Welcome to the forth article in our My Writing Routine series. Each week, we bring you the writing routine of a different author, delving deep into their processes, tips, thoughts, and techniques for getting their words onto the page.
Today we peer into the writing routine of author Anthony St. Clair.
1. Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer?
Two events growing up told me that words and expression would be the core around which I would build my life, values, and career.
In middle school I was part of a creative writing program, and while working on short stories I realized that my future would always involve the written word. Then, in college, I spent a couple of years as editor of the student newspaper. Someone told me that I was able to express ideas they had, but couldn’t find the words for. That told me I had a useful skill that people could find beneficial.
My career as a professional writer began in college, with both the student newspaper and a part-time job as an editorial assistant at THE ROANOKE TIMES newspaper in my hometown, Roanoke, VA. Since then I’ve worked as a professional online content writer, doing everything from editing travel stories to managing product copy for a national e-commerce website. In addition to writing, I’ve also lived in Scotland and Ireland, and traveled to a range of countries including India, Thailand, Australia, and Japan. Since 2000 I’ve lived in Oregon, and now have a wife and 2 children.
In 2011, though, after years of soul-searching my wife and I decided that I would leave a job I’d had for 7 years, in order to make a go of being a professional independent writer and author. Since then I’ve been building my business, where I focus on 3 things: writing articles and features about the craft beer industry in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, managing online content and marketing for businesses, and independently publishing a fantasy series based in travel, alternate history, and beer.
So far I’ve published 3 books (e-book and trade paperback) in my Rucksack Universe series: THE MARTINI OF DESTINY, HOME SWEET ROAD, and FOREVER THE ROAD. The fourth book, THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY, will be available in early 2016.
More about me, my books, and my writing is at my website, anthonystclair.com, and I’m also on Facebook and Twitter (@anthonystclair).
2. When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like?
I write 5-6 days a week, which I accomplish by getting up before everyone else and making sure the coffee is fresh, hot, and strong. I also get dressed; I work from home, but I can’t work in my pajamas anymore than I can sleep in a suit. My writing day begins either with a book I’m working on at the time, or any articles that I’m on deadline for or have been assigned. Except for Mondays, when I begin the day by reviewing and planning out the week, each day starts with getting the writing done. That way, no matter what else the day brings, I know that my various projects are moving forward.
Figuring out my process made all the difference in writing. Before I knew how I needed to write, I would try to start projects but always ran out of steam. Now I have 3 published books, one on the way, and two more in development. My process is simple: I write like I travel. I need to have some idea of where I want to go, but then give myself total freedom within that journey to change.
I can’t just sit down and go from zero on a story. I need to know why the story needs to exist. I ask myself this question: “If I was telling my best friend why she should read this book, what would I say?” Once I can answer that question as both one word and one sentence, I plot out the story, including the action and emotion, scene by scene, all the way through. However, as I write I also let the project change course and evolve, and the end result is always a better, stronger, more compelling story.
Figuring out my process was probably harder than actually writing a book. Now that I know my process, I can crank through my planning and manuscript writing at a strong pace.
3. How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing?
When writing I give myself total freedom. I veer, go on tangents, perceive something interesting and run with it. I envision every sense and aspect of the experiences my characters are living and enduring, and I put down on the page as much of those sensations and reactions as I can.
Once I’m done with the initial rough draft, I follow Stephen King’s advice and put away the project for 4-6 weeks. During that time I catch up on other tasks, from developing other stories, to writing 1,000 words a day in my Rucksack Universe Core Story file, which is where I keep track of ideas, characters, who everyone is, what color their eyes are, back story, and all that fun stuff.
After that resting period, I’ve gotten some distance from the manuscript and can come back to it fresh. Once I put my editing hat on, things change. I like to joke that I’m self-employed, so my boss is the biggest jerk you can imagine. And when I’m editing, I get ruthless. I don’t kill my darlings. I massacre them. And smile.
Editing is essential for every book, and especially for indie authors who want to put out a book that rivals or exceeds the quality of the best traditional publishing houses. My books go through extensive editing processes, which I outline on my website: anthonystclair.com/quality. After my rest period, I do a straight read of the manuscript. I take a few notes, mainly if something jars me or seems out of whack, or if I see an angle to explore that I missed during the drafting. I then do an extensive developmental edit, ensuring that plot, theme, and character are all working together—and that there’s sufficient tension, peril, and—if you’ll pardon some technical jargon—must-keep-reading pageturnability.
After I’ve done all the editing I can do, I turn the manuscript over to my Chief Reader. She gives me extensive feedback, and after making more revisions I send it out to a team of Beta Readers. After incorporating their feedback, the manuscript goes to my copy editor, who fixes hard-to-follow passages, corrects grammar, and ensures compliance with The Chicago Manual of Style, a common US standard for publishing. After that the manuscript is proofread, locked down, and prepped for e-book and paperback formats.
4. Do you have any quirky rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?
Each book gets its own playlist.
