Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


My Writing Process: The Blog Hop You’ve Been Waiting For (Or Not)

Welcome back Dear Readers,

Today I’m sharing the intimate details (gasp!) of my writing process for this ongoing blog tour that tags various writers and asks us nosy questions. πŸ˜‰

Samantha Dunaway Bryant kindly chose me to take part, likely since we were both participants in the A to Z Challenge, so she figured I was another glutton for punishment. (And she was right, cause I said yes!) Please check out her post here.

I don’t often talk about my writing process, so my question for you is this: do you find this interesting? Would you like to hear more about what I’m working on and where I’m at? If so, please let me know in the comments. I never blog about it because I assume no one is interested, but perhaps that’s not the case.

Without further ado, here’s my shocking answers to the blog tour questions. (Well, they’re not really that shocking, but it is Monday–had to wake you up somehow.)

What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing a new series set in ancient Egypt that I hope to self publish. Since I’m not an Egyptologist, I’ve been doing tons of research. Every movie I watch is either a documentary on ancient Egypt or Egyptian-themed (thank god for Stargate and The Mummy series!), and every book I read is…you guessed it, about ancient Egypt. I’m immersing myself in that world right now, and I’m happy to say it’s anything but boring.

I recently finished a young adult thriller/horror, and before that, a horror novel for adults. I just submitted a paranormal mystery to editors and agents, so I have one novel out on submission, two that need rewrites, and one work in progress. (Not to mention two other books I need to read again to decide if they’re worthy of submitting.) I also blog a chapter of one of my first books here each Friday, and write a ton of non-fiction articles each week.

How does my work differ from others of the genre?

I love to tell scary stories, but I like to think that I elevate the genre with characters who live and breathe off the page, people my readers will really care about. There’s usually a social issue explored in my books. Human rights is one that I keep going back to. I basically write what I always wanted to read but couldn’t find. Stephen King’s Bag of Bones is an example of the type of book I would love to see more of.

Why do I write what I do?

It all started back in high school with a very picky English teacher. He loathed what he called “Disney endings” and he hated teenage angst. The easiest way to avoid a sappy happy ending? Write horror.

But my first published story in Grade Four was about vampires, so it could have started even earlier. Scary stories–and the taboo that surrounds them, especially when you’re a kid–have always fascinated me. “You shouldn’t read that–it’ll give you nightmares.” What kid wouldn’t find that intriguing?

How does your writing process work?

Here’s the shocking part I promised you. I don’t outline. I don’t plan. I often don’t know how my books will end until I write the ending. Sometimes the process itself is scary, but if I have faith and keep writing, everything will turn out in the end. It always surprises me how every little innocuous thing at the beginning ends up tying into some deeper theme or plot point later in the book–how does that happen? Writing is magic–that’s my only way of explaining it.

My books usually start with a single idea, and it’s often a “what if.” What if a good cop got so frustrated he took the law into his own hands? What if one of Andrea Yates’s children had survived? What if my best friend hadn’t died, but had disappeared? How much worse would that be? What if that house was haunted by its past? I may jot down the idea if I’m afraid I’ll forget it, and then a few days later, a character will start speaking in my mind. These characters come fully formed, usually–it never feel likes someone I’ve made up. The character starts telling me his or her story, and it’s my job to write it down as fast as I can.

I spend at least an hour a day working on a new book, Monday to Friday. So far I’m taking weekends off, but when I’m getting close to the end of a novel, I’ll write on weekends as well. An hour a day doesn’t sound like much, but it means I’ll write three books a year. And as I’m having trouble keeping up with rewriting and submitting what I’ve already written, that’s enough for me.

If you’d like to know more about how I stay on track and how you could use the same trick, check out my post on the Jerry Seinfeld Productivity Secret.

Next week:

Tanager Hammerface (not her real name–ha!): This multi-talented redhead is a writer, an artist, and an acrobatic tumbler who runs her own Etsy shop. She’s one of the coolest people on the planet, and if you haven’t seen her egglets yet, I’m warning you now–you will want one (or three).

Donelle Lacy: Donelle is another incredibly talented writer and artist. Her Twitter sketches have attracted the notice of Neil Gaiman and other famous folk. During the day, she’s a mild-mannered library clerk, but by night…well, I’ll let her tell you about that. If she wants to.

Tui Snider: This woman has been everywhere! Seriously, everywhere. She’s a freelance writer, photographer, and musician who specializes in offbeat sites, overlooked history, cultural traditions, and quirky travel destinations. She’s written a book called Unexpected Texas that is a must-read for travel buffs everywhere, even those who aren’t interested in going to the Lonestar State.

These ladies are awesome! Please give them some love next Monday, when they blog about their writing process on May 12th.

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Samantha Dunaway Bryant

    I don’t outline either . .. at least not at first. Sometimes I outline after the fact, to help me see the holes I need to fill in for the second draft. Nice post! Thanks for playing!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks Samantha, and thanks for tagging me. So many people preach the holy grail of the outline. It’s rare to hear from writers who don’t.

  2. Stephanie Faris

    I’m just like you–no outlines. I just start. Only I often find I lose steam 1/4th to halfway through. So I stop at that point to write a synopsis and really think things through. That seems to help! I just can’t plan an entire story before I’ve gotten to know my characters first.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Stephanie! Thanks for your comment, and for returning. πŸ™‚ As long as I keep writing, I don’t lose steam, but the trick for me is to not take a long break in the middle of a novel. In the past, that’s been easier said than done.

      My thoughts always go faster than my hands, so I jot down a few notes about where to go next at the end of each writing session. That helps if I’ve taken a break, as does reading over the last part of what I’ve written.

