• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Want To Watch Me Write?

Social media hashtags: #DailyLinesWithBusiness, #MinnieAndHalsNovella, #Outin2017

2015-diana-workingThis blog entry is actually part of a longer piece called "Want to Watch Me Write?" that I’m putting together in desultory fashion, between other things. It’s a modest example of what-all goes on my head while I’m writing, including all the thinking that happens before, during and after the writing of a single scene.

Our scenario is that it’s 1743, Harold Grey is struggling to raise his father’s defunct regiment, and has just shot a man named Nathaniel Twelvetrees, who had seduced Hal’s wife (she’s just died a month ago, along with the child to whom she gave birth—and Hal doesn’t know whether it was his or not). Hal’s not very stable emotionally at the moment, and his anxious friend, Harry Quarry, is sticking close by him as Hal goes to call on an officer with a good reputation, whom he’d like to recruit for his new regiment. The man lives in a Georgian terrace—a line of upscale townhouses, facing a common fenced park. Hal and Harry pause by the park, opposite the house they intend to visit. This is the thinking-while-I-write versions of the scene’s beginning; I’ll show you what the (more or less) finished version looks like at the end:

Hal reached through the iron bars of the fence and tweaked a leaf [carefully broke a twig] from one of the bushes [a small tree].

“What are you doing?” Harry demanded, stopping in mid-stride. “Picking a bouquet for your button hole? [ck. Period use of “bouquet” for this, though pretty sure I’m right]

[What does the leaf look like? I want it to be something either striking or aromatic… flip over to Google, “English shrubs,” and within a few clicks get “Seven Fuss-Free Shrubs for your Garden,” with pictures, the first of which is Crataegus persimilis, ‘Prunifolia’—the cockspur thorn, which has “few but very long and sharp thorns” and the instant I read that I know what’s going to happen…]

“No, I wanted to see if this is what I thought it was, but it is.”

“And what’s that, pray?” Harry gave the [wait a minute—have just thought maybe it isn’t a leaf he picked—that’s not the most interesting bit of that plant. Quick shufti beginning with “What does hawthorn smell like” (having picked up that cockspur thorn is a hawthorn, and hit paydirt in several directions. “Hawthorn” is one of the oldest words in English, has a great history in terms of English landscaping, the leaves are said to taste like bread and cheese (at least they’re edible), and (best of all) “the flowers have a scent that is said to be that of a woman sexually aroused.” O, serendipity…]

“And what’s that, pray?” Harry came back a step to look at the twig in Hal’s hand. [go back up and change “tweaked a leaf”] The foliage was cool in his hand; it had rained a bit earlier and the leaves and flowers [this had better be set in springtime, so I can have flowers] were still damp [no “wet” is better, he feels the water on his palm], were still wet, water droplets sliding down his wrist [the inside of his wrist?], disappearing into the cloth of his cuff [frill of his cuff? He’s a dressy man, but “cloth” is alliterative, and would he have a frilled shirt-cuff with his uniform? I like the visual of “frill,” let’s go look (I have a book of British uniforms of the 18th century in my office that would answer this instantly, but as usual, it’s in Arizona and I’m in Ontario, so…)]

[Hiatus of four days, owing to working non-stop at the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games, flying back from Toronto, and then dealing with all the stuff that piles up here when I’m gone for more than 24 hours…]

[Not that I have written nothing in those four days; I’ve done four bloody email interviews, sixteen complicated emails dealing with business; printed, read and signed three different contracts (for the artwork in “I Give You My Body…” which came out yesterday! And arrived as an Amazon #1 Bestseller, which is gratifying. For reasons best known to Amazon, they listed the category as “memoirs”…), for a novella/short story collection, and for a short piece for an odd anthology of car stories (don’t ask; I’ll tell you about it when it comes out in November). Also wrote small pieces of a Book Nine scene and pulled together both a small chunk of Book Nine and a small chunk of Minnie and Hal.]

