Having a bunch of busy writers keep to a schedule is really difficult. So now and then, holes open up in the space-time continuum into which we must shove something to keep the universe from imploding. Luckily, at the same time we discovered a gap on the horizon, Cayenne Michaels asked if someone wanted to follow her post in the blog tour. Heck, no, I said. Let’s get ALL the authors at Happy Authors Guild to answer, all at the same time!
Cayenne patted me on the head and gave me back my pacifier. Yeah, out of the dozen or so writers here, only four were available to answer. Partly because so many had already done the tour on their personal blogs. Here’s the great job Cayenne did with the tour: http://cayenne1976.wordpress.com/
But four is pretty good, and so without further ado:
Polly J. Brown. She likes reading, writing, running, participating in triathlons, and mud runs. She writes contemporary Romance.
Lizzie Hermanson. This crazy lady likes Jane Austen. Need I say more? Oh, alright, she is also writing contemporary Romances.
E.M. Youman. Not an N. Sparks fan, but very creative and funny. And just to be different, she’s writing contemporary Romance!
T.L. Taylor. A great conversationalist, she likes pushing the boundaries of conventional ideas, even her own, but especially yours. She writes flash fiction and short stories, but has one novel in the works.
Here are the Questions:
1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?
E.M: Story ideas come anywhere at any time, it’s more about training yourself to be tuned in for the story. Carrying a pen and paper to catch the ideas are crucial. A lot of times, I’ve gotten the inspiration to write when I’m stuck in a hot car.
I start all of my writing projects as free writes. This means I either grab a pen, or my laptop and write whatever comes to mind on the story. It’s often a bunch of jumbled scenes, but’s it’s enough to tell me where I want to go. After I’ve got the dirtiest rough draft possible, I make an outline. This is to organize the jumble of scenes. Then I make a list of assumptions. These are the things I don’t know anything about, but I’ve included them in my story like I know them firsthand. I research those assumptions. First instance my current work in progress features a scene about Tigers. I’ve got them hunting in the day time, but I’ve discovered they mostly hunt at night. That’s a big detail.
Once the research is done, it’s time go into edit mode. There are several stages. First there is the developmental edit. At this point I’m using my research to correct assumptions. Then the scene edit. This is where you cut the fat. Does your main character really need to spend three pages telling the reader about sweater manufacturing? Finally the copy edit. That’s where I work on fixing the grammar. This usually takes me several passes and I don’t always do each step in an orderly fashion.
PJB: I used to jump head first into writing and see where the story took me and many times that path lead to a dead end. For my current story, I took a different approach. I set up a rough outline indicating what each chapter would be about, breaking out chapters by scene if I was able. I created character descriptions for each of my main characters and developed a good sense of their motivations. I found that this approach gave me enough guidance to write a draft without having many creative blocks. It was flexible enough to allow me to add or delete scenes as I needed and I was able to jump between scenes if I didn’t feel like writing in chronological order.
L.H:I’m not a planner. I work out the internal and external Goal, Motivation and Conflict for the hero and heroine and go from there. I usually do the research later when I see what I’ve got on the page.
T.L.T: I just get ideas. Tons of them. They roll around in my head and mash together like a swirl ice cream cone.
I get a lot of my idea’s from dialogue, actually. I’ll be watching a TV show, or a movie or even eavesdropping on a strangers conversation, and I’ll hear something that grabs me and makes me go “Whoa! I need to write a story around this idea.”
For example: I was watching one of my fave shows, a medical drama. And a doctor was explaining to her patient that patients on transplant lists are clocked in to the second. So when an organ becomes available, it goes to the first person on the list. In this case, the patient missed receiving the available organ by 17 seconds. The person ahead of him on the list was clocked in only 17 seconds sooner.
I started thinking about short spans of time and all the life moments that can and do occur in those moments. I tossed around different lengths of seconds to see what seemed most plausible for the normal things of life to occur within. I came up with 11 seconds, and wrote a story about a young girl. It’s flash fiction which is really brief, and follows her from the moment her parents split to the moment she has her first child. Each blurb is an important and life-changing episode in her life that transpires in just the span of 11 seconds.
I loathe the outlining process. I just need to get in there while the idea is fresh and new and exciting and follow the little creative burst and get it on paper. Once I have a first draft and am ready for revisions, I may do some slight outlining in my head or a note or two for future reference but that’s as organized as I get.
I tend to do research as I need it for the scene I’m writing. Otherwise, I’d get bogged down and never get to the good stuff — which is the writing of the story that is waiting impatiently to burst forth.
2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on the non-creative days?
E.M.: Sometimes I just stop writing. But I don’t stop working on the story. If I can’t write then I read. If I don’t feel like reading, then I go to my favorite online writers group (Scribophile) and critique others’ work. If I’m in a real funk and dreaming about hitting the delete button, I’ll stop working on the story and write poetry. Weird, yes, but it works.
PJB: I would love to keep to a schedule for continuing my writing project. However, my biggest obstacle is finding enough time to work on it.
I am the type that prefers to work uninterrupted- once thoughts start flowing, I need to put them to paper (or screen) as soon as possible or I’ll lose them. However; in my household, it is wishful thinking. Most of my writing occurs after the children have gone to bed. I take my laptop to the basement and work distraction free for a few hours.
On days that I truly don’t have time, I make sure that I have done one thing, no matter how small, to improve my writing. Simple things such as jotting down a new story idea, reading an article about writing, doing research- anything counts.
L.H.: I always have 2 stories on the go so that when I get stuck (which is most of the time!), I can switch. I also read through some of my writing craft notes and hope to find inspiration.
