I had a great writing date this Friday with my friend and fellow author Veronica Wolff (who writes fabulous, Scottish-set historical romances). We met up in a Border’s café, chatted for a bit and then opened up our laptops and settled in to work over coffee. After a couple of hours, we adjourned to lunch (and treated ourselves to a glass of wine), talked a bit more, and went back to work. By the time we left the restaurant, Veronica had typed “The End” to her current work in progress (she had been working on the epilogue) and I’d written over 2000 words, which for me is amazing. (In general I consider 1000 words a decent day (and I have plenty of 500 or less days), and 1500 excellent.) V and I agreed we definitely have to do this more often–we got a lot done and managed to have fun at the same time.

All of which prompted me to think about the writing process. I think I’m more efficient than I was when I first started writing, because I spend less time staring at the screen. For me, so much of the hard part is getting the words down. As I’ve mentioned before I write my scenes in layers now. The first draft tends to be mostly dialogue, with snippets of action and introspection and bits of setting description. If I’m stuck getting from point A to point B (I used to spend ages staring at the computer screen trying to figure out how to get a character in or out of a door or how to have characters make introductions), I put **** or xyz and jump ahead. Once I have a rough framework down, I go back and flesh out the scene, layering in setting details, physical actions, inner thoughts. Later I’ll do more revising. I usually do an edit when I get to the end of each “Act” of my book and then 2 or 3 revisions after I have a draft (and that’s all before my editor sees it :-)).I think of it like rehearsing a play. You start with a read through, then have blocking rehearsals, and perhaps have sessions of table work where you talk through subtext and motivations. Often all this happens on a taped outline in a rehearsal space with rehearsal props long before the set is finished.

On Friday I was doing a first version of a scene which I’d thought through on my drive to meet Veronica. Part of the reason I was so productive, I think. But I think another part was that being in a different setting helped me focus in. And writing with a good friend provided motivation (have to keep typing away because she is), while at the same time offering the reward of someone to talk to when when we took a break.

Another technique I’ve found lately that helps me focus is to write with movies playing. Yes, I know, it seems it would be just the opposite. But somehow having a movie or tv series on that relates to the era or theme of my book helps me lose myself in the world of my book (of course it’s better if it’s movie/series I know well, so I’m not too distracted). I’ve always written with music playing. This takes it one step further. I don’t always write that way, but I’ve been finding it very effective, particularly when I write in the evening. I curl up with my laptop and tea and escape into my story.

I’d love to hear about other writer’s writing process. Do you have writing dates with friends? Do you find a change of venue (such as writing in a café) makes you more productive? Do you ever write with music or a movie playing? Do you write in layers or do you try to get the scene down perfectly the first time? Non-writers, do you have any questions about the writing process? Does knowing the process behind the books you read interest you?

Speaking of writing, I’ve just posted a Fraser Correspondence letter Charles writes to David about the brewing crisis over Poland and Saxony at the Congress of Vienna.