Writing Life

Two Tweets: How the Writing Bucket List Got Started


I’ve never had a need for a bucket list.  There was nothing I had to do before I died—or so I thought.  Visiting Machu Picchu, seeing inside a true Mongolian gher, training more in Latosa Escrima, or HEMA, and even writing full time wasn’t something I had to do.  For the latter, I can write or not write, with whatever time I have.  I have now nine unpublished novels, and one published novella. Obviously writing full time would be fantastic, but time limitations haven’t stopped me. I don’t need it as some item on a bucket list.  I thought I didn’t even want a bucket list.

Then one day I started using Twitter, trying to gain more understanding of social media.  Twitter still freaks me out a little.  It’s a rapid fire cacophony of birdsong on a bad morning. I could spend days reading tweets, and still not be able to keep up.  There is a thread to them, a throughline, or even a reality I haven’t quite figured out.  When I can find one song or melody in the ever moving noise, it often is golden.  It’s how I found Manuscript Wish List, and that author Jane Lindskold actually played with wolves.  The best, however, hands down, were two tweets by agent Sara Megibow in September 2014.

The “F” word in fiction is Formula. Yes, I’m looking for formula romance, formula young adult, formula science fiction because…

The formula is how sales reps know what they are pitching to bookstores and how book buyers know where to shelve the book.

What you have to understand: I’m an organic writer. I don’t outline my books before I start. I have an idea of where a story is headed, and explore how to get there by writing.  My first drafts are anemic, like glorified outlines in story form.  I build from there.  Writing with an outline, or a formula feels like stuffing skin on a hanger, rather than getting to know a fully formed, interesting character over time.  It feels fake to me, even while I’ve read plenty of well-rounded books that had to have used formula.

A better analogy might be: Two different people approaching a topic using very different languages.  Neither one or the other are right or wrong.  Coming from a multi-language family, I already know that there are nuances in one language that often do not translate into, say, English. There’s a lot one can learn in learning a new language. Organic or Formula—both are great approaches.

As much as I sound a bit snarky about formula, that “F-word” in fiction, there was a part of me that said, very quietly, “I want to do that.”  For years I’d denied that voice. I thought of Agatha Christi, Dorothy L. Sayers, and other writers and various books, including fantasy, that followed a formula. I realized that I’d wanted to try my hand at it for a long, long time. I’d kept buried in my psyche because I was too good at saying, “You can’t do that.”  It was too easy to fall back into the comforting chaos of organic writing.

It took another day till I realized I had a book that could use formula to make it better.  The Bone Reader.  It is a fantasy story with a mystery in it.  I asked myself: What would happen if I applied a mystery formula to it?  Even better: As I thought about it, all the attempted drafts and storylines I’d had to toss in follow up books came to life. Not only did I have a better book, I had a mystery series come to life (Even in writing this, thinking about mystery formulas, the plot of the second Bone Reader mystery fell a bit more into place).

The Writing Bucket List continues to evolve. Some of the items came up as I worked, and realized I’d LONGED to do these things. Nothing on the list has to be successful, incredible stories.  I just have to try them to expand my understanding of writing.  Just applying a mystery formula, and F. Gruber’s 11 points to The Bone Reader made it a much better book, what more would happen if I continued to go beyond my comfort zone?

I may never see Machu Picchu in person, or visit Mongolia, and while that would be nice to do, if I don’t, I won’t feel bereft of an experience.  If I don’t at least try these things on my growing bucket list… I will.

My Current Writing Bucket List.

  • Formula mystery story (from the start; and still not genre specific)
  • Short serial story (working on this already; more on that in January)
  • A Hetty Lang type character (I might be working on her now)
  • A proper series (instead of three books that stand alone, but tell a demi-god’s arc)
  • Short stories (this is harder to do; I tend to go big).
  • A creepy short story (much harder to do: going beyond one scene)