Do you keep to a schedule?
E.M: I try and some days I succeed more than others. I find my most productive times to write and edit are in the morning. I give myself an hour of reading and an hour of writing every morning. When I can, I try to write before I go to bed as well.
T.L.T: I never have a schedule. I don’t do well with most deadlines and I’m not disciplined well enough to self schedule. When I hit a slump, I stop and wait and look for inspiration. Sometimes I’ll read or work on another piece or talk through my stumbling block with someone. But, I don’t push through very much. To me, it hinders my creative process. I want to turn out something good in my first draft. I know it’s going to need improving but if it’s complete crap, the process of polishing it up and turning it into something usable is way to tedious. I’d rather wait until I have a handle on what to write next. So, if I put it aside for 3 months, then I do. I can do that because there’s no publisher breathing down my neck at the moment. If there were, I’d have a different writing process, LOL!
How do you find the time to write?
E.M: It feels like a magic trick, but when writing becomes an important part of your life, you find the time. I write when I wake up, sometimes before I go to bed and I take a pen and paper. I often write while I’m in the doctor’s waiting room.
Thinking about a story is still writing. If you haven’t got time to write thinking about that next scene will make that hour you can squeeze in more productive.
T.L.T: I’m blessed. I’m a stay at home wife and mother with a tween that I home educate. She’s self sufficient so I have all the time I need/want to write. I actually spend tons of time with her and stick to writing while she is in dance class 4 days a week for 2 and 3 hrs at a time. I’m also a night owl, so once everyone is tucked into bed at night, I’ll disappear into a fantasy and whoop it up until the wee hours of the morning. It’s saner, safer and cheaper than hanging out at the local bar. Also, my whole immediate family writes, so frequently we can be found spending time together, each working on our own pieces.
3. How do you finish your project? i.e. When do you know the project is complete?
T.L.T: Honestly, when the I run out of words. I’ll be writing along and all of a sudden … nothing. I know when I’m stuck or uninspired and I know when I’m done. When the words stop, it’s like turning off a faucet. I sit back, look at the last sentence and nod and say, “That’s all there is folks, there ain’t no more.”
Do you have a hard time letting go?
T.L.T: Not so far, not really. But I write mostly flash pieces and short stories. I have one mosaic novel I am currently working on. Those characters have been with me for 3 years now. When I finish their story, I know I’m going to go through a grieving process. Their story has always been with my, unfolding, with I enjoy them. One day, it will end, and I already know I’ll be devastated.
Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?
E.M: Yes, but not before I have completed the rough draft for the first story. Once that rough draft is done, my other stories clamor for attention.
PJB: It is tempting to start a new project before finishing the last one and I admit I am guilty of getting sidetracked on a regular basis. For example, right now I am down to writing the final chapter of my current story. A full draft is less than a week away from completion and instead of devoting my time to finish it I’ve been working on short stories.
New ideas are fresh, exciting and can break up the monotony of editing, but the downside to starting new projects is that the older ones may never get completed. Flirting with temptation is fine in small doses, but I would not start writing a new novel length piece until the current one is finished. Instead I write scene outlines, dialogue, sentences, character names or anything else that comes to mind in a notebook that I carry in my purse. When the time comes to start a new project, I will compile all of my notes and be ready to go.
L.H.: I find finishing incredibly difficult. I usually have the end written before I get half way through, but that dreaded middle section is always difficult to complete.
T.L.T: Dear Lawdy, so guilty! I have no less than a dozen works in progress and a folder of about 50 ideas that have no work on them yet, just a sentence or two of ideas. I’m never at a loss for something to work on, and still sometimes I’ll fuss and say, “I have no good story themes.” It’s kind of like when your fridge is full of food and you purposely left all the snack stuff in the store. and you go to see what you can munch on while everyone’s in bed and you’re reading a great book, and … nothing but carrots and celery! LOL
4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
E.M: If I had one tip it would be to let your mind wander. Have you ever had a moment where you’re on the phone and you pick up a pen and start doodling? You don’t know what picture you are drawing, but it’s appearing right before your eyes. Writing is a lot like this.
PJB: Never stop learning. Read. Ask questions.
L.H.: The Margie Lawson colour coding system:
- Buy yourself some highlighters–four different colors, at least.
- Take a book from your keeper shelf.
- Highlight Emotion (visceral responses only) in pink, Dialogue in blue, Internalizations (including narrative, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, or narrator’s comments) in yellow, Tension and Conflict in orange, Setting and Description in green, and Nonverbal Communication (including dialogue cues, action, body language, and senses) in red.
- Ideally, there should be a nice representation of all the colors on every page.
T.L.T: I’ll be honest. The challenge is also the tip: LISTEN TO THE FEEDBACK! We all want to think we are creative geniuses from the start of the gate. But, if we can’t hear what other people are saying to us about where our pieces work and where they need some polishing, then we deceive ourselves. Often, I initially blow off all my feedback with a sigh and a shrug. I let it sit for a few days, then go back and review it again. The second time, I see what they are saying, almost without fail. I keep my feedback until I am completely finished with a piece because you never know if it will be the 5th or the 25th time you read a comment that it will spark something in you that turns the whole project around for the better. So please, mull over your feedback, even when you’re sure you and your project has been completely misunderstood. And to that end, give honest and constructive feedback, that is meant to give the author a leg up and help with the polishing of a piece until it shines.
This has been fun to pull together, and I really wish I had a blogger to hand this off to. If someone volunteers in the next day or two, I’ll update this page. Have a great week.