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A Professional Writers Process...
by taramonk (taramonk)
at July 13th, 2006 (08:16 pm)
current location: Computer Desk
Soundtrack: Everlong -- Foo Fighters

...which leads to a writing ramble:

Found this short interview with Nora Roberts on my Borders newsletter, and this Q/A caught my attention:

Q: I wanted to ask you about your writing process, because your writing comes across as fluid and effortless, and it seems as though you're "channeling the muse." Is this really the case? What is your writing and revision process like?

NR: Well, first: There ain't no muse. If you sit around and wait to channel the muse, you can sit around and wait a long time. It's not effortless. If only. Well, if it was, then everyone would do it, and where would we be then? So I work really hard to make it as fluid as possible, as readable and entertaining as possible.

I'll vomit out the first draft: bare-bones, get-the-story-down. I don't edit and fiddle as I go, because I don't know what's going to happen next. Once I get the discovery draft down, then I'll go back to page one, chapter one, and then I start worrying about how it sounds, where I've made mistakes, where I've gone right, what else I have to add, where's the texture, where's the emotion. I start fixing. And then, after I've done that all the way through again, I'll go back one more time, and that's when I'm really going to worry about the language. And the rhythm, and making sure that I haven't made a mistake, that I've tied up all the loose ends reasonably. It doesn't necessarily mean everything ties up for every reader, because some want it one way and some want it another, and you just have to be true to the story, so it's all plausible at the end of the day.

Do any of you follow a similar writing process? This way makes sense to me, and I think I may try it and see where it leads. I was also surprised by the lack of mention of an outline. Of course, when you've written a million books, who needs an outline anymore?

Ms. Roberts also mentions she writes popular fiction because that's what she likes to read. Of course, she's more often labeled as a romance writer. I usually enjoy her books, though there have been a few that I couldn't even finish. (Well, I finished by skipping to the end, thus avoiding all the crap and confirming the predictable happy-ever-after.)  

Which got me thinking about what I like to read. And, well -- I like to read romance novels. And I admit it. On my recent vacation, I was talking to someone I had just met, and when she asked me what I like to read, I replied that I mostly read fluffy stuff that doesn't require too much brain work. She thought I meant chick-lit, and was looking down her nose. When I mentioned I read a Nora Roberts on the plane -- and liked it -- she was horrified!

Are romance novels a guilty pleasure, or do you freely admit to being a fan? Or, do you think they're crap? And do I have to write a romance novel, 'cuz that's what I read? I suck at the love stuff.

Any thoughts on writing processes, or romance novels?


Posted by: Ginger Snap (earthwhatwere)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 04:00 am (UTC)

When I'm writing original fic I write the story. I get it down and forge onward. I don't go back and fiddle with the story, I don't worry too much about whether something makes sense or contradicts something later in the story. I get the bones down and then I go back and put the flesh on the story. This could mean rewriting entire chapters, changing or fixing a plot line that went somewhere I didn't expect. The most I'll do during the first draft is mark a section with highlights or bolds to remind me to fix it on the first edit.

Also, with original fic, I never bleed off chapter by chapter what I'm writing to first readers. They get the entire thing when I'm finished. I do this because they all have comments about what I've written and where it's going and most of the time where I'm going with it is so not where they think it will go. It has the power to compromise my confidence in the story as well as my confidence in my ability to write the story I want to write. I firmly believe that as a writer I own the story and should write the story I want to tell. I don't allow people to influence me unless I'm stuck and I ask for help.

With fanfic, you guys get the story with a chapter or two lag. Fanfic, for me, is about as close to my first draft as it gets. I mean, I'll write the chapter and I'll go back and flesh some things out--description and dialogue, or maybe I'll smooth out some sentences when I realize they all have the same rhythm to them or they don't flow well. I just know that if I mess with it too much I'll never finish the story and it will slow down all my other work. It gets edited and I hold on to at least two chapters at a time before I post.

When it comes to reading, I read just about everything: Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, chick-lit, literature, classics, mysteries, horror, whatever strikes my fancy. I believe this strongly: you cannot be a good writer unless you read a lot. You need to see how writers, especially those writers you admire, put together words and map out stories--everything from how they develop their characters to how the story flows, how they write description, dialogue, the way they turn a phrase, or even the small details that make the story full and rich and real.

And if this wasn't already long, I'm just going to end it by saying that what you read isn't ever something to be ashamed of or thought on as a reflection of your taste or intelligence. You learn from what you read. You can enjoy it or groan through it, but reading is always going to be a lesson to writers--whether it's teaching you how to be a better writer, a great writer, or even what not to do with your own writing. Read it all and be richer for the experience.

Posted by: taramonk (taramonk)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)

I like the long answer! Makes me feel better about posting a long rambly sorta question. :)

Not to mention being all full of wisdom and stuff.

I agree that learning how words can be -- and are -- used is an imperative step in the writing process. I'm trying to broaden my reading horizons. And as soon as I have more time in my life, I'm gonna do better. (Next summer, perhaps?) Unfortunately, I pick my books the way I pick my movies -- what's gonna take me on a ride, without making me think/hurt/sad?

