With NanoWriMo upon us, I always feel the need to explain my process, because it’s pretty different (read: insane) than most of what I’d read about when I first started writing – you know, the, this is how you should do it, posts.
I’ve always been contrary. And maybe my insanity will help comfort a few of you who don’t do things in order when you’re writing.
Anyway, I’m sort of unofficially doing Nano. I say unofficially because this is a contracted project that I started back in August because that’s when the proposal was due. And until now, I’ve been working in my dribs and drabs way and then realized, oh, wow, this book is due like, soon. And Nano rules (hate rules) say you must start a story and have 50K written in the month of November.
Hence, Nano-ish participation. I need 60K. Well, right now it looks like 60K. I’ll know more after today and tomorrow, when I stick my hands into the mess and try to piece it together like Frankenstein did to his monster.
(I can hear my students arguing with me – Mrs. T, you’re wrong – Frankenstein was the monster. Same kids who thought Al Gore’s first name was Algore. And they never worried that he didn’t have a last name because they thought he was cool like Madonna. Teaching can melt your brain, but they never tell you that in the MAT program.)
Back to process. What I end up doing is writing longhand, especially at the start of a book. My synopsis is as vague as my editor will let me get away with – I’ve gotten some great guidance from PBW on quick and painless outlining that helps me do a bare minimum without killing my love for the story – if I know everything, I don’t want to write it.
And I write and I write, out of order (which drives many of my fellowwritersinsane, which is an added bonus!) And then I type it all in, out of order, random scenes and it’s a big old mess.
Since I’m now on a Mac, I use Scrivner software. I was using WriteWayPro on the PC (although most of my books were done in Word before I discovered the beauty of the writing program – I recommend both HIGHLY, especially if you tend to write out of order.)
So today, it’s all about moving the stuff around, seeing what I’ve got. It’s pretty fun because I get to watch my word count burgeon without doing much more than cutting and pasting random scenes together and seeing what works.
This will not be fun later, when I have to mesh said scenes, realizing that this means there are pov jumps every other sentence. But hey, there’s a price for out of order freewriting, but for me, that’s where lots of magic happens. I’m not willing to sacrifice magic, no matter how messy.
(Remind me of this in the coming days when I begin to whine excessively about how much CRAP I have to wade through in order to find the story)
Because here’s the thing – no matter your process, no matter how many books you write, it will never, ever get easier. You will get better, and that’s why it never gets easier. You will be faced with thinking, Holy crap, how did I get from beginning to end of that last book and the book before? Because right now, faced with the mess, it seems impossible and insurmountable and has me glaring at the pretty books on my shelves and hating them.
So don’t worry if your process is in order, out of order, synopsis, no synopsis, not like any of your crit partners or publisher writer advice. If it works for you, that’s all that counts. Because creation is messy – it should be. It needs to be.
So, how are you doing? (Ali?) I believe I got close to 3K of new stuff today in between wading through the mess. More tomorrow. Oh, and a HARD TO HOLD mini-countdown starts in a few days with some behind the scenes stuff!
Cam’s books is done – it’s the one due out after the third book in the SEAL trilogy, tentatively titled, Don’t Look Back. Although I hesitate to use the word done, because that seems…wrong. I can’t say the first draft is done because it’s really not a first draft. The first pass, maybe? The one that I send to my editor with the highest of hopes (mainly that she doesn’t hate it – I’m never under any illusions about revisions – I need them) and the one that ultimately comes winging back to me in less than a few weeks time like a returning houseguest who eats all your food and orders payperview movies on your credit card but doesn’t want to actually give you anything in return.
Some books are like that. Most of them are. And so I’ll revise and send, revise and send, but for now, the book is done. And when I finished, I honestly couldn’t see straight. Larissa and I also completed the Sydney short story that will appear in the Mammoth Book of Special Ops (Pub Date TBA).
And even thought I was spinning, and I left my computer behind to go hang out outside with Zoo and the kid and the dog, convinced I was taking the rest of the day off, a few hours later, I felt it. The niggling in my brain of the story I’d pushed aside. It was saying, you’ve got some brand new Claire Fontaine notebooks waiting for you. And nothing to do for an entire day.
So I wrote about 2K on the story – it’s one that will probably be just for me and that’s okay. My way of refilling the well. Of letting my muse know that she gets to tell me what to do and I usually like it. Because I’m not one of those, there is no muse, I just sit down and write people.