Where was I? Oh, frills. On the good side, where I am is back in my office, and as expected, a quick glance at UNIFORMS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (by John Mollo, Illus. Malcolm McGregor, published 1975 MacMillan) show me that yes, indeedy—infantry officers did wear frilled shirt cuffs—though no other regiments’ officers seem to have. So now we have that settled…

Here’s what I’ve actually got of this scene so far:

“Hal reached through the iron bars and carefully broke a twig from a small tree growing by the fence.

“What are you doing?” Harry demanded, stopping in mid-stride. “Picking a bouquet for your button hole?”

“No, I wanted to see if this is what I thought it was, and it is.”

“And what’s that, pray?” Harry came back a step to look at the twig. The foliage was cool in Hal’s hand; it had rained a bit earlier and the leaves and flowers were still wet, water droplets sliding down his wrist and soaking into the cloth of his frilled cuff.”

This doesn’t look like much—and it’s not—but it is a kernel. It’s my way into the page and into this scene. Hal and Harry are moving and speaking, and it will be pretty easy to pick up this conversation when I come back to work on this scene tonight, because obviously Hal’s going to tell Harry that it’s cockspur thorn, continue with the leaves tasting like bread-and-cheese as they cross the street and go up the steps of the house, and end with the scent of the flowers, Hal handing the twig to Harry while he rings the bell [ck if houses had bells in 1743, or only knockers], and as the door opens [to reveal whom? We don’t know…], Harry is discreetly sniffing the flowers, which he puts in his own buttonhole as he follows Hal inside.

But now you see why it takes awhile to write this stuff…

Selected Social Media Comments:

Below are some reader questions about this post from my Social Media accounts (in bold type) with my replies, selected by my Webmistress. Before anyone asks, no, we can’t copy and paste ALL of the comments. <g>

With so many writing projects going on, how do you keep them all straight and not confuse characters and plot lines?

How do you know you just had lunch with your husband and not your best friend? They’re just different things.

“Life is in the details.” Am I right to imagine that you have a general sense of the plot before you start writing, but the details come to you as you write? You’ve told Sam how the series will end, so you know where the plot needs to go, but getting there seems unmapped. I love that you take the readers along for a ride outside the book as well as in it. THANKS!

No, I have no idea of the plot. I don’t plan books out ahead of time, I don’t work with an outline, and I don’t work in a straight line. <g> I have the end of the series, but it actually isn’t part of the plot, if that makes any sense..…

What a gift! This post is a little mini-movie of the written word which helps those of us struggling to become writers. A process. Insight. It may not be ours, but that’s ok! So exciting to see a process that is unique and you and not a regimental set of steps—to get from first word to last. Thank you!

Have never understood why people think a) that there is “a regimented set of steps” to writing something, nor yet b) why you’d follow such a plan if there was one. <g>

I’ve been reading I GIVE YOU MY BODY and I love it as much as any of your books. If there are any of your books, it’s because I haven’t found them! Including the co-written ones with Sam Sykes!

There aren’t any books co-written with Sam. His novels are entirely his own.

Webmistress’s note: Fantasy author Samuel Sykes is Diana’s son. Check out his home page for more information about his work:


I love seeing your process. It makes total sense to me to add those notes (like go back and change x) while you go instead of breaking the train of thought. Thanks for sharing!

But I don’t add those notes; they’re shown here, but in real-time, that’s what I’m thinking—and while I sometimes leave square brackets for a specific piece of missing information—“[tree]”—more often I just go find/check what I need right there—since what I find may well affect what comes next/later.

I have a question related to this, Diana! What does your work with editors look like? Is it very developmental, with constructive feedback shared throughout drafting? More focused on high-level looks at certain checkpoints? Something else entirely? Given your long history as a writer I’m just curious about that part of the process as well. Editor/author dynamics can be so diverse and interesting.