I really admire you knowing your creative self so well. I think a huge part of the struggle for many blocked writers is due to not knowing who they are creatively yet. *raises hand* Something more to ponder.

Thanks for your encouraging words. You always give the advice that makes me think. Doesn't necesarily mean it gets put into practice, (cuz I'm a spazz about my own writing) but at least it's there!

Posted by: Ginger Snap (earthwhatwere)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)

Sometimes I don't know my creative self too well. ;) Otherwise I wouldn't be trying to write in so many genres. I'm trying to get this romance finished so I can start sending it out to editors. I'd love for someone to buy it so I can make a living at this.

Posted by: N-to-tha-Kizzle (foodsthatcan)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 04:16 am (UTC)

I am becoming a bigger and bigger believer in outlining. I find it really difficult to write if I don't know where I'm going. Waiting for bursts of inspiration is not an efficient way to work. When you have a detailed outline to work from, the words flow because you've already worked out in advance most of the issues that would normally frustrate or stop you. Prose is something that can be fine-tuned, but if the framework of the story isn't plotted out in advance, it's very easy to get sidetracked and discouraged.

As for romance novels, I haven't read a one in ages. The hero and heroine never act the way I would write them, or I wonder why they are attracted to each other in the first place.

Posted by: taramonk (taramonk)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
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I often have problems with the hero/heroine. It's very rare that I like both of them at the same time. Alot of romance novels also use my biggest story pet peeve: The Misunderstanding Which Leads to Needless Angst.

But -- when you get a good one, it is such a fun read. I stick to writers I know, which has limited by choices drastically. When I'm looking for a new writer, I peruse the 'net, looking for recs.

I have tried the outlining thing, and I get impatient. Which pretty much defines my writing endeavors. I get impatient with the outline, cuz I want to get to the story. I get impatient while writing the story, cuz I already know how it ends, and it seems to take forever to get there. And, then I get distracted.

Perhaps I should start with a less lofty, yet important goal: An outline. Get it down, get it done, refine it, and then see what happens next.

Cuz, I gotta say, waiting for those bursts of inspiration isn't working.

Posted by: N-to-tha-Kizzle (foodsthatcan)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)

Sometimes my hate for the hero or heroine begins with their name. Shallow but true! I'm picky about dialogue, too. If it's too trendy, I'm turned off, but some authors have no ear for how contemporary dialogue should sound, either.

Definitely try the outlining thing! I think that once you get into it and really force yourself to start hashing out your story, you'll feel more creative because you'll start seeing all these opportunities for cool moments and possibilities will start opening up. Feel free to drop me an email if you want a second set of eyes for your ideas.

I should add a caveat: if you're just working on a quick-and-dirty one-shot that's maybe one or two scenes long, an outline probably isn't necessary. But anything longer than that, and you'll probably find one useful.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: taramonk (taramonk)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)

Another wonderful thought-filled response. I love you people here. We don't post enough in this journal. :)

I think I am going to try the outline thing, because what I am currently doing isn't working so well. In fanfic, original writing, or the stage adaptions I need to have done by *gulp* September.

I think I lean toward the romance novel, because they give me a happy ending. Yeah, I may force myself to wade through some sludge to get there, but I want happy, dangit! Which is why I tend to stick with the same writers -- the ones that publish works that I enjoy beginning to end. Mostly.

And the there are some stories *cough*choices*cough* that have it all -- and spoil me for other works.

Do you ever get sick of the praise for Choices? Just wondering. Not like I'm gonna stop or anything. :)

Good writing, no matter the struggle put into it, reads fluidly. Which is one of the reasons I am always amazed at how hard it is to write. When I was a kid, it was effortless. Then I grew up, stopped writing for years, then found you guys -- and was inspired. I'm hoping that inspiration will lead to action, and action will lead to something I can be proud to call mine. :)

Until then, I'll keep looking toward others -- in fanfic and original works alike -- to teach me how it's done.

Posted by: Ginger Snap (earthwhatwere)
Posted at: July 14th, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)

I'm REAL big on outlining. I didn't used to be. I had a mentor tell me that my story was all over the place and to send her my outline. I didn't have one. God, how I tested her patience. ;)

What I've learned about outlining is that I can't write one until I know the characters. This is why I write pages and pages of background information on them--I know where they were born, their date of birth, how many siblings they have, who their parents are, where they went to school, their first job, who they've dated, who their best friend is. I know the best moment of their lives and the worst. Once I know the characters, I can write the outline. It seems like a lot of work before you even get to the story, but for me, it's a lot easier to see where my characters are going when I know where they've been.

Posted by: bluenose0506 (bluenose0506)
Posted at: January 28th, 2007 02:13 am (UTC)

I gotta say, I've been skimming through a few of your comments and I agree with just about everything you say. With most of my fic, both original and fanfic, I leave it as close to first draft as I can - I feel it looses something if you pick too much at it. I also find that the story can grow more if you leave it a little loose, give yourself room to move within it and sometimes storylines and plot hooks come when you dont expect it.

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