steering the craft

The perfect process

process Mar 17, 2022

My earliest association with the word “process” is processed cheese.

Kraft American, to be precise! Those individually wrapped, unnaturally yellow slices were as plastic as their wrappings, but they made the grilled cheese sandwiches of my childhood legendary.

I loved those sandwiches. I mean, they were my absolute favorite thing to eat. 

Ah, for the pleasures of simpler times, right?

Now, when I use or hear the word “process,” it invariably refers to creative work. Normal work we just do, but our creative work seems to require a process. A special way of doing it, planning it, approaching it, managing it, measuring it.   

Why are writers so preoccupied with process? Why can't writing just be a simple and occasionally gooey pleasure? Something we can just do, without timers, spreadsheets, color-coded calendars, self-imposed deadlines and “accountability" partners?

It’s a contrarian question, but a...

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What’s driving the plot?

character plot process Mar 10, 2022

I sometimes stumble upon conversations between writers that make me scratch my head a bit. There’s a lot of terminology about writing craft floating around out there, that’s for sure!  And writers don’t always agree upon what even familiar terms mean.

One recent example was a debate about character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories. Talk about confusing!

Do character-driven stories have plots? Do plot-driven stories have characters? The answer to both questions has got to be yes, so what exactly do these terms signify? 

And if neither character nor plot can unequivocally be said to be “driving” the story, what is?

In this livestream, we talk about what character-driven and plot-driven might really mean. 

My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific on YouTube. Come live and participate! Or...

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Here’s how to get back in the flow

process Jan 08, 2022

New year, new you—new book?

I have a successful writer friend (think NY Times bestseller) who says, “Every time I start a new book, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to do it.” 

She hasn’t, of course, but that new book feeling of starting over from absolute zero is a familiar one to writers who’ve been doing this a while.

It can be daunting. We look at the blank page and think: How did I forget how to do my job? When I was revising my last book, it felt like it was all going so well!

This is like comparing an intimate conversation with the person you know best in the world with walking into a vast, loud party where you know absolutely no one.

They feel different because they are different. 

In this livestream I talk about that scary, new-book feeling. How can we make friends quickly at this intimidating new gathering, and get ourselves back in the flow?  

My weekly livestream about story structure, writing...

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the two kinds of stuck

process working Oct 10, 2021

Stuck is one of those short, sharp, Anglo-Saxon-derived English words that give such a nice, rhythmic punch to our prose.

Compare it with something of a more romantic flavor, like, say, “immobilized.” A fine word, but you do get more bang for your buck with stuck!

The power of choosing one-syllable words (look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph for an example) is a great topic, but it’s not our topic this week.

This week I want to talk about being stuck. Immobilized. Not making progress. 

There are two kinds of stuck: Not writing stuck and writing stuck.

The not writing kind? We just stop working. We abandon a scene, a chapter, a project. We may have a lot of mental chatter about it, from the blithe “I'm just too busy at the moment” to the mean-spirited “I am undisciplined and unworthy of the name WRITER!” Either way, you're not writing! That’s stuck.

The other, and perhaps trickier...

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how fast should you write?

motivation process Sep 03, 2021

I once got annoyed when a colleague casually observed that I was a “slow” writer. I mean, I've published a lot of books. How slow could I be?

Is a writer who takes eighteen months to finish a publishable manuscript really that much slower than a writer who takes three months to scribble a draft that then takes two years of revision to be salable?

We all have our preferred process, and that’s great—but these labels can really get in the way. “How long did it take you to write it?" is asked so frequently of published writers! 

I'm old enough and humble enough to grasp that the popularity of the question is not because anyone is that interested in Maryrose and her deadlines! What’s really being asked is something along the lines of:

How long should it take me to finish a book?

Am I going too slow? I am, aren't I?

WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG? I'm no good, that's the only explanation.

If I were meant...

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revising like a pro


I’m in a cheery writing mood this week. It’s because I'm putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript. Huzzah!  

Revision is something I truly enjoy. It’s when we writers finally get the satisfaction of seeing the book work! Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, revision is when we sharpen the storytelling, tighten the screws, and make sure every syllable is earning its place on the page. 

Productive revision gives us the pleasure of finishing a puzzle. Things fall into place. The vessel becomes watertight, ship-shape.  

Drafting is our messy mudpie process. It’s for us. Revision is when we make it work for the reader. 

Which leads me to share this hard truth about revision: Revision is when your level of mastery is revealed.

Why? Because you cannot revise by ear.  

To revise, you need technique. You need a way of knowing with certainty whether the storytelling is crystal clear and...

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shhh! mommy’s writing


I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my forties. Did you know that?

I was a single mom with two kids at home. We homeschooled. In the middle of it all, my own mom was struck with a terminal illness and I became her chief caregiver until she passed away. 

I was lucky in that I didn’t also have a full-time job outside the home, but honestly, I could have used one. I taught part-time and wrote part-time and mothered part-time and was a caregiver part-time. There were more parts than time, that’s for sure! 

This is what my life was like while I wrote the early books in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. I share this with you not because I think it’s shocking or worthy of any special praise, but precisely because it’s so ordinary.

Writers are people. People have lives. Life is busy and full of challenges, and we all wear many, many hats. 

I often hear from writers (mostly women,...

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who’s the boss of your book?


One of my Path of the Storyteller students recently asked a great question: After making a commitment (which she is nailing, by the way!) to just buckle down and write her draft to the end without looking back, she’s already wondering how to face what she now fears may be an unmanageably sloppy first draft. 

Who can relate? It’s one thing to rewrite a sentence, but how can you not feel overwhelmed by the thought of fixing ALL THE THINGS when what you’re staring at is a sixty thousand word draft?

Deep breaths, my friends. You are the boss of your book. It has no choice but to do what you say.

That’s the subject of this livestream. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed at the prospect of seizing the reins of your runaway draft— or gripped by the fear that your attempts to unravel the knots will only make things worse—this talk will remind you just who’s in charge!

My weekly...

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what wags the world

careers change process May 25, 2021

I’m getting a wee jump on the holiday weekend. The first Wood family gathering in a long time has been planned in honor of my uncle’s 90th birthday. Flying on a plane will be involved! It’s all very exciting and heartfelt. 

So instead of my usual weekly livestream, I offer you a nice old-fashioned blog post. My inspiration? This quote, which I shared with the Storytellers’ Circle* membership last week. I think you’ll like it as much as they did:

“The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what...
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hack your writing process


Writing happens inside the skull of the writer, which makes it hard to observe!

We can be inspired by the finished work of our idols, but we never get to actually watch them do the thing that we ourselves are so earnestly trying to learn to do.

The process remains a mystery, and so developing writers inevitably wonder: Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to take so long and be so hard? How much revision is “normal?” And so on.

This week I talk about the writing process: what’s realistic, common pitfalls, and how to make your process the best it can be. 

My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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