I recently read this great story about Alice Walker, about how she was given a grant and a year’s sabbatical to write, The Color Purple. And for something like eleven months, she sat in a vacation house and she knit. And knit. And knit. And didn’t write. And the grant people were getting very nervous because the was no writing there.
But when she did finally write, the story was there in front of her. She simply had to let it grow before she could start. Really, the writing was happening – it just didn’t happen on the page.
My writing works very much the same way. I might have a deadline that’s six months out – and I’ll definitely tinker. And write scenes here and there and collect music and just think. And then I begin to panic when I can’t or don’t write on it. Inevitably, the month before it’s due is when the writing gets done.
Is that the best way to work? Absolutely not. Is it my way? Absolutely. It’s my process. It scares me and it humbles me every time I write a book. Sometimes I think, I can’t pull this one out of the fire – nothing’s happening. But somehow, the muse arrives. Granted, I do think the real work is in the revisions, but that first pass, that’s the storytelling draft. The one the muse and I want to write – if we don’t put it all down, we’ll never be satisfied, always wondering, what if...
Writeminded post on Gus and his new friends is here. Writeminded Chat on Writerspace is tonight at 9PM EST.
And yeah, the book is due, as the title of the post says. In two weeks. And galleys for Jake’s book are coming at the end of this week. And Larissa and I have a Sydney short story to write.
Did I mention the book due in 2 weeks? Because it’s not finished. It’s almost like it doesn’t want to write itself, which is really not such a great thing. And for every 1K I write, I swear I need to delete more than that. And new characters keep showing up – some random hero and heroine that are not supposed to arrive for at least another book, if not two.
But there they are, demanding their stage time. Staring at me with their beady little character eyes. We’ll give you the word count you need, Steph. Put us in the book…
Your power symbol for the week is an ant carrying a potato chip. It means you’ll possess so much strength that you’ll be able to hold aloft burdens that are much bigger than you. More than that, Aries. You’ll look graceful doing it. And here’s the kicker. That giant load you carry may ultimately provide nourishment not only for you but also for everyone back at the nest.
Now I want potato chips…and, for the record, no more burdens, please. Thank you to whoever fufills these requests.
Anyway, Larissa and I start writing Sydney book 4 (it’s Trance’s bok, tentitively titled, Taming The Fire) on May 1st. I think we’re both writing our 3rd single titles (her demons, my SEALs) as we write Trance, so it’ll be a bit crazy. But writing Syd stuff always brings out a lot of energy in our individual projects too, so I’m looking forward to it!
I’m almost done with revisions for Nick’s book. I think. Maybe. I have to let it sit for a while and work on Chris’s book some more along with Trance – give myself a bit of time away from it. And I got an idea for a new proposal as well, so it’s all kind of flying around inside my head.
I was on a search for a working title for the proposal (or one that could actually stick with a book through publication, but that’s really rare.) – Sometimes, a title comes to me and just works. Larissa tells me that I picked Riding The Storm (I can’t remember titling that for the life of me, but it does fit the book perfectly.)
But if nothing jumps out at me, the first place I turn to is iTunes, looking for a song title and / or some great lyrics that I can twist and turn around a bit. For instance, the title, Coming Undone came from the Beach Boy’s Surfer Girl – makes my heart come all undone…because Carly is a surfer girl.
Risking It All was originally, To The Limit (Eagles!) and Beyond His Control was Linger (I still LOVE that title – the song by the Cranberries totally fits the book for me.)
And if I strike out with songs, I’ll turn to poetry. I can waste a lot of time there (okay, waste is the wrong word) because I really love poetry – I haven’t written any in a long time, but when I go through some of Anne Sexton’s poems or Marge Piercy or HOWL, etc, it makes me want to write poetry again.
And I came across this poem from Linda Pastan (another favorite) – it seemed appropriate, so I figured I share:
What We Want by Linda Pastan
What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names–
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.
I think the key is consistency. I’m not a SEAL and I’m not an FBI agent, and even with years of research, I’m still going to get some details wrong….I believe that as a fiction writer my job is to entertain. Thus, I’m always walking a tight rope between accuracy and entertainment.
Sometimes, I think that we, as writers, think too much. Reason too much. This could never happen, we think. Should never happen. Not in the real world. And we might research and get stuck and try to write ourselves out of holes and we cross that line between writing fiction and trying to write what would happen in real life.
