Man. I grossed myself out with that headline!

PANTSING VS. PLOTTING
First, I’d like to say that I have an intense dislike of jargon. When people say things like “not in my wheelhouse” around me, I break out into hives and start dry-heaving. When it comes to writing, one of the first things another author will ask you is if you’re a pantser (you write by the seat of your pants without knowing where the story will lead) or a plotter (you systematically outline your story in detail before you start writing). I do both and neither. So there. Label THAT! 😂

An idea will come to me from any number of inspiration sources: my bored imagination, a heart-warming story on social media, a “what would that be like?” question that arises after being made aware of a weird situation. Back in the olden days (pre-2020) I’d eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants. Anyway, inspiration strikes and my brain immediately throws it in a pot and lets it simmer.

The longer an idea has to simmer, the better for my writing process.

BARELY LEGIBLE HANDWRITING & SPREADSHEETS
Once it’s time to actually start working on a book, I grab my handy dandy notebook and a pen or 7. I like to handwrite the early stuff because it seems like the physical writing out of the words embeds them into my brain differently than typing. Like there’s more of a physical connection to the ideas if I’m scrawling them in barely legible handwriting?

I like to start by writing out a quick overview of who the characters are, what their story is, and what the conflict is. Then I dig deeper into character sketches for the hero and heroine. I figure out things like what foods do they like, what their relationship with their family is, what do they think they want out of life, what do they look like, who are their friends, their pets, their co-workers, etc. At this point I create a spreadsheet which I call my Book Bible. That way all the essential information is stored in one place. This sounds incredibly organized and it would be if I were a normal person, but it’s really a hot flipping mess. I end up naming the same character two different things, or changing their eye color or their age, etc.

MAKING CASUAL BRAINSTORMING A THING
Next comes the brainstorming. I sit back and wonder how all this stuff works for and against the characters. How it keeps them apart and what needs to happen for them to overcome their obstacles. All of this goes in the notebook in a stream of consciousness. With grocery lists and to do items scrawled in the margins. Doodles in the middle of paragraphs. Notes to myself.

Keeping it casual is my way of tricking myself into thinking I’m not working. I’m just playing around, having fun, eating candy in a beanbag. No big deal. No pressure.

Which is why I never do this part of the work in my office. It’s on the couch, or in the giant beanbag (if Cleo the cat is willing to share), or outside on the deck. My office is for concentrated work or yelling at Cleo to get off my desk.

IT’S RAINING MEN… AND WOMEN… AND PLOT TWISTS

Once I feel like I’ve got a handle on the storyline and character basics, I pull up my copy of Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. It’s a simple breakdown of the things that should happen in order for the plot of a romance novel to be satisfying to the reader.

Then I plop myself down at my desk, open my notebook, and start a new Scrivener project. I use Scrivener to write all my books now because it lets me organize by chapter and keep all my notes in the same project as my manuscript. To be fair, I only use something like 4% of the program’s capabilities. (I’m not a paid sponsor or an affiliate thingy person. Just a fan of the program.)

It’s at this point that I start to outline. I put my scene/chapter notes in and include any bits of dialogue that enter my head. Make notes of anything I need to describe or reinforce within the scene. Figure out whose point of view I’m writing in. I’ll go through all of the “beats” of my story and do this, plus whatever other scenes come to mind.
Other resources that I find helpful for planning my stories include:

• 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron
• Lounging in Mr. Lucy’s office talking to myself while he tries to focus on work
• Drinking alcohol

Even after all of this work, I’d be willing to guess that the outlined scenes are only 50% of what actually ends up in the finished story. When I’m actually writing those plotted scenes, others pop into my head. Most of my books are a half and half of carefully planned storyline and spontaneous inspiration.

There you have it. My pre-writing process. It takes anywhere from three days (way too short) to two weeks. I usually get too excited about the story and start writing earlier than I should which messes everything up. Stay tuned for Part 2: How I Actually Write Stuff! Spoiler Alert: It involves a lot of staring off into space.

Claire Kingsley and I met via Facebook when a reader pal messaged me saying she thought I would be the right kind of writer friend for her friend Claire. And boom! A commiserating, sisterly writer bond was born. We both write romance full time, both love the beach, both of us have hubbies who are unbelievably handsome and supportive. I mean, we’re basically the same person.

Except Claire gets way more done in a day than I do. She homeschools her three kids and whips out high quality, funny, sweet, hot reads faster than I can drag my ass out of bed in the morning.

Lucy: Give us a nutshell view of your life (family, hobbies, etc).

Claire: My life is a little bit crazy. I’m married and I homeschool my three kids. That keeps me super busy—but it’s good busy. Other than that, I love to read (although I don’t make time for enough of it), and I’m a fan of geeky stuff like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and superhero/comic book movies.

Lucy: What kind of an effect did publishing your first book have on you?

