Quick-Tip Tuesday: Shaking Up Our Creative Routines

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David B. Coe/ D.B. JacksonAs those of you who follow me on Facebook [giving the hairy eyeball to those who don’t follow me on Facebook] might have noticed, I finished the first draft of my work-in-progress this past week. It’s the first book in a new project — a time-travel, epic fantasy series about which I’m incredibly excited. The series will be called The Islevale Cycle, and the book’s title (for now at least) is Time’s Children. It came in at 140,000 words or so — 570 pages.

I’ve written here about this book a couple of times this year. I have struggled with it for a while. I couldn’t outline it and so wrote it kind of on the fly. I wrote myself into a narrative dead end at one point, and had to put it away for literally three-quarters of a year before I figured out what I’d done to foul things up. I figured out late that I needed to add in a couple of new point of view characters and at least one substantial secondary plot thread. I did a lot of things with this book that were, for me, unconventional.

Which is the point I would like to pursue for a bit.

I have a process that I tend to follow book after book. I’m stubborn, and a creature of habit. Having written all four Thieftaker and all three Fearsson books largely by following my regular creative routine, I fully expected that this book would behave and let me write it the same way. But like children, not all books are the same; some listen better than others.

Not only did I not outline this book, as I usually do, I also didn’t write it exactly in narrative order, which was a first for me. I NEVER write my books out of order. Yes, there are times when I’ll go back and have to add stuff in — sometimes in small passages, sometimes a chapter or two at a time. I had to do that plenty with this book. But what I’m talking about is a bit different from that. I knew from the very start that I needed to write my first chapter after I had finished everything else. (Why? I can’t tell you. –Cue evil laughter–)

Now these might not sound like huge deviations. Many of you don’t outline, and I know that many of you also write books out of narrative order as a matter of course. Honestly, I don’t know how you can do these things all the time, but that’s a different conversation. The point isn’t that my approach to this book was in some way radical on an absolute scale. But for ME it was a significant departure. That’s probably why I struggled so with this book. I’m convinced that this is also why the book came out so well.

This new book, rough as it is at this stage of the process, is already the best work I’ve done. It’s fresh, different, ambitious. It’s filled with emotion and action. I love the setting, the plot, the characters. And I believe that approaching it differently forced me to conceive it differently. I shook up my creative process and in doing so gave myself room to think differently about all my narrative elements.

I don’t mean to imply here that having a set creative process is a bad thing. Far from it. As I mentioned earlier, I took a consistent approach to writing the Thieftaker and Fearsson books, and they are my strongest published works to date. A set writing routine can help writers produce quality work and a lot of it. But, on occasion, stepping out of that routine — forcing oneself out of the creative comfort zone — also has value.

How will I approach the next books in The Islevale Cycle? I haven’t decided yet. I already have some ideas for the plot of book II and I’ll probably work those up in a rough outline. But I also expect that some of the freewheeling quality of my work on the first book will spill over into the rest of the series. It worked with Time’s Children. Why not use it again?

So if you feel that your work needs something new and different, shake up your routine a little. It might be the key to your next big creative success.

Keep writing.

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