New and aspiring writers often ask published writers, “What’s your process?” It feels a little funny to talk about the writing process, because it’s something I’m always learning about as well — even though I’ve been doing it for twenty years! But I can tell you a few of the things that have worked for me.

WritingProcessFirst, the tools. When I was a kid growing up in Colorado, I started writing with a blue felt-tip pen. So, that’s what I still do! I use a blue pen and a pad of paper, and somehow it seems to give me the creative chemistry that I need. (Later in the process, I’ll use the same friendly blue pen to make edits on a printed draft.)

My favorite place to work is in my writing chair in the attic, with a cup of cinnamon tea right next to me. But one thing I’ve found is that I’m always writing, no matter what tools are in reach. Whether I’m out for a hike with my family, on an airplane, or baking cookies, the ideas keep flowing, and I’ve had to develop the habit of remembering them and writing them down as soon as possible.

I’ve noted in an earlier blog post that I need three story elements in place to write the first draft of a novel: Detailed descriptions of each new character; a big idea, usually in the form of a question or mystery that the characters will solve, that drives the plot; and a compelling world for their adventures. Once these are in place, they keep me interested in a story — from the page I’m working on today to the six or seven full rewrites I usually do on my novels.

One lesson I’ve taken in is that both sides of my brain contribute to making this mysterious brew. The organized side of me outlines the story—where the characters start, where they’ll end up, and the mountains they’ll have to climb in between. But the imaginative side of my brain follows where my characters lead, even — especially! — when they stray from the map I’ve created. That’s when this process turns into a true joy, when my story jumps out from the blue ink on the page and takes on a life of its own.