I was thrilled to be asked this week by a group of highschool students about my writing process and how I do what I do. After answering the questions, I thought they were actually quite interesting – mostly focused around how I start, how I continue and how I end (questions writers try to answer for themselves all the time).
I know that how I go about all this won’t work for everyone, but I thought I’d share my thoughts with all of you. I’d love to hear how you would answer the questions I was asked.
Generally I dream my ideas. I have a scene that keeps repeating or a character that keeps appearing in my dreams. If this happens a few times, then I know it’s a story that needs to be told and I start to write it. Sometimes a scene will play out and then continue on the next night and more the night after as the story unfolds in my head.
2. When you start writing a novel how do you keep in the zone of that novel genre? For example if you start writing a werewolf novel how do you read books of other genres without wanting to start another novel of a completely different genre?
My reading is really quite a different experience from my writing, so the one doesn’t really affect the other. When I’m reading, I want to be entertained, to be taken away by someone else’s words into a story and world I don’t know. When I’m writing it’s like a creative space inside me needing to be filled with exploration of character and world building – it’s almost like a voice speaking to me and I have to write it. When it’s something that I’m really into, there is no stopping until the story is all out of me. The hardship truly comes only in the editing phase when you take that initial draft (what some writers call word vomit) and try to turn it into what you truly want to say. That can be difficult to stick with, particularly when you’ve done it a number of times and know what a huge job it truly is.
3. Do you write more than one book at the same time or do you wait until you finish one book to start another?
At the moment I am writing 2 new books in different genres (one is the 3rd book in a paranormal series and the other is a romantic suspense) and redrafting another book (the 1st in a new paranormal series). I usually need a few different projects to work on at a time, because if one day I’m having trouble with one of them, I can turn to the other. Or if I’ve finished a novel and need to give it ‘space’ before I sink into the re-edits/redrafting, I’ve got something else to go on with.
4. Is it difficult to stick with the one book?
I think first time writers often have this problem – there are a lot of great first 3 chapters out there that begin to lose their lustre for the writer when they get further along. Writing a beginning is easy – it’s getting through the middle to a satisfying end that’s tricky and not everyone has this in them to do. It’s hard work and often requires a stubborn determination to soldier on despite the fact things aren’t turning out like you thought they would or wanted them to until you come to the end. It’s also understanding that you can’t properly redraft until you have written the entire thing – anything else is just tinkering. It’s when you don’t understand that that writers keep starting new projects and don’t finish them. Everything about writing and publishing is perseverance; perseverance to understand you can always learn more about craft; perseverance to soldier on and finish; perseverance to sit down and redraft, redraft, redraft until it’s the best you can make it; perseverance to get someone to beta read your work and/or properly critique it and to not take offence when they don’t think it’s perfect, to take what they say and think about it and use what seems like something that could help; perseverance to keep trying and submitting until someone says yes…and on it goes.
I have a number of books that I have started but didn’t finish because I ran out of steam on them, but I learned in writing every one of them and came to understand what was needed to finish the one that didn’t run out of steam, and then the next and the next. I always finish books now – although, once I’ve finished them, I might decide I’m not keen enough on what I wrote to go through the redrafting process – because if you don’t love it, you’re not going to make it through that difficult, least fun part of the process.
5. Do the characters relate to you in any way or are they fully made up?
Generally they are fully made up, although they will often have a characteristic of myself or someone I know in them in some small way. I think the old adage ‘write what you know’ is true to a certain respect. If you can always bring some aspect of ‘truth’ to your writing by using something you know, it will feel more real to you and therefore more real to your readers.
6. Do you ever stop writing a book and start a new one because you had an idea? Or do you write the idea and keep going with the book?
Yes. If I’ve had a persistent character or scene playing in my head, I do need to start to write it. In the past, this meant that I would give up what I was writing and give myself fully over to the new idea, but what that meant was that I’d end up with a bunch of first few chapters and no finished books. So, I no longer give up what I was writing. I make sure I give myself time to finish what I was working on and split my time. It helps that I am used to working on a number of projects at one time.
7. Do you ever create too many characters and confuse yourself but you can’t get rid of them because they all play such an important role?
That happened with the first book I wrote which was an epic urban fantasy that stretched across 3 planets and 4 different time spans with 11 different story threads I was following by 3/4s through the 2nd novel. It all got too hard to juggle because I didn’t know enough about writing at that point to know how to handle it. I made myself leave it alone and forced myself to concentrate on much simpler, smaller novels and learned a lot by doing that. I also enrolled in workshops, joined a critique group and got myself some critique partners through Romance Writers of Australia. I went to their annual conference and learned so much at the workshops and talking to other writers both at my level and far more experienced. I read some great craft books (Debra Dixon’s ‘Goals Motivation Conflict’ and Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ being seminal ones for me) and blogs on writing that have really helped. I entered competitions and got feedback from strangers and when I started doing well in them, feedback from editors and agents. All of this helped me in how I go about writing and structuring how I go and then how I edit. I also have some great critique partners/beta readers who I trust explicitly to tell me what is and isn’t working.
I am still what is called a ‘pantser’ (I don’t plot, I fly by the seat of my pants and just go with the flow), but I use all the knowledge I’ve learned and am still learning to help me not get bogged down by being too clever for myself. I’ve also learned to look at whether a character or scene is adding something to my novel, if they’re forwarding the action or deepening our understanding of the goals, motivations and conflicts of the main characters/story thrust. If they’re not, I’ve learned to be harsh and cut them out. I’ve got rid of entire characters and scenes I love this way, who were great, but in the end added nothing to the novel other than some amusement for me.
The best thing you can do as a writer is write and learn and inform yourself and surround yourself with people you can talk to who are on the same/similar journey as you, people you can workshop and brainstorm with, who can help you through story/character problems and any blocks you might have. This is what I do and I plan to very soon return to that original story idea and rework it so I can turn it into something great, not something that ran away with me.