Tag Archives: writing process

On Writing: When Do You Write?

Today’s word count: 639 words

NANTUCKET total word count: 58,596 words

HARPER total word count: 5,435 words

Yes, this is the first time I’ve written so little since I started my On Writing posts. It’s been an exhausting day, but I finished deadline 3 out of 4 (the 5th one got extended until late July – got to love that!), and even got some of the items done on my Bloggiesta list.

I decided to open up my writing program and write SOMETHING. It didn’t matter what. It didn’t matter how many words, I figured, as long as I still sat here and did it. Even a little bit counts, I think.

But I really have to get out of this habit of writing late. Not only do I end up writing most nights when I’m feeling really tired, but my desk faces a wall with a window to one side. We don’t have curtains on this window, and when it’s dark outside, I have to avoid looking out the window or my imagination (and I have a very good one) goes haywire on me. When you add the fact that parts of NANTUCKET can get a bit scary at times, late night writing + me the writer isn’t such a great combination.

I’m not much of a morning person, though; I’ve always been a night owl. I guess the trick for me is to start writing at 10 pm instead of at 1 a.m. like I normally do.

When do you usually find yourself writing? Do you find it’s the best time for you, or is there really a better time? Do you find it has an impact on the writing itself? I think I have this belief that I write much better at night, but I’m willing to bet it probably isn’t true. Beliefs are funny sometimes!

On Writing: Feeling Disjointed

Today’s word count: 1,971 words

NANTUCKET total word count: 48,961

HARPER total word count: 5,435 words

I didn’t think I would write as much as I did today. I know it’s not quite my daily goal, but it’s pretty close. But when I sat down at the computer, I definitely didn’t feel like I had much to write. The words weren’t there. The movement in the next scene, which I normally do have in mind before I sit down, wasn’t there. Nothing much was there, really.

But sitting down to write everyday definitely grows on a person. It took me longer than normal to get the words down, but still, the words did come, eventually. I wonder, when I do the first re-read once it’s all completed, whether I’ll be able to pinpoint these words again, point to them and say, “ah, I wrote this that night I was feeling a little off”?

After my experience re-reading what I had written in November months later, I suspect I won’t be able to tell.

Writing Chronologically

I’m feeling a little disjointed when it comes to NANTUCKET. I’m not even sure if “disjointed” is the word I’m looking for.

I’m writing NANTUCKET using a program called Liquid Story Binder. One of the great things about it is that it has a planner mode that lets you throw in the names of scenes. You then write each scene by attaching a chapter to it. Doing it this way, it’s easy to move scenes around, and the beauty of it is that the chapter attached to the scene moves with it. While I’m not working with an outline, I tend to think of a few scenes that are coming up at the beginning of each session, and add them to the planner as I go, so I always have a couple of scenes waiting for me to write.

NANTUCKET has a lot of characters, and the point of view shifts from scene to scene. With the lapse between last November and last month when I picked up the writing again, things have gotten quite confusing. I have characters lurking around that require development in their own scenes during the earlier part of the book, but I haven’t gotten around to even setting those scenes down yet, much less writing them. At times I find myself concentrating too much on the story that my two main characters are telling, but my story relies on more than just their points of view.

When I started writing NANTUCKET again last month, I did go back and delete whole scenes and rewrite new ones. But I started at the earliest part, and always moved forward chronologically. Now it feels to me like I will have to take another good look at all the scenes I have, and insert scenes into various places as needed.

If I do this, though, I won’t be writing chronologically anymore. I’ve never written a story in any way but chronologically. Just thinking about it, I feel disjointed. A little uncomfortable.

Do you always write a story chronologically? Or do you find it easy to tackle whatever scene happens to come to you, regardless of when it takes place in the timeline of your novel? I guess my main worry is that I’ll lose that sense of flow and coherence that I associate with writing chronologically.

Review: Write Away, by Elizabeth George

Write AwayIn Write Away, mystery novelist Elizabeth George writes about her “approach to fiction and the writing life”. I am always on the lookout for books about writing written by authors I know and love, and this is one of my favorites.

I am a big fan of George’s Inspector Lynley novels; I’ve read all of them with the exception of one (I couldn’t bear to read What Came Before He Shot Her because I’m still in grief over With No One As Witness, although I was able to jump right back in with Careless in Red), so it was also a lovely treat to read about how George came to write A Great Deliverance, her first book and the first in the Inspector Lynley series.

For those interested in the writing of the type of mystery/suspense novels that George writes, Write Away distills the author’s entire process. If you’ve read her works, you’ll not be surprised to learn that she is very disciplined with her writing; what I’ve taken away most from her process, though, are the ways she consciously makes the effort to tap into her right-brained self:

“I am strongly left-brained, as you can probably tell from my having such an intricate process in the first place, and I must do whatever I can to get the right side of my brain up and operational. Present-tense stream of consciousness does this for me. Writing in this fashion, I’m not worried about typographical errors, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, figurative language or anything else that might make me stop, consider, and thus get derailed. I just start firing away at the computer keys, writing down what I see happening in each scene on my step outline.”

