Thursday, March 28, 2019

Finding the Best Way to Write

I read voraciously, a habit I recommend to any author who doesn't already have it. You'll subconsciously pick up on what does and doesn't work. Characterization, dialogue, pacing, plot, story, setting, description, etc. But more importantly, someone who doesn't enjoy reading will never write something that someone else will enjoy reading.

I don't write 'for the market.' I know I can't, so I just write for me and then try to find readers who like what I like. I'm not trying to whip up the next bestseller and get rich. Not that I'd complain. Nope, I have to write what's in my heart, then go find a market later. It makes marketing a challenge at times, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

When you write, be a dreamer. Go nuts. Know that you're writing pure gold. That fire is why we write.

An author who I truly admire, Kurt Vonnegut, sweated out each individual sentence. He wrote it, rewrote it, and didn't leave it alone until it was perfect. Then when he was done, he was done.

I doubt most of us write like that. I don't. I let it fly as fast as my fingers can move across the paper or keyboard, rushing to capture my ideas before they get away. Later, I change and shuffle and slice.

James Michener claimed that he wrote the last sentence of a manuscript first, then had his goal before him as he wrote his way to it.

Then there's me. No outline whatsoever. I create characters and conflict, spending days and weeks on that task, until the first chapter really leaves me wondering 'How will this end?' Then my characters take over, and I'm as surprised as the reader when I finish my story.

Some authors set aside a certain number of hours every day for writing, or a certain number of words. In short, a writing schedule.

Then there's me. No writing for three or six months, then a flurry of activity where I forget to eat, sleep, bathe, change the cat's litter... I'm a walking stereotype. To assuage the guilt, I tell myself that my unconscious is hard at work. As Hemingway would say, long periods of thinking and short periods of writing.

I've shown you the extremes in writing styles. I think most authors fall in the middle somewhere. But my point is, find out what works for you. You can read about how other writers do it, and if that works for you, great. But in the end, find your own way. That's what writers do.

Just don't do it halfway.

If you're doing what I do, writing a story that entertains and moves you, then you will find readers who share your tastes. For some of us that means a niche market and for others it means regular appearances on the bestseller list.

Writing is a calling, but publishing is a business. Remember that AFTER you've written your manuscript. Not during.

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Image of stack of books by Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay


  1. You described my writing procedure. I'm still a pantser, still depend on my characters to lead the way, only my frenzy has lessened as I've aged. Great post.

  2. Everyone approaches their work differently, and writing is the same. But if you never sit still, sit down, and give the muses a chance, the work will never get done. :)

  3. That's the way I write! Accepting that there's no right or wrong to process is tough for those gurus out there who insist we have to do it their way. I think we only bloom when we realize it's "our way" that counts.

  4. Creativity is an unexpected blessing, not a rigid absolute — a gift, not a life sentence. In many ways it may define us, but it doesn't own us unless we allow it to. It's flexible, fluid, fulfilling when unrestricted expression is allowed rather than required. I, too, write as you do. Letting my characters tell me their stories has added hugely to the rich development of my novels. It's been a surprising and fun experience to learn so much from them. But as Diana pointed out, the time comes when applying the backside to the chair in front of the computer or the writing pad becomes a necessity if we are to let our creative blessings flow and flourish. Fabulous post, Michael LaRocca. :-)

  5. What a terrific post, Michael. I really loved the ending: Writing is a calling, but publishing is a business. Remember that AFTER you've written your manuscript. Not during.

    Story and our fire for the story we are currently writing can get lost if we start thinking too much about the business of writing.

    Thanks for the great reminder.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.