No. <g> I don’t write in drafts, and the way I do write would be impossible for anybody else to have much impact on. I write the book, and when I think it’s finished, I send it (sometimes in chunks, but that depends on the book and how it’s coming together for me) to my U.S. and U.K. editors, and they both send back comments. Some are purely mechanical—catches of repeated passages or imagery, minor confusions of timeline, straightforward typos or minor errors, etc.—and some are asking for clarification of some point or expressing a minor reservation about something—and those are left up to my judgement. But every editor works differently with different writers.

How do you keep these tidbits organized? Do you have multiple pages/tabs? Way back when I had to write papers, we used index cards and outlines. I keep trying to picture your organization as you have said you might write down incidents way ahead of when they fit in into any book. You amaze me ! Love your writing! Thank you for all the enjoyable hours.

It’s just in my head. I do “organize” my scenes, insofar as I give each scene a unique filename so I can find it when I want it. <g> A file name consists of a word signifying which book it is (all the main Outlander novel are called “JAMIE” — JAMIE, JAMIE2, JAMIE3, etc.; we’re now on JAMIE9. Whereas THE SCOTTISH PRISONER was called “PRISON” and BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, “BROTHER.” Each new book has its own folder/directory, into which all its files go.

The filename then has a symbol indicating the year of creation, followed by a dot and a 2-3 digit extension that indicates the date on which I began work on that scene/file. So a scene that I began today, for instance, in BEES, would be called JAMIE9@.91 .One started tomorrow would be JAMIE9@.92, and so on. Files for BEES from 2015 were all called JAMIE9!.(date).

The other component of this very crude organizing system is a file (there’s one for each book) called the MFILE (for “Master File”). This is just a list of the filenames, each being followed by several keywords:

JAMIE9@.313 – coon hunt, Bluey

JAMIE9@.818 – Smokeshed, Brianna and Fanny


So when I write what comes after “Smokeshed,” I can open the MFILE and do a quick search for “One an officer” and I’ll find JAMIE9&.92 (because that’s what I’ll be working on tomorrow).

As to putting the pieces together… I think in shapes. Geometrical shapes. And so sometimes the pieces flow together because of their content (“Root cellar” follows “Smokeshed,” for instance), but sometimes because of the way they fit together, which wouldn’t be easily describable in words, but which is intuitively obvious to ‘em.

What size hard drive do you need for that? Do you have a backup system?

Text/document files really take very little room (though I think I have a 2-gig hard disk in this machine). I have all my writing folders embedded in Dropbox, so when I save to my hard disk, the same file goes automatically to Dropbox (which not only serves as backup, but is accessible from any other of my devices, so I can retrieve the file I made on my Alien (which is huge and weighs nine pounds) to the Mac Air that I travel with—or, in a pinch (if called on unexpectedly to read an excerpt somewhere) I can pull something into my iPad and take it on stage.

That said, I do also back up the most important files once a week to both a thumb-drive and the external Time Machine backup for the Mac. I also print out the scenes as I finish them, for my husband to read, and I throw the annotated copies (after I’ve read them <g>) into a storage box—just in case of EMP’s.

Your writing is very tight. When you include a detail, it is likely to be important or significant later. How far ahead do you look when writing? Did you know that John Grey was going to reappear so many times in so many books? You bring back so many characters when we think we have seen the last of them. Is there a big picture somewhere?

The bigger picture just emerges as I work. People think this or that is clever foreshadowing— when all it is, is that I looked back from some further vantage point and said, “Oh, I could use that bit here, couldn’t I?” <g> (A story doesn’t run in only one direction.)

I think your mind works a lot like mine does. It’s highly nonlinear thought processes that you’re showing here, but there’s a logical flow down each side-path. I wonder if that’s the scientist in us… At any rate, I enjoyed the walking tour of your method, and it is even clearer to me now what a labor of love your writing is. Every scintilla of detail, down to the degree of moisture on the plant, is finely crafted. Thank you for being such a conscientious creator of your world!