Because I don’t work from an outline, I haven’t applied her stream-of-consciousness approach to what she calls a step outline. I have, however, used it to create character analyses, something I’d never done before reading this book, and I’ve been amazed at the amount of detail that flows onto the page about my characters – things that I would never have thought of, but which feel so right once I’ve set them down on paper. George has this to say about her character analyses:

“This may come as something of a surprise, especially if you tend to think of crime novels – or any novels, for that matter – as all about plot. I don’t see novels in that manner, however, and for that reason when I’m writing one, I hammer down the idea and the expanded idea and turn at once to character in order to learn more about my story.”

There are detailed examples throughout the book, both from George’s own writing (including her character analysis of Eve Bowen from Missing Joseph, warts and all, so to speak, which clearly illustrates how the stream of consciousness process works), as well as from the works of other authors. She also writes about outlines, structuring scenes, dialogue, voice and the importance of setting.

Just as valuable are her sections on persistence. I am in awe that she wrote the first rough draft of A Great Deliverance over three and a half weeks one summer, and had the finished draft completed not too long after:

“A Great Deliverance more than any of my novels serves as a shining example of what high-quality bum glue can do for a writer. When I began it upon returning from a trip to Yorkshire, England, I had only forty-two days before I had to go back to El Toro High School and teach English for another year. I wanted to get the novel done in that time, so I wrote from eight to sixteen hours a day in order to accomplish it.”

I first came across Write Away a year ago; it made an incredible impression on me the first time I read it, and I continue to take it off my shelf to dip into when I’m finding myself in need of motivation. It’s a book that talks about one writer’s approach to her craft, and whether you’re looking for an entire process to guide you step-by-step, or bits and pieces to fill in gaps in your own process, or simply motivation and inspiration, I highly recommend it.

Where to buy Write Away:

U.S. (Amazon.com) or IndieBound

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by HarperCollins, 2004, Hardcover, 257 pages

Author Interview: Barbara Levenson (and a Giveaway) Part 2

Due to a glitch in my blog theme, it turns out I can’t go over a certain word count per post, so I’ve had to post my interview with Barbara Levenson in two parts. Here is Part 2 of Barbara Levenson’s interview (and here is part 1 of the interview).

MB: You had a rich and rewarding career in another field before turning to writing. What words of advice would you have for the aspiring novelist who is currently making a living in another profession?

BL: Most authors have had other professions before turning to writing.  It is rare that a person decides he or she is going to support themselves by writing alone.  Work in another field enriches an author’s writing.  For one thing, it brings an understanding of people in real situations.  (I am not sure what profession prepares you to write about vampires or other paranormal subjects.  Maybe a strange boss who reminds one of a werewolf?)  My advice is to steal as much time as possible to sit down and write.  It doesn’t matter whether you write short stories or plays or descriptive paragraphs.  The more that you write, the more your writing improves.  Secondly, aspiring writers should go to as many conferences and seminars as possible.  Interaction with other authors is very helpful.  These gatherings offer the opportunity to learn about the industry of publishing.  Publishing has its own set of quirks.  Preparation for dealing with a whole new profession puts the new writer ahead of the game.  Thousands of people are writing books, most of which won’t get published.  By studying the industry and learning from other writers, chances are good that you will be published.  The best things to keep in mind are that there are no set rules for being a good writer except the rule that says, “You will not get discouraged.”

MB: Could you talk a bit about the events leading up to getting the publishing contract for Fatal February? I was thinking that must be such an exciting moment in an author’s life.

BL: No moment can be more exciting to an author than an actual contract to publish a book.  It means that someone out there likes your work enough to gamble on readers liking it too.  It validates the hours spent slaving over a hot computer.

I began attending writing classes, seminars and conferences when I began working on my novel.  I was fortunate enough to be admitted to the Kenyon College summer wrting institute where I first gained valuable information about the world of publishing.  Two years ago, I attended Sleuthfest, the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s annual conference.  Agents and publishers attend this event and share knowledge regarding how to contact them and others, and how to write a query letter that stands out from the thousands publishers and agents receive.

At the luncheon at Sleuthfest, I was lucky to be seated at the table with the editor and president of Oceanview Publishing.  We had a great discussion and they told me when my book was finished to contact them.  In early 2008, Fatal February was ready for the push to sell.  I had heard horror stories from other authors about the amount of letters necessary before publishing became a reality; one author said it took 250 letters.  Undeterred, I started with six letter, one of which was to Oceanview Publishing.  Five of the six responded promptly.  Four of them asked for a few pages, or a few chapters.  Oceanview asked for the full manuscript.  A few weeks later I heard from the editor at Oceanview saying she was sold on Fatal February, but had to have others of their readers sign off on it as well.

