozy mystery novel and I found myself tempted to jump in. And BOOM, 2.5 weeks later, I’m about halfway into the new story and zooming toward the exciting conclusion. At this pace I expect to finish the first draft by the end of the month. Wheee!

Today’s post is about how I’m changing up my writing process in order to release more books, more quickly. So feel free to skip it if you don’t care how the sausage is made.

Mmm… delicious murder-mystery sausage!

The Problem of Too Many Ideas

Have you ever seen that black-and-white clip from I Love Lucy where Lucille falls behind on the assembly line? Before long, she’s stuffing her mouth with chocolates from the conveyor belt to try and keep up appearances, but we know she’s out of her depth. Too much chocolate! Too much good stuff! Yikes.

That’s how I feel about my story ideas. I can’t keep up pace with the stories I want to tell, and I feel bogged down when the writing process goes on for too long. Boggy writing leads to boredom, and boredom is poison to the creative process.

Based on past experience, I figure I can comfortably work on a story for 3-5 months before I want to light the thing on fire, throw it into a dumpster, and push the dumpster off a cliff into the angry sea. Thus my aspiration is to become one of those fast writers I’ve read about.

In a perfect world, my writing process would look something like this:

  1. I have a fun idea!
  2. Quickly now… I’ll write it down.
  3. Done? Kewl. Time to proofread the story and boot it out into the world.
  4. NEXT! (snaps fingers)

Imagine me at my computer, writing, having fun, and then raising my fingers periodically in the air to snap them. NEXT! NEXT! NEXT!

Stephen King famously said a the writing process should last a season or so, and that feels about right to me. And it helps to stow my ego. My books aren’t intended to be masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David.  Spending years or decades on a single book sounds like torture. Instead, I want my books to be like delicious muffins, fresh out of the oven. Tasty. Consumable. And available in packs of four, six, or twelve.

MOAR MUFFINS, I’ll shout, while my fingers form a blur on the keyboard. I DEMAND MOAR MUFFINS!

Quasi-Valid Reasons for Writing Slowly

My slower-than-preferred speed comes from good intentions, mostly. And I’m not ready to abandon my good intentions, because I see the wisdom in them.

Caring about Quality makes me want to hang onto my manuscript until it’s as perfect as I can possibly make it.

My desire for Personal Growth makes me take on ever-more challenging writing projects.

I fear workaholism and that thing known as “the grind.”

And my less-valid reason for slowing down is that I procrastinate. My favorite forms of procrastination are cleverly disguised as important activities. Reading business articles, writing blog posts, and so on. None of those things are inherently bad, but I do sometimes put them ahead of my work.

The Cozy Experiment

A few weeks ago, in light of my too-many-ideas problem, I some changes to my writing process. Here’s what I’m trying to do and accomplish:

Three Cozy Goals: Have More Fun, Write More Books, Publish More Frequently.

Four Helpful Rules:

  1. Write a “good enough” book and release it promptly. Obviously I’ll still edit and proof my work (I’m not a monster), but there’s a difference between responsible editing and obsessing over unreachable “perfection.”

  2. Spend 80% of my time writing within my comfort zone. Murder mysteries are fun, and they’re within my comfort zone. On the other hand, sprawling multi-POV espionage novels like Power Play are fun but much harder to write. My new notion: What if I allocated 80% of my time to writing what I can easily write, and about 20% of my time to more challenging projects?

  3. Set a reasonable number of work hours, then focus on having fun and being productive within those hours. For now, that looks like 5-6 hours a day, with at least one day off per week. And I’m not letting work torpedo important family stuff, so there are extra days off for things like visits to the parents, and vacations, and so on.

  4. Use fun/procrastination activities as a carrot. This blog post is a good example. I’ve been working on it for a few minutes every day, but I decided not to publish it until I hit the halfway mark on my manuscript. And that was oddly motivating. 🙂

And My Three Anti-Rules:

  1. Don’t track numbers other than a quick glance at “how many words I wrote today.”

  2. Don’t worry about story length, because the story will be as long as it needs to be.

  3. Don’t put too much emotional importance (ie: angst) on any one story, because I’m making muffins, right? MOAR MUFFINS!

Taking Action

To put these ideas into practice, I’m picking up one of my ideas for a cozy mystery series and running with it. And I tried to make it as easy on myself as possible. I spent three days building a super-basic outline of one paragraph per “story beat.” I also made some character sheets, with basic stuff like names, physical descriptions, family background, and so on. That way I don’t get bogged down thinking up names when I’m in the middle of writing.

My new mantra is “Don’t overthink it! Have fun and keep it loose.

Once the setup was done, I sat down for 4-6 hours each day to have my fun, and I watched in surprise as my word count stacked up pretty quickly. So far, so good! The story has diverged from the outline a few times, but that’s not a problem, it just means my characters are waking up and asserting themselves. That’s what I like to see.

Cover of the book The Case of the MIssing Finger.
(Cover Concept: Not Final)

This whole thing has been a shift in mindset, I suppose.  I’ve turned my fun/relax dial up, and my stress/control dial down. And while I’ve got more to figure out, so far the experiment is going well.

Introducing Ellie

Well, I’ve got a delicious story-muffin in the oven, so I’ve gotta run! But if you followed me this far, let me quickly introduce you to Ellie, my new heroine. She’s a 55 year-old retiree taking her first cruise, and she’s heading off on a bigger adventure than she could ever imagine. Murder. Intrigue. Exciting Ports of Call. Fruity Cocktails!

More to come!