Linearity is by no means the only model of logic. <g>

How do you separate fiction from reality? When I am engrossed in one of your books, I feel that I’m looking at the moment through the characters of the book, if that makes sense. The characters seem so real but not. Yet you are living it daily. Probably thinking about the next scene or paragraph of any given project at the time.

Fiction is just a different reality.

I love your brain! Just how many of YOU are in that head?

I’ve never tried to count…

Thank you so much for sharing. I have an idea for something I’d like to write about. I’ve begun the research process but have been lamenting about how to write it. Seeing your process made me realize that my approach is similar to yours and so it begins… Thanks for the inspiration.

All you gotta do is start—and then don’t stop. You’ll figure out the how (or rather, which “how” works for you) as you go.

Everybody’s brain is wired up differently; the key to succeeding (as in, get words on paper <g>) is to figure out how your own brain works best, and work with it, rather than trying to force it into some preconceived notion of “how it’s done.”

You always type your writing? And never write it out in longhand?

If I wrote in longhand, it would be illegible within seconds; I change words, sentences, paragraphs, clauses, pretty much nonstop.

“Desultory” was not in my vocabulary before I read the OUTLANDER series. <g> Nor was “peremptory.”

Stick with me, kid… I can teach you a lotta words…

This blog was first posted on my official Facebook page on September 1, 2016, and appears here with a few selected social media questions/comments and my replies.

74 Responses »

  1. Please stay home and finish Book 9. I am too excited!

  2. Dear Diana
    I’ve read all 8 of the Outlander books, plus the Scottish Prisoner and first Outlandish Companion. (the second Companion is on order at the local bookstore) I Love them all and can’t wait for no. 9.
    I grew up 12 miles from Fergus, Ontario, and plan to attend the Scottish Festival there in 2017. I now live in NW Ontario, and will be traveling over 1200 miles to attend. I hope you will be there and that I will have the priviledge of meeting you, and maybe having you sign one or more of the books.
    It would be wonderful to meet some of the cast from the tv series too, if they attend the festival. I thought both Sam and Caitriona were well cast for the series, they depicted so clearly the personas you had described. I could listen to Jamie talk forever, the nicest voice, enough to melt your heart! Would love to meet them.
    I’ve started writing a novel (or hoping it will become one) which is set in the 1910 era, and located in the Bow river valley just south of Calgary, where I worked as a cook on a ranch some years ago.
    It is a very scenic area, which now is part of Calgary, probably millionaire’s homes and no longer ranch land.
    I’ve wanted to write for years, and finally just sat down and started, and find the ideas coming so fast that I have trouble typing fast enough to get them down.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading about your writing process and thank you for taking the time to answer people’s questions.
    Sincerely, Gloria Smith

  3. I found what you shared so supportive and collaborative and insightful. Thank you so much!

  4. I am addicted to your books and series. I love the characters. They could not have picked better actors to play them. I noticed there hasn’t been any updates on book 9. I am still trying to purchase the last videos from last spring. Do you dream of your books? Is your mind always full of thoughts about outlander? Thanks again for all your work.

  5. Dear Diane,

    I will writh to you un french. Will be mire Eastwood for me.

    Je veux seulement vous dire que je suis honorée d’avoir lu tout votre série du Chardon et le tartan.
    En 1994, une amie m’a parlé du premier tome. Je suis allée acheter le premier tome et j’en suis éperdument tombée amoureuse. Je l’ai dévorée.

    Honnêtement, j’ai vraiment hâte de lire: Go Tell The Bees That I am Gone…
    J’imagine la pression, gigantesque, que les lecteurs vous mettent sur les épaules pour pouvoir le lire.
    Prenez le temps qu’il vous faudra pour l’achever. Soyez certaine que je vais courir à la librairie l’acheter et le lire avec amour et toute mon attention.

