Phillip Thompson: Writing “Outside the Law”

After 3 ½ years in the making, it’s hard to believe I’m now three weeks away from the launch of my latest novel, Outside the Law on February 1st (but available now for pre-order).

Writing this novel has been by far my most interesting and, I think, productive writing session yet. But it was not without its challenges. Like a lot of writers I know, I started out with a grand idea and a lot of words clogging up my head, and so I embarked on the tale in December 2013. I cranked out nearly 10,000 words over a holiday vacation week and felt pretty good about where I was headed.

Then reality set in. Ten thousand words is a commitment — once I’m into it that deep, I have to finish it. And that takes a long time. Once the initial excitement of a new idea, a new start, a new 10,000 words wears off, I’m left looking down that long, empty highway and thinking, “What the hell did I just do?”

I think the question I get asked the most when people find out I write fiction is: “Where do you find the time?”

Answer: I have no idea, because most times, I don’t.

Outside The Law will be my fourth novel but I have yet to establish a “routine” in writing. The closest I came was years ago, writing A Simple Murder, when I was able to dedicate at least one hour a night to writing. Sometimes that turned out to be 15 minutes; some nights it was two hours. And I wrote the entire novel on a computer, notes and all.

But these days, I write whenever I’m able. I keep a notebook handy. For Deep Blood and now Outside the Law, I’ve gone back to my original method – I longhand the draft – in pieces – then write it up on my laptop when time permits. This gives me the chance to read it again and edit a little as I go. I tend to write in chapters — if I get started with an idea, it is usually the “what happens next” idea, and I write it until I think it’s done. And that usually means the next chapter, or at least enough to propel the “what happens next” part a little farther down the line.

Yeah, I know, that’s a lot of handwriting. But it’s therapeutic for me, and for some reason keeps me better organized (not that a look inside that notebook would reveal any such organization). And when I’m using a pencil and paper, I tend to fall right into the story in a way I don’t when I’m in front of a computer screen. So, I write late at night, or early in the morning, or at the car repair shop, or on the commuter train (which is where I did most of my “daily” writing for Outside the Law).

That’s a big part of the reason why it took 3 ½ years to write it. Fortunately, I was under no deadline pressure except my own. I wrote when I could and I knew I’d know when I was done.

More on staying organized later.