But we’re not writing non-fiction. And while accuracy – or non-accuracy – can pull readers out of story because of factual inconsistancies (and even then, you’ve got to remember that accuracy is so relative in many, many cases that you’re never going to please everyone) you’ve got to remember that people are reading your stories for the emotional satisfaction, not the facts.
For example, I’ve read some posts that complain about the way heroes and heroines act – mainly the big one seems to be that the heroine acts like she can take on the world and not listen to the experts even though she has no experience in saving anyone ever. But really, danger and adreneline can make people act in ways they’ve never acted before, so I tend to disagree. It’s the whole, I’d do anything to save my family, thing, and I think it’s pretty real.
This is coming from someone who will go downstairs by herself if she hears a noise. It’s instinct and I don’t stop to think – I just go.
And really, if everyone in fiction behaved rationally and realistically, I might not ever read again.
Reminds me of what Stephen King says in On Writing when he discusses the success behind Grisham’s The Firm:
Audiences also enjoyed the lawyer’s resourceful efforts to extricate himself from his dilemma. It might not be the way most people would behave, and the deus ex machina clanks pretty steadily in the last fifty pages, but it is the way most of us would like to behave. And wouldn’t we also like to have a deus ex machina in our lives?
*heads to yellow pages to buy self a deus ex machina*
Oh, and I’m doing the prize this week for the Sven challenge. I’ve got tons of books, including the War of Art and Sun Signs for Writers, a black and red notebook that’s awesome for journaling in and other fun stuff.
Don’t forget to go over and let Sven know how you did for the week! And I’ll draw the winner from this weeks list of challengers!
“Half my life is an act of revision.” -John Irving
“Books aren’t written–they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” – Michael Crichton
Linger’s close-ish to being done – another twenty pages or so should do it. My editor’s comments (because I’ll have another round of revising with this one) should get it fleshed out another twenty pages beyond that. But for now, all I need to concentrate on is twenty more pages.
The thing is, even though this is the book that wants to kill me, I did it to myself. I did it to myself a little bit on purpose too…because I wanted to do something different. Because I wanted to stretch a bit. So I think it hurts because it’s one of those growth books.
Why did I know it was going to be hard? Well, first off, I took the second book I ever completed (which was really one of my first books, since I completed two in tandem) and I took the characters and their backgrounds and I rewrote the story itself completely for Linger. The only thing recognizable somewhat is the opening scene. Add to that, it’s a reunion story and I personally love reading and writing strangers-who-meet stories. I think reunion stories are incredibly difficult to pull off well and so it became a personal challenge.
The first new version I wrote of Linger, back in January was incredibly easy. Too easy. And it didn’t work. Armed with my editor’s suggestions, I tried to rework it. And it didn’t work, no matter how hard I fought it. So I had to back away from what I wanted and what my editor suggested, plot-wise, and I had to come up with something different that still incorportated the main idea of what she was looking for. In the process I also had to please myself because, at the end of the day, it’s still my book. And I have to love it. Even when I hate it.
My editor assures me that the emotion and the intensity (at least in the first half she read) are there. My agent always tells me that writers are too close to their own work to see what needs to be done, and that’s why an editor is so important. I totally agree.
It’s funny, because Larissa and I (mainly Larissa) finished the CEs for Sydney’sUnleashing The Storm yesterday. And I remember the CEs for Riding The Storm – and trust me – they weren’t bad, but I remember it took a good three days to really get through them, make some of the wording changes, etc. In my inbox from yesterday I have a list of maybe 10 pages that needed some work, most of that the addition of about two words. It makes sense, because UTS was an awesomely easy book to write, for the most part. Revisions were light. We’d learned a lot from RTS, sure, but UTS wrote itself, in a way, from the beginning. Some books are like that.
But I’m guessing that some books are like that only because we’ve already written a few that nearly take us down.
So, as Larissa said, OMG – we’re learning!
And even on the hardest days, there’s no other job I’d rather be doing than writing.
New York Times Bestselling author Stephanie Tyler writes what she loves to read — romantic suspense novels starring military heroes and paranormal romance novels novels starring warrior heroes, all complete with happy endings. Her alter-ego is SE Jakes and she also co-writes as Sydney Croft. She lives in New York with her husband, her kids and her crazy Weimaraner, Gus.