Monday, July 09, 2007

Everything I Know I learned from Writing Novels

Writing novels has taught me a lot about how to write: short stories, articles, letters, advertising copy, press releases, and just about anything else that involves the written word. The most important lesson I learned was the writing process and how different it can be for everyone.

I like to experiment. Try new things. Yes, this has gotten me into trouble in the past, but now that I'm a grown-up, it's all good. One thing about writing books is that there's no lack of advice. Published authors are happy to share their unique perspective and sage guidance, as will a precious few agents and editors, and writing teachers, but the hopeful unpublished writers seem to know more than anyone. Just an F.Y.I., they're sometimes better writers than the published ones.

Right now I'm working on my favorite book, a story that captures my heart and soul on every level. I think one of the reasons it's taking me so long to finish this story (I've worked on three other books and a short story since I started this one) could be because I want it to be perfect. Well, news flash, Karen: It ain't gonna be perfect! I've accepted that. And I've learned this lesson from working on those three books I just mentioned. And from the various processes I've experimented with along the way.

I started out as a plotter. Ignorant me, that's how I thought it had to be done. How can you reach any destination without a map to show you the way? So sue me, I was wrong. I've discovered that I'm an organic writer whose best work evolves from unplanned imagination. I frequently borrow from the plotter's tool box when I need to, though, especially when creating characters (my absolute most favorite part of writing a new story). I'm not a purist. I enjoy variety in my writing process.

I've learned that I can't listen to music while I write. Music is too distracting, even if it's just instrumentals. I prefer absolute quiet, however I can edit under any noise conditions, including a noisy grandson with the television's volume turned up, and a loud version of an NFL game playing in the background. I am Warrior Writer! Hear me roar!

I've always written best in the morning, and that hasn't changed. I'm a morning person. I can write in the afternoon every once in a while, but that's only when I'm not stressed over a design deadline or getting that final proof finished for a client who asked for last minute-changes. Evenings? Forget about it. When the sun goes down, so do I.

I've discovered that location is everything. If I write in my office, I feel like I'm working. If I write in bed, or on the couch, or in my fabulous sky chair (it's like a hammock for one) on my front patio, then I feel like I'm writing in heaven. The choice is a no-brainer. I try to avoid my office to write because it's where I make my income as a graphic designer. Therefore, I focus my writer's creative energy in the spaces that make me happy. Learning this was a fabulous epiphany. I LOVE, love, love my laptop. It's a Mac, of course, because nothing can compare to these dream machines. Right, Becky?

So how did you discover the best writing process that works for you? Please share! I'll probably try it. I try everything. 8^)


Paty Jager said...

I learned early on, I'm not a plotter. I don't like setting out which direction I'm going to go. I usually know how I'm going to start a story and how it will end, and as I write scenes will pop into my head that will come along later.

I steep my characters- I think about them a long time before I start a book and I usually do quite a bit of research about the area, the time, and any particular jobs I need for the book before I start writing. I use a couple of different character charts I've accumulated over the years, but I've tweaked them to fit my style. When I tried to use three different charts for characters in one book, I went crazy with trying to fill out all the questions and felt like I didn't know my characters- the fact being you don't know your characters completely until you finish the book. Because as you write you learn about them.

As you know, I like music while I'm composing and editing. Especially on the first draft as the story unfolds.

I know my editing job has made my writing stronger.

As for where I prefer to write- I prefer my desk in the loft. The loft has been pretty hot lately and I've tried working in the living room. But I end up with a knot in my neck and left shoulder sitting in the chair or couch and using the laptop. So I am trying to do all computer writing in the mornings while it is cool in the loft.

Interesting blog, Karen.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Paty. I think another pitfall of plotting for me is some kind of subconscious edict that when the idea's there, it stays. Nuh-uh, not anymore. That's what would slow me down. I'd try to force my characters to do something I'd originally thought was a good idea, but because of how the story has shaped up, it no longer works. So I no longer feel like I have to stick with the plot as originally planned.

I wouldn't exactly call myself a pantser, either. It's okay for me to figure things out ahead of time, and it's okay to throw it out later. Doesn't matter. So I don't ever feel like the story is already written after attempting to plot it out first. On the contrary, I can't wait to get to those plot points and find out what really happens. LOL! 8^) It's like opening presents at Christmas.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- It's always fun reading about how another writer tackles writing.

I love my laptop (also a Mac) but I have trouble using it without some on those neck and back glitches Paty mentioned. The keyboard also gets to me as it tends to run words together (it needs an adjustment) so I have taken to plugging in a regular keyboard when I travel or use the lap top.

More than that, however, as you get into work mode when you hit your desk, so do I but without another job, the desk means writing to me and I am better off in my $1000. chair with my beautiful iMac.

I like quiet to write can edit through anything, but find music too distracting during any phase.

Loved seeing Kay's picture, btw. When was it taken?

I have taken to plotting even though I am a panster. I started so many book with nothing more than a character or two. Can't seem to do that as well anymore. Maybe it's because the books are longer and more complicated, maybe it's because I got stupid. I never feel totally bound by a synopsis.

I like the sound of your hammock!

But most of all, I like the sound of the passion in your voice as you discuss your story and the writing craft itself.


Karen Duvall said...

Alice, my sky chair is a dream! I got it for my birthday about 10 years ago and it hung "inside" my Evergreen house from a ceiling beam. I'd swing on it while watching TV.

