Writing Books, Iron Man Style

Veronica Rossi 17 Thursday, May 09, 2013

Some of the most common questions aspiring writers ask me are about process. How do you write a book? Do you outline, or are you an organic writer? In other words, are you a plotter or a pantser? In other-other words, do you know how to do this, and will you share your secrets with me?

In the interest of time, my answer is usually, “I’m a plotter who likes to rebel against plot.”

The truth is far more complex. The truth is that each book I’ve written has come about in an entirely different way. My process changes with each novel, much the same way I change in course of writing it.

I started drafting UNDER THE NEVER SKY in the spring of 2009. I went into that book having just abandoned two manuscripts I’d written as a pantser—manuscripts that never went anywhere. I was determined to try something different. Actually, I was determined to try everything different.

That was a time of intense growth for me as a writer. I signed up for classes. Read until my eyeballs bled. Attended workshops and studied as much as I could about craft. For UTNS, I wrote an expanded six-page synopsis, which is pretty close to plotting. I had regular checkpoints with two dear friends who mentored me. And I put myself on a schedule, with deadlines for various milestones along the process. Essentially, I gave myself the job of writer, with all its responsibilities, hoping it would eventually be my job.

Another aspect of writing UTNS: it was basically written in a vacuum. No one knew what I was writing. I had an agent and a book deal before most of my family read it, or even knew what it was about. During that time, I was, “Veronica, whose hobby is writing.” Those of you in that phase know what I mean. You have no street cred as a writer until things (agents, editors, book deals) start happening.

The amazing part of writing that book, though, was that anything felt possible. I let go. I threw myself at it. I was fearless about writing it because there was all this wonderful discovery, passion--and safety, being that I was writing with an audience of me in mind. It was an intensely enjoyable experience. I thought about the characters day and night. A love song on the radio would choke me up in the school drop off lane. I lived that book as I drafted it... (I'm tempted to make a bad joke about living with savages.)

To those of you who aren’t published yet, I have to say this: you are in a privileged position. Your writing is yours right now. Take advantage of that and be fearless. Those are halcyon days…. You know where this is going, right?

Book Two. If you’re a writer, then you’ve probably heard about the dreaded book two, which is like a ricochet of book one, catching you unaware, unprepared, possibly leaving you with bits of shrapnel embedded in your heart… oh, wait. That’s Iron Man.

Book Twos are tough because much of what’s present in the writing of Book One (time, innocence, anonymity) is gone. I might become a little dramatic in discussing book twos. And possibly skim through it… Painful, guys. Painful. 

My experience was particularly brutal (or so I think.) I struggled writing THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT. It felt like an ever night. Despite a team that included my editor and agent, I felt lost writing that book. I doubted my ability. I doubted the story. I was in a tsunami of doubt. Try writing a book feeling that way. (See? Just thinking about it makes me sound embittered.) I hopped back and forth between plotting and pantsing. I was Leo at the end of Titanic, hanging onto the fuselage, suffering for what I love, but feeling like no matter what I did, it was gonna be the end of me.

I didn’t know how to write a middle book of a trilogy (it was my first, and it turns out middle books are not easy.) And while writing it, I was launching the first book and learning (or desperately trying, depending on your perspective) to juggle all the peripheral marketing responsibilities of being a writer. All the focused concentration I'd been able to give UTNS was suddenly diluted as I had to consider a website, blog, facebook, twitter, tumblr. Blog tours, book tours, fan mail, reviews, etc. etc. it never ends. I don’t mean to sound complainy about this stuff. I wanted this job. Badly. But then you get the job and you go, wow, this is pretty different than what I thought, busier, way busier, way way way busier. That was surprising. What wasn’t? I love the job as much as I thought I would. Maybe even more.

I’m going on a tangent, which is usually what happens when I talk about Book Two. It’s a subconscious defense mechanism. Hey, have you guys seen Iron Man?

All right, all right. Let’s get back on track. Book Two was hard. It nearly broke me a few times, but I got through it. The lessons I learned were plentiful. I learned the “official” job of writer. I learned how to write outside a vacuum, in a tsunami, with voices weighing in, or criticizing, or praising. I learned how to write a middle book of a trilogy (or so I think.)

In the process of writing it, everything I knew reshuffled and came back together in a new way. I made it through my ever night, and then it was morning. I could almost say mourning, too, because we’re getting to…

Book Three. I came at this book exhausted and scared of a repeat of Book Two, I’m not gonna lie. But guess what? Writing INTO THE STILL BLUE has been a blast. The lessons I learned through Book Two strengthened me. I can now juggle the job of writer fairly well, and I’ve adjusted to writing outside the vacuum. Or rather, I’ve learned to try to recreate that vacuum when I write.