    À votre service,

    Joëlle Benoit

  6. Happy New Year!! I love your work! Please continue to write with the quality you have in the past . Anything worth having is worth waiting for! Thank you for sharing your talent! Enjoy your family and friends!
    God Bless,
    Betty Clark

  7. Olá Diana!/ Hello!

    Congratulations for your writting!

    Outlanders historic and romance about Scotland history mixed with the romance relationship between James Alexander Malcom M;ackenzie Fraser and Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser are contagious, hilarious. I drink your books during my reading.

    Ronald D. Moore follow your books and with good actors such as Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe give life to the characters, well performed by Sam, Caitriona and the other co-stars. A great show of our XXI century indeed!

    Thanks and continuous with your fabulous and fantastic mind to create such good writting!

    A big hug from Portugal.

  8. Good afternoon. I was checking in and hoping for a new #dailylines and read this page instead. Wondering – do you use a writing program or simple simple software? Big fan currently planning a trip to Scotland. Thanks for opening my family history up for me, Julie

  9. I have read all 8 books in the outlander series, two Lord John books and every book i read i am just incredibly amazed at your attention to detail and how you make your characters in your books 3 dimensional and live and breathe. I am from Chandler AZ. however i am living in North Yorkshire England. What got me initially hooked was how you identified with the cultural differences in a time (age) appropriate way. I just giggled through most of Outlander as Claire saw and experienced new things and i could relate to some of them. Although i live in Yorkshire and not Scotland the attitudes and customs are much more similar then say compared to London (down south as they say here but anything south of Yorkshire is considered southern). Its been a tough year for me and your books have made me smile. I also watch the series which has allowed me to visualize more clearly the characters but the books are the heart. I was so sad to finish Witten IMOHB. Am looking forward to the next book but please take your time and make sure its right. I’m hoping to get to the poisoned pen in Scottsdale when i am over at the end of May. If you have any book signings i’ll make sure to bring a book or two with me however the kindles are much easier to pack for the plane! Wishing you continued luck with your writing and look forward to continued reading.

  10. Hello Diana
    Waiting with anticipation for your next book “Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone”
    Cannot help wondering though, about the incident with the mysterious Scotsman who Frank Randall saw on the night of the storm in the first few pages of Book 1 “Cross Stitch”
    Will it be Jamie travelling into Clair’s time at some stage, I wonder?

  11. I so enjoy the Outlander Series. The first was tremendous, each following work was as good and better than the last.
    My greatest problem occurs when the last page is turned and my Highland family and friends are gone for a bit. I begin to wonder if Roger has become a better shot, if Claire has scrubbed off the grime of the next patient’s injury, if the house is ready and should I offer to help with the roof, maybe bring supper over and make a cake or muffins. Its ridiculous, I know, but I miss my family and friends!
    When the Bees makes its way to my house, I’ll catch up with everyone’s news.
    Maybe this should be called ‘Tell Marla the reunion is on.”


    a fan

  12. Dear Diana,

    I am not usually a reader of romance novels, and as a matter of fact I was not aware of ‘Outlander’ until the theme song from the series was used on DWTS. The Skye Boat Song is one of the tunes that has drawn me to it from childhood, and it drew me into your books. I have not seen the videos, only read the books (except for Dragonfly which I somehow missed).

    That being said, I am impressed by the amount of research you’ve done for your novels. Due to my own family history I frequently found the way you captured the Scot’s society intuitively accurate. (The comparing of relatives between new acquaintances until we find a match was somewhat unsettling because I myself do that. Ugh!) I’ve even filled in a few of the blanks in my own family history, it seems that a county in GA bears the name of my clan! I wasn’t aware that we came over that early.

    Anyway, I felt compelled to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your books, and to please keep up the good work!

  13. Hello Diana,

    YOU and your stories brought back the love of reading to this 50 year old woman (ahem)! and I thank you!