As for the picture of Kay, that was taken in 2002. Janet owns a condo in Keystone, Colorado, and we often stayed there for our annual Story Magic weekend. That picture was taken at a restaurant. Since I moved to Oregon in the fall of 04, the others stopped the annual ritual. I really miss it. We did some great character and plotting work together.

I'm very passionate about my writing, especially this book. I wrote 13 pages over the weekend, which is an awesome accomplishment for me. The house didn't get cleaned, but that's the sacrifice we make for our art. 8^)

Danita Cahill said...

We write a lot alike, Karen -- mornings, no music, other distractions are easier to take while in the editing process.

I sit at my dining room table to write. Use my laptop. It's not wired to the internet, hence fewer distractions. I don't like writing at my desktop. It's not ergonomically correct and hurts me.

I can't do good work in the evenings, ever. I can do okay in the early afternoon, after that, I'm word-dead. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Great post Karen!

I've found lately that the best way for me to get any writing done is to wait everyone out until they go to bed then stay up until 4:00 a.m. pecking away while sitting at my desk or on my comfy recliner sofa.

For me, it has to be totally quiet as far as human noises go; and that's an impossible thing to ask my family to do for more than about, oh, five seconds at a time. :) Music is fine as long as it's classical instrumental. Any vocals and I'm thrown for a loop.

So far I've been a panster with my writing. When I've tried to plot, I lose interest altogether and give up. When I just let my fingers fly over the keys, I actually accomplish something.

Like Paty, I think a long time about my characters and fill out a character sheet that I like.

I love my PowerBook G4. Like I always say, "Once you go Mac, you never go back!" LOL It's my life support system. If my computer was stolen or blown up it would be like losing a limb. ;) Luckily, I always have everything backed up on a secure server. My dh is very anal about backing up our Mac's information.

Like you said, we really can learn so much from writing. It's been my continuing education rather than finishing college. I like to think that someday I'll go back to school and get my four year degree instead of just two, but I doubt that will happen; instead, I'm just going to keep writing and learning all I can without some professor grading me and giving me homework. LOL

Thanks for the post Karen!

Karen Duvall said...

Whaddaya know, Danita, we're kindred spirits! 8^) I'm not a night owl. It's like a switch trips inside my head as darkness falls, but in the summer it stays light longer so sometimes I can write later than I usually do.

Karen Duvall said...

OMG, Piper! 4 a.m.? EEEKS! Then how late do you sleep the next day? Or I should say that day. I can more easily wake up at 4 than I can stay up til 4. My husband plays his guitar all weekend and often doesn't climb into bed until 3 or 3:30. I don't know how he does it, but like you, that's his only opportunity to create his music because he's always working during the week.

Anonymous said...

LOL - Karen, when I stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. I usually sleep until 10 a.m. It's enough for the day, but I go to bed early that night for sure. Most of the time I go to bed around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. My dh and kids are good about leaving the fan on for white noise for me and letting me sleep when I do stay up to those ridiculous hours. I don't do it very often. Trust me. If I did, maybe I'd have finished my WIP by now. LOL

That's so cool that your dh plays his guitar and suffers for his art. :) My son has a new acoustic guitar that he picks around on, but we really need to get him some lessons.

Off to water the ol' garden! Poor things thirsty after the hot days we've been having.

Genene said...

Great post, Karen!

I too have learned soooo much from writing.

Probably none of you would have guessed that I'm a plotter. :) HOWEVER, in spite of being very detailed, my plotting is also fairly fluid. A road map, but I also take some interesting detours along the way.

I usually make lots of notes and stick them in a file long before I start a story. I also add pictures out of magazines or whatever if I run across a model who looks like my characters or see a house that reflects them, etc. Usually a story starts off with an idea that won't leave me alone. It might be a few lines or a paragraph or ten pages that I need to get down on paper. I have dozens of ideas in a file cabinet.

I do have a variety of character worksheets, but (surprise!) I'm not anal about filling out every little detail. I let them develop as the story develops. I also fill out a worksheet for each scene, although the info may be sketchy at first, so I know I have enough plot and conflict to make a 300-page book.

When I get about three-quarters of the way through the book, I usually step back and replot, because things have changed enough that I'm losing track of plot threads and character arcs.

I also prefer absolute quiet when I write. Morning is better, but simply because if I wait until later, too many things swallow up my time and I don't get to writing. However, if I block out time to write, I can write any time and have also pulled some nearly all-nighters. I don't have a laptop, so I use the computer in my office. When I sit at my computer, it means work time -- no games.

I also am finding that writing is a bit different for each story. I also try to be open to new writing processes and adapt the ideas of others to fit my style. So thanks to all of you for the suggestions you make.

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene--I want to be you! It sounds great. Making files, cutting out pictures of houses and people. I like that. It's kind of like making a collage of your story (very in) only without a glue gun.



Karen Duvall said...

Genene, it's great that you're a plotter and are comfortable with a system. It's the most natural way for you to write and that's terrific. I plot like my office looks and... well, we won't even go there.

I cut out pictures of people when I wrote my second book. That was fun. Now I just visualize them based on what I think they should look like, but admittedly I have a few celebrity faces show up. The hero in my WIP looks exactly like the actor Adrian Grenier (who plays Vincent Chase on HBO's Entourage) and my heroine looks like Katie Holmes, only with short, spikey hair. I don't need to cut out pictures to see these two, lol!

wavybrains said...

Awesome post Karen, and the comments were downright inspiring!

Tuesday's Post is coming, just a little bit behind this morning!