I go through my music and pick out pieces or songs that seem relevant to the theme of the book, or just that I find help my mind, heart, and imagination stay in the world of the story. The result is as eclectic as my random brain. A typical playlist might include The Chieftains, Cowboy Junkies, Beethoven, Red Molly, Hozier, The High Kings, U2, and Fiona Apple.
For goals, I have a daily writing goal of “Write for 60 minutes or 5 pages or 2000 words or 2 drafts per day”. That covers my bases with the range of projects that I work on, and ensures that I can always find a way to get words in.
5. Can you describe the space in which you usually write?
I work from home, and this is my home office. Designed in accordance with Virginia Woolf’s guidelines, this room has a door that locks. Here are a few things you’ll find in my home office author cave:
- Much-marked world map
- Buttons with sayings I like, such as “I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person” and “I’m a HEROINE ADDICT: Lover of Strong, Kick-Ass Women”
- Coffee mug
- Headphones (my wife and kids are still asleep when I start working, and I like some music in the morning)
- Bullet Journal (current notebook: a green, pocked-sized, ruled, hard-cover Moleskine)
- Files for clients and projects
- Art from my 3-year-old son
- Pictures of my wedding day and my 2 kids
- Lots of books on business and the craft of writing, including Stephen King’s On Writing, John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing, and Laura Wattenberg’s Baby Name Wizard; seriously, it’s great for figuring out character names
- My limited-edition, state-of-the-art standing desk, cleverly disguised as a milk crate
6. Which software, tools, and apps help you to write?
I use an Apple MacBook (which I really, really need to update someday), and an iPhone 5s:
- iWork Pages: Managing my weekly task lists, as well as final formatting for articles and other assignments. I prefer Pages to Microsoft Word.
- Scrivener: All manuscripts for my fantasy books, as well as drafting and research for all articles. Scrivener makes it easy to organize all my writing, shift content around, track progress, and export publication-ready e-book files. I adore Scrivener.
- iWork Numbers: Logging my business’s finances, invoicing, and tracking assignments. I prefer Numbers to Microsoft Excel.
- Evernote: I use both the desktop and mobile versions for research, marketing ideas and task lists, and information about each book (e.g., ISBNs, links to online stores, descriptions, etc.)
- WordPress: My self-hosted website and blog for marketing and sharing things with the world (I blog on both my desktop and my phone)
- Dropbox: Off-site backups and exchanging files with clients
- Remember the Milk: Online task lists. I use this partially as a repository for tasks to get to later, and also for tasks that repeat daily and weekly. It’s a big time-saver. Instead of typing a task again and again, every day I simply open my computer and see “Write for 60 minutes or 5 pages or 2000 words or 2 drafts per day”
- Google Calendar: So my wife and I can keep track of our work needs, appointments, social engagements etc.
- Canva and Acorn: Respectively, for online and desktop graphic work
- MailChimp: Email marketing
- Google Earth: my fiction is set in real places or made-up versions similar to real places. Google Earth helps me add verisimilitude of place
- Hootsuite: Scheduling and monitoring social media for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, both for myself and for clients
- A pocket-sized Moleskine, a Sharpie refillable stainless steel pen, and the Bullet Journal framework.
7. What music or sounds help you to better focus?
Music varies. I love classical music, and start my day with the 2-hour broadcasts of Performance Today, the most popular classical program in the US. It features recent performances and engaging interviews. From there, I listen to everything from pop to Celtic. Sometimes I use my external PC speakers, and sometimes I use my wife’s Yamaha RH-5Ma over-ear headphones. They’re comfy.
8. What kind of things completely take your focus away?
My wife and I are both self-employed, and we have a 3yo son and a 10mo daughter. We balance work and child care, so usually when one of us is working, the other is in charge of our children. Sometimes I need to help out and leave my desk for a few. But when writing is your job, you learn to push pause on work, and then hit play when you get back to your desk. Being a professional is getting it done, no matter what.
9. How do you get back on track when your writing routine has broken down for a few days or more?
I get to be with my family while doing the work I love, and that keeps my motivation strong. Sometimes there are circumstances that have me working less or being off for a bit, such as someone getting sick or family/friends visiting from out of town. If I am off my routine for a few days, I usually sit down and note the high-priority things I need to do. That could be a scene from a book, outlining a new project, or finishing an article on deadline. For a book, I look over what I’ve done previously, take a few minutes to put myself in the point-of-view character’s mind and feelings again, and get going.
10. If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be?
I’m always learning and evolving as a creative professional, so I’m always changing things about my routine in order to make it better and have the productivity I want. In fact, I just made a big change.
I thought I was setting a good schedule for bringing out my next book, but I wasn’t. I had arbitrary dates that were stressing me out. As I said before, I’m self-employed and my boss is a jerk—but luckily, I have pull with the guy. I realized that I needed to change my expectations on book releases. Instead of setting a date from further back in the revision process, now I’m getting the manuscript locked down completely before I set a release date. That gives me more realistic expectations, and lowers my stress level, while still making sure that I’m staying on track with the book.
Don’t forget, you can learn more about Anthony at his website.
If you would like to be featured in a future My Writing Routine article, please email marketing [at] scarlettrugers [dot] com