"How much time do you spend writing?"

My struggles with "Castle La Magie" have unexpectedly highlighted the process I use to write books in ways I hadn't consciously formulated.

Process for me are the methods I use to allow the writing to happen. The habits I've formed to allow the creativity to emerge. I write a book in specific stages, which I've arrived at after much trial and error.

The beginning of the process for me were the Big Rules I formulated before I even started writing again, based on my bad habits from my first career in writing.

1.) No major re-writing until the first draft is finished.
2.) Write every day.
3.) Write one chapter of 1500 to 2000 words per day (then stop unless absolutely compelled to keep writing)
4.) Finish what you start.
5.) Re-write the manuscript a couple of times, but then lay off.

Eventually I arrived at a daily work process that allows all that to happen.

When people ask, "How much time do you spend writing?" I've never had a good answer.

When am I writing?

Is it when I'm lazing around the house? Talking to myself in the shower? Walking in the woods? Laying on my bed with my pillow over my eyes and asking myself questions?

If it is only when actual words are forming on a screen, the answer is I probably write only a hour or two per day. Sounds easy enough. A couple hours a day? I could fit that in between work and family, right?

Well, I spent 25 years proving that wrong. I constantly had the urge to write, I constantly started stories, but I could never get very far. Pegasus Books always got in the way. What became clear to me was that it wasn't the time involved, it was the headspace. Everything had to be cleared away so that I could inhabit the fictional dream long enough for the story to emerge.

So the prerequisite, at least for me, is that I have to be fully committed. The day ahead has to be devoted to one thing and one thing only: Writing.

I can't force it, but I can gently nudge my consciousness in that direction throughout the day. So that is step one of the process. I need to surround the hour or two of actual writing with hours of rumination and dithering.

Writing "Castle La Magie" has crystallized this for me. I have, in effect, been trying to write this book in a two hour window. I go out on my walk without any preparation and I sit down at the first station. (I have places to stop every half-mile on a four mile walk.) I pump out 250 words and continue my walk.

I've managed to make some progress, but it has been vaguely dissatisfying.

Slowly, I've come to realize that I can't write effectively without the full process.

1.) As soon as I've read the newspaper and downed my coffee and perused the internet, I turn my attention to the next chapter I plan to write. Usually this happens by noon.

2.) I dither and try to get my head into the story, not allowing any distractions. It can be hard, especially since I'm not forcing the issue. My brain is like a cold engine on a frosty morning. It doesn't want to turn over.

3.) I go to wherever the house is quiet and just try to think about what I want to happen next. What seems most effective to is to lay on my bed with the pillow over my eyes and just let it happen. I get vague notions, sometimes I get full-on ideas, and best of all, sometimes the words just start flowing. But more often, I run through a series of scenarios in my mind trying to figure out what I'm trying accomplish with the new chapter, which character is clamoring to be the point of view. I ask myself how I can mix it up from the expected, if there isn't something I can do that really grabs me.

Again, sometimes the story comes solid and complete and I never argue with that.

In the rumination process I start to save up ideas. It is only when I feel that I have sufficient material that I go on my walk. By then, I've already got a start to the chapter and some telling details to make it come alive.

If I don't have this, I don't write. But almost every time, I've gotten enough from my meditations to write a satisfying chapter. Then after I've written it, I think some more on what I've written and make a few changes or additions.

Then I read the chapter to Linda.

Next day, I start to process again.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I dedicate myself to a chapter for hours and hours, and then late in the day it finally comes together. Sometimes I get an idea or two but decide to wait for the next day.

But basically, I'm incubating ideas all day long, staying inside the fictional dream, not allowing any distractions.

I've realized in writing "Castle La Magie" that I was trying to skip these amorphous hours, going straight to the story, and it doesn't work. Like I said, it's a cold start without any warmup. I've also realized that not only do the ideas for chapters come in the amorphous hours, but that the overall plot of the book is formed as well.

I've decided, starting today, that I'm going to go back to the full process for the rest of the month and finish the book.

Turns out, I can't be lazy about it. Turns out a book requires full dedication, hours of seemingly doing nothing.