      In the haunted house novel, I was struggling over the fact that my main character’s voice was so cheerful and funny in the beginning. That didn’t seem to fit the genre. The solution? Give the ghost a voice and go back and forth between the two characters. It worked, because the ghost’s voice is definitely not cheerful and funny. He is pissed!

  3. Vince

    Not often on the net now but still enjoy your blog.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Vinnie! Welcome back…and you are always welcome here.

  4. Javier

    Thank you for giving us a window into your creative process. Very interesting, Holli!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      You’re very welcome, Javier. Thanks for reading (and commenting)!

  5. Frank Powers

    I’d really like to talk to you about this.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Anytime, Frank. I think you know where to find me. πŸ™‚

  6. Steven

    I agree that that horror genre falls into the use of too many flat, uninteresting characters. I try to create more complex characters, although sometimes that good vs. evil dynamic is useful. My protagonist in my WIP is one that people either seem to love or hate.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      I didn’t realize you wrote horror too, Steven, although I might have guessed! I’m excited to read your books, because I’ve really enjoyed your blog.

      I turn the good vs. evil dynamic on its head a bit. In both of my last books, the “evil” is actually quite sympathetic, and a victim in its own right.

  7. Rebecca Douglass

    I’m gradually changing from a total pantser to an outliner, of sorts. I doubt I’ll ever do really anal outlines, but I have to admit that when I went into my NaNo surge last fall with a general outline, a list of suspects and red herrings, and a bunch a scenes I knew needed to happen, it was a lot easier to keep my momentum! I’ll be experimenting!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. I think that’s the only hard and fast rule–every writer needs to do what works for them. Glad you found what works for you!

  8. Chrys Fey

    A book set in Ancient Egypt sounds so good. I’ve always been fascinated with Ancient Egypt. πŸ™‚

    How luck you have to have a novel submitted to agents for consideration. I’ve never gotten past the query letter! I have my fingers crossed for you! πŸ™‚

    I love the story behind how you started writing horror. If I had him for a teacher, I would’ve been in despair because I liked those happy “Disney-endings”. haha And you don’t plan? *Gasp* πŸ˜‰ I’m a huge planner when it comes to . . . everything! lol But every writer is different. πŸ™‚

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hey Chrys,

      Welcome back! Thank for commenting. I hope the series will be a good one. At the moment, it’s exhausting to write, as every little thing seems to require research.

      Most of my submissions are queries. The fulls and partials I have out are the result of the writers’ conference I attended, where I could give my pitch in person. That seems to make a huge difference.

      Every writer is different. That’s why “writing rules” make me laugh. It might be a rule for some, but not others.

  9. Lisa

    First off…you and my oldest son would get along great…he is obsessed with anything and everything Egypt…;0)) The last time we were in a bookstore he asked me to buy him a book on Egyptian History…(I rarely tell my kids “No” when they ask for a book .;0)

    Second….in the dabbling I call writing there is no such thing as an outline…Like you I start with an idea and then take it from there…I still have a novella in progress that I have no idea how it’s going to end…;0)))

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Lisa. I think it’s great that your kids are allowed to read what they want. The fact that they like to read at all is very encouraging!

      I’m glad to hear you’re working on a new writing project. Let me know how it turns out! Have you given yourself a deadline?

  10. Tui Snider

    First off, I am flattered that you chose me as one of your victims!

    Secondly, I adore hearing about other people’s writing process. I am always eager to learn how other people juggle the various aspects involved. To me, it is so easy to swing out of balance with my creative projects!

    I’m not really into the horror genre, although I adore Stephen King. Maybe it’s ‘cuz I grew up in a haunted house, where the creepy stuff was waaaaaaaaaaay more subtle than anything you ever read about or see in movies. I get annoyed when I see a movie about hauntings that strike me as overblown.

    OK.. I’m rambling now.

    Thanks again for inviting me along on this blog hop. The other victims, err, participants look interesting, too! πŸ˜€

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Tui,

      Of course I chose you! You’re insanely interesting…I would have been a fool not to.

      Now I definitely have to hear more about your haunted house story. And I agree, the subtle stuff is often a lot more scary AND realistic than the typical “ooh, there’s someone in the mirror or crawling on the ceiling again.” So OVER that.

      I’m really looking forward to reading your post. Thanks for commenting on mine!

  11. Tui Snider

    I forgot to mention that I’m excited about your Egyptology project. My hubby was lucky enough to visit Egypt many times as a kid. He has all these great photos of the pyramids and of his family riding camels.

    I’m so jealous!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Well, I’d much rather see Egypt than write about it. So sad it’s not safe to go right now. πŸ™ Your husband is a lucky man–I’d love to see those pictures!

  12. Donelle Lacy

    I have read this three times now, and am finally commenting. (It just keeps getting better every time!) Your writing process makes me a little envious, what with your Jerry Seinfeld method and all. An hour a day is a great way to redeem the time. Going to have to try it myself!

    I’m the same way with my stories – happily surprised that even the small things tie into the main plot later in the story. It IS like magic!

    Yep, I was one of those kids drawn to the scary and creepy. It’s a big thing with certain ages and I love finding kids who’re drawn to it too. (future readers!)

    Great post! It’s so interesting to learn how fellow writers work. Now I’m off to visit your other wonderful participants.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Donelle,

      I’m really glad you enjoyed this post. As you say at the beginning of yours, I wasn’t sure if anyone would find it interesting. If you’re a writer, you have your own process, and if you’re not, who cares how writers work? But I’m glad it didn’t bore people as much as I feared.

      By all means, try the Seinfeld thing. I’m not a special case. I think it would work for anyone who’s really committed to sticking to it.


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