How Writers Work – Michael Pryor Guest Post

Inspired by Simmone Howell’s Anatomy of a Novel, this is the first in a series of guest blogs on How Writers Work.

YA author Michael Pryor talks about his writing process.

My Writing Routine

After writing twenty-seven books, my writing routine is well practised. I’m always open to refinements, but the basics are in place.

I divide my writing process into four stages:

  1. Preparation
  2. First Draft
  3. Rewrites
  4. Editing.

The Preparation stage involves any necessary research (mountainous, in many cases), consulting experts, doing character sketches and profiles, jotting down fragments of dialogue and potential opening sentences, compiling a detailed point form plan and lots and lots of thinking. This stage often overlaps with finishing writing a book. That is, I’m often thinking about the next one while I’m finishing the last one.

My plan is vital. I need to know where I’m going when I write. I always know where the story will begin, where it’s going to end, and the important phases on the journey between these two points.

In the First Draft stage, I start at the beginning and write right through to the end. Along the way, I know I’m writing some less than perfect stuff, but I push on, looking for momentum to help capture character development, pacing and tension. I do, however, make little marginal reminders to myself using the Comments feature of Microsoft Word. Very helpful.

In the First Draft stage, I aim to write at least 4,000 words a day, five days a week. With that sort of progress, I feel as if I’m making headway, bit by bit, moving forward instead of running on the spot.

The Rewriting stage is crucial. I’ve done up to twelve drafts of a novel, and when my books are 100,000 words plus, just re-reading each draft is a substantial undertaking. With each rewrite, I’m simply trying to make the book better – better characters, more interesting story, more accurate and engaging prose. Each time, it’s an inch by inch process. Then I repeat it.

The Editing stage happens once I send my wonderful, perfect manuscript off to Zoe Walton, my ace editor at Random House. She reads it, and gives me feedback. Considered, thoughtful, perceptive feedback. Some it makes me smack myself on the forehead and ask, ‘What was I thinking?’ Some of it makes me go, ‘Hmmm’ and start jotting down alternatives. All of it is useful and when I address her points, it makes for a better book. We go through this process a number of times before copy-editing (my spelling gets fixed up!) and proofing final pages, just prior to printing.

That, in a nutshell, is my routine for writing a book. Of course, I’ve left out the magic that turns dull, black marks on a page into something extraordinary, but I don’t want to reveal everything!




10 thoughts on “How Writers Work – Michael Pryor Guest Post

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Michael. Thank you to Gabi as well for posting it. It’s always interesting reading how other writers go about their work – I follow much the same path as you, even to the slapping the head bit, asking ‘What was I thinking?’!
    Like your method of ‘doing character sketches and profiles, jotting down fragments of dialogue and potential opening sentences’ right at the beginning. Much more sensible than realising half way through the first draft that one’s main character has got no backbone. Now it’s back to the drawing board for me!
    Thanks again. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Gabrielle, for the invitation to post. I’m always fascinated by the many and varied ways writers write, and it’s fun to share my own approach.
    Sheryl, my preparation for characters is almost random, assembling all sorts of things which contribute to a rounded character. Naturally, though, things happen along the way, while the writing is going on. The unexpected, the serendipitous … characters have a way of surprising a writer!

  3. Hi Gabrielle. I found Michael Pryor because I was looking for another series of books for my son to read. I was at the Little Bookroom and they recommended him. My son loved the first book and is after the next ones. I have yet to read the book but enjoyed reading about how Michael writes. I feel that when you have a semblance of organisation, you can then work with it. Great article.

    Happy writing.

  4. Hello Lucienne (great name, BTW – do you mind if I use it in a story?) Thanks for the kind words. The Little Bookroom is a superb place to get pointers. There are so many good books out there that we need places like TLB to guide us.
    Best wishes

  5. Thanks Gabrielle and Michael – it’s so interesting reading about how writers work, and how different their methods can be. For myself, I’m in awe of your organisation – my own process is almost the opposite – totally random really. I have no idea where my stories are going when I start, or if I do, no idea how they will get there, and only find it out as I write. I tend to write a series of connected scenes and events, which I later put into order – a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle – and fill in the gaps. Maybe that’s the difference between having written 27 books and only 2!

  6. Hi Sally. All I can say is that I’ve stumbled on a method that works for me – but I would never suggest that it’s the magic formula for writing. I think it’s a matter of trying various approaches and techniques until we find the ones that work best for us. One size fits all? Not in writing!

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