I plotted this book. I let myself deviate from the plot. I knew when to ask for help and when not to. And final books in series? Lots of fun. I hope you all get to write one someday. It’s like the downhill side of a rollercoaster. Not to say it was easy. I have yet to write an “easy” book. But fun? Yes. And sad, which is the mourning part. This ride has been epic, and I'm nearing the end. It's a bittersweet feeling, writing the final words of characters I've spent four years with, and loved.

Perhaps another reason I enjoyed Book Three was my newfound confidence in being a writer. As I wrote INTO THE STILL BLUE, I had two books and a novella out in the world already. “I wrote a book” became “I write books.” For me, it’s an important distinction. I love writing books. I want to write many more. With each one I draft, I might flounder and fumble, but somehow they keep getting written. I see them on my bookshelf, sometimes in bookstores, and it makes me proud. The act of having written books has become self-perpetuating. I want to make more. I want to explore new characters and storylines. I want to suffer through more middle acts and chapter endings and transitions, and somehow, eventually, after floating in freezing cold water for an ever night with shrapnel in my heart, figure it out.

If you read this and were hoping for some tricks of the trade, I hope my message of each-book-keeps-surprising-me and you-can’t-predict-how-its-going-to-go might be a little discouraging. I hope it isn’t. This profession is an uncertain path. But if you walk it with passion, with an open mind and an eager, shrapnelly heart, you will get there. You will learn from each book. The process is as much about you, the writer, as it is about your work. 

So, go. Walk the writer's path, and be fearless. You will figure it out.


It definitely makes sense about how you explain when the book is yours and its slightly easier before its published. There's a lot of stress that comes along with the book once its out in the world and it's a lot of work, behind the scenes and now in front of the scenes. I can totally understand why most authors just want to be left alone. You've got the mental stress of writing the books and then to deal with the physical and public stress when promoting the book is a lot of work!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this :)

Thanks for reading, Sallie! Hope all is well with you!

I'm taking this advice right now. It's hard to be fearless sometimes but I have to do it! I'm working on a new idea and I'm going to let loose with a synopsis. I met you in Miami and actually your dad told me to check out this blog and it's great.

Thank you so much for the great advice!

What a great post! Writing books is hard work. Writing publishable books is even harder work. And, I think, feeling like a real writer is the hardest work of all. Maybe I'll get there one day!

I love this, Veronica! Thank you for being fearless in your writing, and in showing us how your writing got to where it is! <3

Thanks for showing us the journey in writing this series. Your excitement for ITSB just fuels my thirst for it even more.

When outlining a plot, do you focus on scenes/action, characters, etc? What/who fuels the turns in the story for you? Other authors state that the characters tell them the story, do you ever feel that way?

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I love how you made the distinction between "I wrote a book" and "I write books"--even giving ourselves permission to make this distinction is huge. Part of the distinction is, I think, when we decide to take responsibility for the writer job and everything it involves

Thank you for your sharing, your suffering, your learning, and most of all, your great books. <3

Thank you for this post! I loved reading it, and seeing how your series came together. Under the Never Sky is one of my favorite books. I know what it's like for authors trying to publish: the heartache, the disappointment, the uneasy feeling that nobody will ever say yes. My mom is a self-published author, and her passion IS writing. It's so hard to become a writer that it sometimes discourages people. I think your post will be welcome to every aspiring writer, because they'll see that it's not all good and it's not all bad. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth it. :)

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I LOVE THIS POST, V! You nailed it so perfectly, and I'm so happy and excited for you and the conclusion of this trilogy! Can't wait to see what comes next! XO

Great post, V. Sometimes I think writing in vacuum is just so much easier. You're right about that. No pressure. (Except oh my god I'm still dying)

I'm so glad you made it through the hard times!


PS. the Recapture words were Tantalus Citerri. What is it trying to tell me?!!?!??!

Great post! ... Best luck on your new series! Let loose! Be fearless!

Thanks for your comments, guys. I'm so glad some of you have found this post helpful. I'm sorta tempted to make FEARLESS WRITER T-shirts for all of us. Keep up the good work!

This was BRILLIANT to me!! I came across this and the thing just tackled me. I'm in this position right now. Book Two. (Okay, Book One is officially still out on submission, so maybe there isn't even a Book One yet, but I'm feeling the pressure to write something that will please my agent as much as it will please me. Not easy.)

Thank you for putting down in words what I've been struggling with these days.

I absolutely adore this post. It's great to see writers talk about their experience post publishing book one, so thank you so so much for sharing this with us. I'll definitely be passing it along.

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