Category Archives: Writing

Shaking It Up: Part 5

Back when I was a captive instead of a freelancer, I wrote wherever I had to. Usually on the deck, but also in coffee shops, airplanes, hotel rooms. The fixed requirements were Wi-Fi and access to power. The upside to dictating your first draft is that you can do it anywhere. In this case, I did this 15 minutes of dictation while driving. The trip seemed like it happened in just a few minutes.

The Icebox: Session 2, driving

Dictation recording (15 min)

Third draft manuscript

Shaking it up: Part 3

In the further adventures of throwing away the process to shake things up, here is the second session of dictating the first draft of the detective novel. Evidently I solved the wall-staring issue by stopping the recording to stare at the wall.

The manuscript is not just a transcription, but an edit that synthesizes the ideas from the recording plus slight changes to smooth out the writing.

The best way to experience the draft is to bring up the manuscript and listen to the recordings as you read along so you can see how it changed from dictation to first draft.

Detective Novel: Session 2

Dictation recording 1 (7 min)

Dictation recording 2 (8 min)

Dictation recording 3 (3 min)

First draft manuscript

And then I hit the wall. But that’s a story for next week.

Shaking it up: Part 2

This blog series is a chronicle, in real time, of the act of developing a story and writing a novel. Consequently, it will contain spoilers. If you want to come to the finished novel with a clean slate, you should read it first (when it finally gets published) and then come back to see how the sausage is made.


After The Reluctant Saint came out, I pondered my next writing project. A coterie of fans have been clamoring for a sequel, and that is high on my list. Of course, somebody always wants another Fred book.

But I wanted to try something completely different. A bonafide whodunit. A few of my novels have some elements of a whodunit, especially Muffin Man and Endless Vacation, but I wanted to do an actual, legit, hit it right down the middle detective book.

There was just one snag: every detective must have his thing. His quirk.

  • Holmes is the seemingly cold-blooded thinking machine. He has the pipe, the violin, the disguises. even a seven-percent solution of cocaine.
  • Poirot has the little grey cells, the finicky obsession with style and personal appearance, and the visceral, almost manic obsession with justice.
  • Wolfe has his orchids and agoraphobia.
  • Morse has his Jaguar, opera, and Masonic conspiracy theories
  • Bosch has his Vietnam vet tunnel rat thing, his love of jazz, and poor impulse control.

I spent months coming up with a thing. And that thing was: my detective is homeless.

After considerable brainstorming with my comrades, I settled on a guy who is homeless not because he is down on his luck, but by choice, a man who has rejected the system and chooses to live off the grid.

And this is the point where I broke from my usual habit of working through things at the keyboard, or at the very least, with a lab book and a pen. Instead, I went out on the deck with a scotch and a cigar and a digital recorder, hit record, and asked my detective to tell me about himself. For the next 15 minutes, I channeled my detective, writing down everything I/he said.

I was astounded at what came out, and it gave me a starting point for weeks of research. I read The Art of Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I read Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets by Lars Eighner. I subscribed to the Steve1989MREInfo YouTube channel, listening to hours of reviews of vintage and current MREs. (I’m still subscribed 4 years later.) I called a guy I know who was homeless for several years and who now works with the very organization that helped him get off the streets.

Then I ran smack dab into reality. I bought my current house to renovate the 900 sq ft workshop into a one-bedroom apartment for my mother. However, to make that happen, I had to re-purpose the time I spend writing fiction toward getting new clients for the day job. My New Year’s resolution was to not write another novel until the apartment was finished.

But I couldn’t let the detective novel go. After several months, like a good Pharisee, I found a loophole. I had vowed to not write another novel, but I didn’t say anything about short stories. I would write a series of short stories that I could later stitch together into a novel.

Because the channeling session worked out so well, I decided to dictate my first draft.

To understand the shocking nature of this turn of events, consider that my first draft process involves long periods of staring at the wall, followed by a few frantic minutes of wildly typing before returning to wall staring.

As you may surmise, a process that features long periods of silence isn’t compatible with talking into a recorder. But I chose to double down on shaking things up.


Because this blog series is an exercise in complete transparency of process, I present to you the first session recording, followed by the first draft edit, which is four paragraphs. I recommend you compare the recording to the the manuscript as you listen.

Detective Novel: Session 1

Dictation recording (4 min)

First draft manuscript

Shaking It Up: Part 1

Or How I Threw Away the Formula and Started Over from Scratch. Sort of.


