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My Writing Process

By J. Dianne Dotson
Nov 11, 2019 · 1,334 words · 5 minutes


From the author: In which the author of The Questrison Saga shares her writing process, with a fair amount of cheek.


(Please note, this post also appears on my website.)

The cloak of imposter syndrome settles rather nicely about the shoulders. It’s a fine weave of whispers and lies, or so I tell myself. When someone actually reads what I’ve written and ENJOYS it, I draw the cloak closer. And then when I’m asked how I do it, I want to take that cloak and cover my head and hide, preferably somewhere that has some dark chocolate.

For I’ve encountered some who do, in fact, want to know my writing process. I can turn around and look behind me, for the writer they really want to ask. Or I can, with a startled look, realize they’re actually talking to me. Oh, but damnation! Now I have to answer their questions. And pretend to be lucid while doing so.

Writer’s Block

First off, I am not a person who believes in writer’s block. Let’s get that out of the way: it does not exist. I will believe in pixies and the Brown Mountain Lights being a landing spot for UFOs before I ever believe in writer’s block. Just write the thing. Write it when you feel like it. Bored of it, frustrated by it? Write something else. Anything else!

I, for example, have a journal, and typically I enter in the boring but pleasant bits of a day. How the sun angle hits the trees. What I ate. Where I went. Who I spoke to. Anyone can write that! So go do it. Then eventually you’ll feel the pull of the Great Whatever Novel, and you’re off and galloping again. And let me know if you see any pixies, while you’re at it.

“Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?”

To quote the most-excellent Generation Z, “Oof.” That’s my response to this quite tired question. Honestly it’s going to vary by writer, and no writer is going to gain anything of value to one’s craft by asking about it. It’s sheer curiosity. Fine, I get that.

I plot things in my head in terms of knowing where the story’s going to go. I do not map out this elaborate bulletin board. Meanwhile, I also let the story and its characters do what they’re going to do. I can’t stop them anyway; where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, once again: just write the thing. Do it however you want, with whatever steps of logic or chaos that congeals for you. The point is to get it done.

“Do You Edit As You Go?”

Well, it varies. Sometimes I will catch myself reviewing a page here and there and noticing some errors. What I do NOT do is drop everything and print out the chapter I just finished and review it. No. I keep writing. Your first draft is a first draft: it is a vaporous entity, and if you try to grasp it, off it will slip…a mist, a dream.

So just write the thing. You will get the first pass of reading the steaming pile of garbage that is everyone’s first draft (and don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s not utter bat guano: it is, without the fertilizing benefits). Finish that first draft, let it wheeze for a bit, then come back to it after a period of time (your mileage may vary, so may your patience), and look at it with fresh eyes.

And besides: there’s a reason editors exist.

“What Do You Use to Write?”

Why, I dip my pen into the schadenfreude well I extract from my enemies! What else?

In all seriousness, sometimes I do use those mythical objects known as pen and paper. But as my trigonometry professor in college told me, “Dianne, you’re my best student. But your handwriting is so terrible!” Bless the man, he was right. And it’s only worsened.

I type extremely fast, over 75 words per minute. And so I use a laptop, generally, except for moments mentioned above. Sometimes, if I’m out and about (often this happens while I’m waiting for the kids to get out of class), I’ll type something on my iPhone in the Notes app. It syncs with my laptop, and I can transfer the info anywhere else I like later.

As for the software, I use Microsoft Word exclusively (other than Notes, mentioned above). It’s what I’ve used for decades, it’s what editors seem to prefer, and it works for me.

Anyway, all the tools in the world don’t really matter. You know what I’m about to say: just write the thing.

Snacks and Beverages

Oho! Did you think I wasn’t going to mention food? I write science fiction that mentions food regularly, and drink as well. I’ve talked about food on here before, about food in the genre, about food mishaps, about my own recipe just for you. Sorry, but we can’t live without food and drink, so in it goes! Into the story, and right down into my gullet.

If you’ve followed me on social media, you know I love my snacks. I’m basically Bilbo Baggins. Went on a lot of adventures, but really just want a quiet, cozy abode with plenty of snacks and beverages, which I’ll enjoy when I take breaks from writing.

So…dark chocolate. If it’s not in the house, that’s a problem. Tea. I like to make my own chai when I have whole spices. Otherwise I’ll settle for either loose tea or even bagged tea (don’t judge—it’s really just a vehicle to chase down snacks). I am fond of crumbly cheeses with a bit of richness, like an aged Dutch cheese, when I can get them. I like hummus, with cucumbers, pita crackers, bell peppers, and carrots for dipping. And I bake, so I like to have cookies and decaf coffee (due to health reasons—and yes, good decaf does exist). Or maybe, this time of year, pumpkin Bundt, or pear cardamom bread, or a Mommy Tax Twix bar from the Halloween stash. When it’s holiday time it’s a no-holds-barred, make-my-hair-shiny-and-belly-bulge snack extravaganza.

This is also the time for dark spirits.

So during the late fall and winter, I will usually, once a week, have a brandy Manhattan, or mulled cider with spiced rum (I prefer Sailor Jerry’s), or eggnog and brandy with a liberal dusting of nutmeg.

These don’t really help my writing, as they befuddle me. But I enjoy them in moderation, once a week so my sleep isn’t disrupted too much. So in a roundabout way, they do help my writing. Because they make me happy. Which brings me to…

Happiness and Writing

Look, I don’t care what anyone says. If you’re miserable, you don’t make things as well as when you’re happier. I hear a lot of dreck about how you need to be absolutely wretched to make good art, and frankly, this is just plain wrong.

I know, because I have been depressed in the past, that when you feel terrible, it’s a major job just to do basic human maintenance things. Forget about writing. You can still write in fits and starts, but it’s much harder to do. Looking through the dark kaleidoscope reveals less in possibility than when things are lighter.

But when I have my needs met and I feel supported and loved, creativity flows. I can see better, I can see more; I can embrace world-building and character development and absurdity with ease.

When I feel these things slipping, it is always an indicator that I need to course-correct. And I’ve had to do this very recently for multiple reasons.

Take care of YOU. First and foremost. Self-care, REGULAR EXERCISE (essential!), friendship, cozy things…make sure you’re getting all that you need. The writing will come, and when it does, you can write the thing. And that’s one more thing to be happy about.

Write on!

Read more about Dianne’s books on her book page.


Ephemeris generic
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Ephemeris: The Questrison Saga: Book Two

Visions of doom. A growing evil. A new hero emerges as old alliances unravel. Plucked from space and raised in a star-city of androids, impetuous Galla-Deia looks human but is not. Chosen to stop the dual threats of a galactic natural disaster and a malevolent alien entity, she must grow as a commander and gain the trust of both humans and non-humans alike. Unknown to her, the entity draws zealots to its cause, destabilizing interstellar order, and threatening all life in the galaxy.

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J. Dianne Dotson

J. Dianne Dotson writes science fiction and fantasy, and is the author of The Questrison Saga. Dianne is also a science writer and watercolorist.