Claire: That was a badass moment. I decided I wanted to be a writer a long time ago, but I spent a lot of years focused on other things (having babies not the least among them). I wasn’t sure I was good enough to even finish an entire novel, and I carried that fear around with me for a long time. So when I not only finished my first novel, but went through the entire feedback, revisions, editing, etc. and then publishing process, it was amazing. It was like I’d kicked that doubt to the curb and proved I could actually do it.

Lucy: What does your writing process look like? How much swearing is involved?

Claire: All the swearing.

My process is messy. I start with brainstorming and lots of note taking. I have a few people I like to brainstorm with; kicking around ideas with another person is really helpful for me. I figure out who the characters are, what sort of backstory they have, the theme(s) I want to explore, the sources of tension and conflict, and so forth. Then I start outlining actual scenes/chapters. Usually I get partway done with the outline and start writing. From there, I go back and forth between writing and planning/outlining. Sometimes I write stuff completely out of order, simply because I have ideas in my head and I want to get them out. I’ve been known to write endings before I’ve even gotten to the middle of a story. Or I’ll write a little bit of dialogue for a scene and go back to it later. It’s very non-linear, but somehow it seems to come together at the end.

Lucy: What’s one thing that you think you should do but don’t/aren’t/never will?

Claire: This is a hard question! I can’t think of anything big or important. For the most part, I think I should be better about creating a schedule for work/family/life, but I’m bad at routines and schedules, so I probably won’t.

Lucy: A case of writer’s block hits. What do you do?

Claire: Depends. Writer’s block usually means one of two things for me. Either the story or scene is broken and I need to figure out why, or I’m getting burnt out.

If it’s a story issue (this is usually why I get stuck), I have to spend some time figuring out what went wrong. If there’s something that doesn’t work in the story, I can feel it. Maybe there’s a piece that’s inconsistent, maybe I’m going off on a tangent that doesn’t work, or maybe it’s just boring because I haven’t figured out how a particular element moves the story forward. I’ll talk it out with one of my brainstorming people. Sometimes just explaining that part of the story to another person is enough for me to figure out what’s not working. If not, usually pinging ideas back and forth will help me fix what’s broken.

If I’m burnt out, then I just need a break. I tend to write every day and I don’t take days off very often. Usually that’s fine—I love writing and I get twitchy when I don’t. But there are times when my brain gives me a big, fat NOPE and I need to give myself permission to take a real break.

If I’m only a little burnt out—fatigued, maybe—changing scenery helps a lot. If I’m at my desk, I’ll take my laptop to another room. Sometimes I’ll go for a drive by myself—listen to music and clear my head. That kind of thing.

Lucy: What’s the biggest adrenaline rush you’ve ever had?

Claire: Probably downhill mountain biking. My husband likes to do crazy stuff like that. We went to Stevens Pass (ski area in Washington) in the summer and rode the ski lift up, then biked down. That was intense.

Lucy: If you weren’t a writer, what else could you see yourself doing?

Claire: At this point in my life, if I wasn’t a writer, I don’t think I’d have a different outside job. I’d still be staying home with my kids (and theoretically have actual free time, LOL). Other than that, I honestly don’t know what else I’d do. I had a corporate-type career before I had kids, but that feels like a lifetime ago, and it’s not something I’d go back to. I think if I didn’t write, all that spacey daydreaming I do would just go to waste.

Lucy: What do you admire most about your hubby?

Claire: I love how he’s unapologetically himself. He doesn’t spend a lot of time or energy worrying about what other people think. He is who he is, he likes what he likes, and other people’s opinions don’t matter to him very much.

He’s also very random and spontaneous. I’m one of those people who needs to mull things over (sometimes too much—I’m a terrible overthinker). But he can just make decisions on the fly and roll with it. He keeps life fun.

Lucy: Favorite trope in a romance novel?

Claire: That’s a tough one. Friends to lovers is a big favorite. I love it when one of the characters (the hero, especially) is crazy about the other, but thinks they can’t be together. There’s so much angst in that type of unrequited love—spending time together, having to watch them date other people. When it’s done well, the payoff when they make it to their HEA can be really rewarding.

I love the opposite too—enemies to lovers. There’s so much room for the characters and the relationship to grow when they start out hating each other.

Lucy: What drives you insane and/or murders your soul?

Claire: When people are shitty to each other. Life is hard enough without making things difficult for other people. I like to take the immortal advice of Bill and Ted to heart: be excellent to each other.

Claire’s newest release, Hot Single Dad, is a swoon-worthy standalone that you should grab immediately!

“I loved this book from the beginning. I couldn’t get enough. This is literally one of my all time favorite books now.” ~ Sassy Southern Book Blog

Catch up with Claire on Facebook and in her reader’s group Alpha Ever After. If you need more mancandy in your life, you need to be an Alpha!

To see her impressive backlist, check Claire out on Amazon. And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter. Subscribers get a free book!