NOTE: If you got here from the Monday Morning Memo, welcome.

Also, if you want to do the Writing Wednesday status report, check out the Brad Whittington page on Facebook for the Wednesday posts.


For a writer, there are two ways to approach fiction:

  1. Write to a market.
  2. Write for yourself.

One of these choices gives you better odds of making a living from writing. Three guesses which one. *

Assuming you’re not some kind of literary genius who has no need to resort to picking one or the other, writing in a popular genre gives you the best chance to make a living writing fiction. Romance, suspense, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, glittering vampires, etc. That’s called writing to a market.

Or you can just write for yourself. For the joy of it.

From the beginning, I chose option #2 and stayed the course for nine novels. On purpose. As it does with many things in life, it all comes down to the why. Why you write determines what you write.

I didn’t come to writing to pay the bills. I already had a day job. I came to writing to tell a story.

I piddled around with writing from early years, junior high at least. In high school, I started my own underground newspaper. I produced two issues, turned the crank myself for the 50 or so copies I printed on the church’s Gestetner mimeograph machine, similar to the one in this video. I was also the editor of the college newspaper for a year, largely on the strength of my “journalism experience” and the fact that nobody else wanted the job. Well, one other guy did, but he just wanted to run the paper as his own propaganda machine.

I wrote a lot of essays and editorials and such. I toyed with fiction, writing half of a short story in high school and a complete short story in college. But a huge barrier barrier prevented me from spreading my wings. I was lazy.

Writing fiction with a typewriter is labor intensive, especially the edits. In 1981, for my freelance consulting work I got a computer with Word Perfect and my last excuse faded. I jumped in with all four feet. I wrote a lot of crap, but I also read a lot of books on writing and slowly improved my craft.

Twenty years later Welcome to Fred got published by accident and I kept going. I enjoyed myself and it paid okay, but it didn’t cover the mortgage. Especially in Honolulu.

In 2016, after writing whatever I felt like, my ninth novel, The Reluctant Saint, was released, I decided to try something new.

I decided to go for option #1. I set out on an experiment to write a novel in the dead center of a viable market, the whodunit.

The question on the table: Can I write a novel I’m proud of putting my name on while meeting all the expectations of a certain type of reader? The jury is still out.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no! He’s abandoning all his faithful readers in a big money grab!” Set your mind at rest. This leopard can’t change his wardrobe this late in the game.

I’m aiming for something closer to Muffin Man than Welcome to Fred, but with more attention to the puzzle. The market is crowded. I don’t expect the money to be significantly different.

And I’m still sticking with option #2. Since 2006 my day job has been freelance writing, gun for hire to the highest bidder, and it pays the bills. In fact, if all goes well, a Dummies book about Artificial Intelligence will show up on the shelves later this year. It won’t have my name on it, but I wrote the sucker.

But when it comes to fiction, I still write for myself. And for the other misfits in my tribe.

However, as far as the writing process goes, everything about this project is different. As a rule, other than an occasional pull quote or a comment about how things are going, I don’t talk about my novels as I write them. So why break form now?

Many of you are writers, some aspiring, some accomplished. Writing is hard work even in the best of times. Perhaps particularly in the best of times when life is plentiful, and a multitude of distractions compete for our attention.

The truth is that all writers struggle, from the aspiring neophyte to the multi-published author. The blank page assails us all, taunting us, daring us to take the chance, to put it all on the page and stand by it.

For this project, I’m throwing out my process, all the little tricks and shortcuts I’ve used for the past 40 years, and starting fresh. New genre, new process. It’s daunting, scary. I have no idea if I can do it.

And I’m going to document my steps, my creative choices, so you can see how the sausage is made. By exposing my own struggles and inadequacies, my hope is that you will be encouraged to pick up the pen, or keyboard, and keep slogging forward on your project.

Ready? Let’s go.

* I am using Truby’s book (more on this later) for the pre-production phase of the writing project, as I have done for my last six novels. I started at the beginning and toward the end of Chapter Two I came across this excellent advice.

“You should always write first for yourself; write what you care about. But you shouldn’t write only for yourself. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to fall into the trap of either-or thinking: either I write what I care about, or I write what will sell. This is a false distinction, born of the old romantic notion of writing in a garret and suffering for your art.”

Which, now that I think about it, is exactly what I decided to do for this novel, despite my grand pronouncement at the beginning.

Also, you might consider giving Truby’s book a shot. It will come in handy when I start working through the development of the story.