The next month, February in fact, there was another Sleuthfest.  While there, I talked to an agent and shared with him what was happening.  He happened to be a lawyer, as well.  He gave me excellent advice.  “You don’t need an agent.  You are a lawyer and have access to other lawyers to look over any contract.”  He also confirmed my impression of Oceanview as being an excellent small publishing house.  The next month, Oceanview offered me a contract and by April, I was signed up.  The first thing I did was to sit down and cry.  All the tension was released, but little did I know that there would be brand new tensions.

New authors need to understand that the process of bringing a book to the bookstore is long, arduous and needs preparation.  Art work, website design, advanced reader copies, blurbs for the cover , advance reviews, and finally a launch date.  It is easier and quicker to have a baby!  I must give Oceanview Publishing a big thank you for turning out quality products and for being a guiding hand every step of the way.  I never felt alone or without resources to guide me.  Also, I will always attend Sleuthfest. It started the process for me.

Fatal February Giveaway

A huge thank you to Barbara for such an insightful interview. This is Barbara’s first stop on her book tour for Fatal February. Check out the link to see other stops on the tour, which includes several guest posts and reviews of the book.

You also have a chance to win a copy of Fatal February. It’s a little bit more complicated than most giveaways, as you need a PIN number. If you’re clicking through to the giveaway link (the form is at the bottom of the page) before noon tomorrow (February 18), use this number: 6126. If you’re a little bit late, don’t despair! You can still enter the giveaway – check out the most current tour stop for a valid PIN.

Author Interview: Barbara Levenson (and a Giveaway)

Fatal February is the first book in a new mystery series featuring criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz and written by Barbara Levenson.

In addition to being a writer, Barbara is also a senior judge in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County; prior to her election to judgeship, Barbara was a criminal defense and civil rights litigator. Fatal February is her first book, but she has already finished her second Mary Magruder Katz mystery and is hard at work on the third book in the series!

I recently had the opportunity to interview Barbara, an interview I enjoyed very much -it was interesting learning more about Barbara’s process in writing Fatal February, and how she manages to balance her career as a judge and her writing career.

An Interview with Barbara Levenson

MB: You’ve mentioned that the idea for Mary Magruder Katz popped full-blown into your head. How did her stories come to you? And what motivated you to put pen to paper to capture these stories?

BL: I guess that Mary had been in my subconscious for a while.  I have mentored young women attorneys and new judges over the years.  Mary is a compilation of their thoughts and problems, along with my own experiences as a new litigator.  Additionally, Mary personifies the melting pot people who populate the Miami area.  Something wonderful is afoot here. We have learned to appreciate our differences or to overlook those we can’t appreciate.  I wanted to share these areas with readers, and to tell the real Miami story that isn’t about tourism.  It’s about day to day living.  It’s just done in fabulous weather.

MB: Carlos is such a charismatic and interesting (not to mention sexy!) character. How did you get the idea for his character? Did you know right away that he would be perfect for Mary?

BL: The idea for Carlos actually occurred to me at the car wash that I go to.  I was there one day when I saw this amazingly handsome guy.  We chatted while we indulged in the free popcorn.  He was very charming.  Then I observed him being absolutely rude to the attendants and cashier; two personalities.  He fit right into the stories swimming around in my brain.  I thought he was the one person who could keep up with Mary (at least most of the time).

MB: You’re currently working on the second Mary Magruder Katz novel. Could you describe your writing process? How do you start each writing day? Do you have any writing rituals that you follow?

BL: Actually, the second book is finished and will be published in June,2010.  My writing process is simple;  sit down in front of the computer and write. Writing is not a job to me.  I love to write and look forward to the time spent doing it.  I usually try to get rid of the mundane things in my life early in the day.  things like straightening out the house, brushing the dogs, or going to the grocery.  I answer e-mails and then close my brain to anything but writing.  This may mean two hours or six hours of pleasurable time writing.

MB: You’ve spent 32 years as a litigator and then a circuit court judge. How have your experiences enriched your writing career?

BL: Being a lawyer or a judge requires many of the same traits as being a writer. Lawyers and especially judges must be excellent listeners.  You must concentrate on hearing what a client is saying or what witnesses are presenting.  When an author creates a book, she must listen to the characters.  Are their voices authentic?  After listening closely to so many voices in courtrooms, it gives an author the ability to develop voices of characters that readers can relate to and feel the characters emotions. A litigator must be immersed in her case and must create the story of the case in language that a juror can readily understand.  This is the same job that an author has in creating the plot and characters for the reader.

MB: Your writing style in Fatal February is very engaging – the reader is immediately drawn into Mary’s world. Was the transition from the dryness of legal language to the richness of fiction difficult or did it come easily?

BL: I never subscribed to the theory that legal writing must be wordy and boring.  My writing style has always been to be brief and clear, so I didn’t have to cleanse my writing style.  I believe more lawyers are moving away from verbosity as they understand that when you want a judge to find in your favor, writing clearly and persuasively will win the day.

Due to a glitch in the blog template I’m using, I’ve just discovered I can’t exceed a certain word count per post. My interview with Barbara Levenson is therefore divided into two parts: please click here for Part 2, and information regarding the giveaway.