    I stumbled on Outlander, believe it or not, on YouTube, about a year ago. Almost immediately, I discovered your books and I am hooked (If I took your bet, I’d owe you a dollar). Beyond the amazing story lines, I appreciate the life lessons threaded throughout. When I was reading DOA, the bit about forgiveness was echoing loudly in my own life at that time. I can hardly wait for Bees…. in the meantime, I found and bought a complete set of the Lord John series at a local half price books (how could anyone sell them!!!!)… and, an autographed book of ABOSAA (what?! what a treasure!).

    Blessings on top of blessings to you.

  14. I have been a reader all my life and I didn’t know about your series, Outander, until the tv show started. I liked it so much, I immediately purchased all 8 and read them one after another. Then I read them all again and purchased everything else you’ve written, to read. I love your work, obviously. I was a huge fan of James Michener, I always learned so much fact along with being highly entertained and you are every bit as good. I love your humor, your pace, basically I just love your work. Thank you. Must be very cool, being you. Such a smart lady. Take all the time you need for #9 and 10, I’ll be waiting… But, very glad that you’re getting close on 9.

  15. I have never done this and I hope it is heard. I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s in October 2017, my dog of 11 years just passed this April. I just finished book 8 in the Outlander series. I wanted to thank you so much for these books. Through many years of my dad’s decline, they were my escape. They are the 1st books I have read in years and my hubby got me the 1st one for Christmas 2 years ago, what a great gift! They made some sad times more bearable. I cant wait to get ahold of book 9, and thank you again for these wonderful books!

    • Mary,

      So sorry for the loss of you Dad and your beloved dog. You have my deepest sympathies.

      BEES may be finished in the fall of 2019. With a publication date some time after, to be determined.

      Thank you for the kind words!


  16. Your writing is always so readable, enjoyable, and packed with new words for me to look up! I never thought I could enjoy reading this much.+Thank you! Patiently awaiting the arrival of Bees. No pressure! You’re a master story teller. It’ll be ready when it’s ready!

  17. So glad to hear about another writer who doesn’t use an outline! I am a “pantster” too.

  18. Hello,
    I probably don’t have anything to say that has not been said already but I will anyhow. I have been loving your characters for a long time. So when a new book comes out I read the whole series over again to extend the pleasure. Now with nine books I did start early in anticipation of ‘Bees’ because I don’t think I can wait the time it takes to read the whole series to finally crack open the new book.
    I feel quite attached to your characters and am surprised at the emotions their experiences create in me.
    I have mixed feelings about Bees, even though I look forward to the next book , knowing it is the last I know I will be sad. It has been a lovely ride though. Thank you so very much for the many wonderful years of reading. I can only hope you have new stories to be told and more characters for us to fall in love with.
    Warm regards

    • Hi, Sandra,

      So glad that you love Diana’s books, too, but hang on to your hat… Diana has said there will be a Book Ten after BEES! Then she is planning write a prequel about Jamie’s parents after that, and has other ideas, too.

      There are still wonderful things to come… :-)

      Diana’s Webmistress

  19. OMG… I started writing almost a year and a half-ago, and it’s like you live inside my head! I do the same thinking in my head, and also the frequent pauses while I quickly look up somethinng online, etc.

    I think the brackets are genius! I’ve tried to write an outline, but it just doesn’t seem to work out. But if I’ve had a few days of intense writing, I’m in a fog as I think of details, or remember something in a previous chapter that I could bring up again.

    And of course so many great things pop into my head when I can’t get near a laptop or even a piece of paper… :-P

    Thank so much for this!


  20. Would love to see you write a new book series. After you finish book 9 & 10.
    About a totally new “family”.

    • Hi,

      As I’ve stated elsewhere, once the Outlander series of novels is finished, I may write a prequel novel about Jamie’s parents. And I have some other ideas, too, involving Master Raymond. Plus a totally new direction—a contemporary mystery set in Phoenix. Time will tell! <g>


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