Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I want to talk about writing today, but first let's be clear on our definition. Encarta English Dictionary gives us the following:

Writing writ·ing n
1. words or other symbols, for example, hieroglyphics, written down as a means of communication
2. written material, especially considered as the product of a writer’s skill
3. the activity of creating written works, especially as a job
4. the letters and words formed on a page by somebody using a pen or pencil, or the style in which somebody writes

I'll take #3 for two hundred, Alex.

For me, the creation of a book tends to fall into definite stages. These are arguable, of course, and are composed of different factors for different writers, but the following are mine:

1. Plotting. This is a big one. This encompasses all the what-ifs that meld together to create a cohesive journey. For Danita, it might include a dream. For me, it's a lot of thought centered around a core idea from which massive extrapolation takes place, layer upon layer, building a viable backstory from which a current story springs. Add a precipitating event, light a match to the end of the fuse, and stand back as the clock starts ticking toward the culminating explosion. It starts here, and again, arguably, forms the most intensely creative act of all.
2. The submission package.
• Synopsis
• First paragraph
• First three chapters
• Query letter (for some)
3. Contract. This is the checkered flag that begins the race. As I believe Sherlock would say, "The game's afoot." Of course, the game can start without this step, and the quality of the game is not challenged by its absence. I'm just relating my take on things.
4. The three weird sisters:
• Beginning (and here I am referring to chapter four. The first three were part of the submission package and in their own way, contained an arc of their own. Chapter four is a struggle most of the time as it's been awhile since I looked at the book or maybe even thought about it, and I need to get back in the mode.)
• Middle. I know writers who love these chapters the most. The initial event and tension is taking a deep breath, there's time for a little character growth and revelation. To me and a lot of other writers, these middle pages can sometimes seem like a stretch of never ending desert, rife with wavering mirages, the distant cool mountains never seeming to grow closer until one day you wake up and see it's time to begin thinking about the…
• End. The final chapters. Complicated, challenging, exhilarating. Did I tie up all the pieces? I've spent months with the first page of this book and on a tight deadline, I can spend, literally, a couple of days with the last. Doesn't seem fair.
5. Revisions, rewriting. As has been mentioned many times on this blog by many of us, this tends to be a love it or hate it chore. I like it, but I think that's because I rewrite as I go along so the end rewrite USUALLY isn't too horrible. Some people write the book, go back and rewrite the book, go back and rewrite the rewrite… Of course, there is no right or wrong, just personal preference.
6. Send the book. It's all over but the waiting. Will it work? Will this be the one that your editor calls and says, "um, about that book, um…"
7. Art pages, final title, dedication sheet … all the little stuff.
8. Copyedits. Last chance for major rewrites, time to weed in and consider editorial comments and your own second thoughts.
9. Galleys. Little tiny changes for this read through. A misspelling here, a wrong date there… and all the time wondering how you can possibly read this book ONE MORE TIME (but you do.)
10. Now it's really gone and your mind begins the endless what if all over again. For those of you who promote, that part of the challenge is just beginning….
11. The cover shows up on Amazon long before the book is printed. Then a box of books arrives. Reviews drift in, maybe a few nice letters from happy readers, members of your family and your friends read the book and say nice things -- if they're smart….

My question to you is this -- For you is there a favorite part to creating a book or one you loathe? Have I missed something major here? If writing a book was an assembly line job like making a car and you go to choose only one job to do, what would it be?


Paty Jager said...

Interesting blog, Alice!

My favorite part of writing a book is the stewing and brewing I do before I write the first sentence. The getting to know my characters, sitting in on conversations they have in my head and becoming a part of their lives.

I always have at least two books like that in my head. Just this morning while I was cleaning house the opening for the western series came to me and the main character had a charming conversation with her new employer. Then she hopped over and visited with the woman who will help her keep her cover while on assignment. I learned a lot about that woman as well. I stopped dusting (yes, I finally dusted- my MIL is coming to dinner tonight for her b-day) and sat down and wrote the opening sentences for the story and now that one feels as real to me as the contemporary I've been brewing.

What I hate- That's pretty obvious after all my blabbering the last few days- synopsis. But I plan to beat it. I've decided to go ahead and write it up as it comes to me before I write the story and I can always fix it up after I write the story and get ready to send out proposals.

Genene said...

Alice, this is great! How nice to have all the pieces written down in one place. And the "three weird sisters" -- love that phrase!

Do I have a favorite or least favorite part of the process? Not really. I like all of the pieces as long as they are going well. On the other hand, I dislike any pieces that don't go well. LOL!

And seriously, I've discovered that's true. My lesson is to work through those times when things aren't going easily. Sometimes that's by breaking things down into small chunks and tackling one scene or paragraph or sentence or one missing piece of information at a time. Other times, it's just pushing myself forward, whining and fussing, until it's done.

If I could choose only one, maybe that would be counting the royalties as they roll in!

Great blog, Alice!

Karen Duvall said...

I'd have to say my favorite part is the revising. I've laid out the initial idea in draft form, then I get to go back in and sculpt it into form. I get very excited about his phase.

I have a love/hate relationship with the agent search, a stage you didn't mention, Alice. It's such an emotional roller coaster, and you never know how it will end. Since I'm holding out for a contract with a mass market publisher, this book may never see ink, and that's a tough reality check. But I'm determined.

I need to get started on my next project but haven't thought too much about the short story I'll be working on. The stewing and brewing is fun, too, and gives me something to look forward to. 8^)

Flo Moyer said...

My favorite parts of writing:
Knowing my synopsis works and I can actually sit down and write the book.

When the editor calls with the offer--every book sold gets me just as excited as the first. Maybe more so.

When an idea or spark hits and won't let go after a while, and I know I have to write a book about it.

Choosing the title part and doing cover art is hard for me because I don't know what's acceptable to marketing, or even what would sell best. I never feel like I come up with anything "great".

Keeping the books for the writing business. I used to be organized, then I became a mother. LOL.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great post, Alice. ;) Makes you think.

Okay, let's see. Stages 7-11 are all new to me, so I can't really say how i feel about those at this point. I'm sure each new step along the way will be exhilerating and challenging all at the same time. At this point though, I have to say my favorite part is between six and seven (which is where I'm at now. LOL). Where the editor calls you and says, "I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!" (If you're searching for an agent, or sending a new ms to your agent, this is the same stage). It's one thing to hear that line from friends and CPs and family, but when an industry professional calls and says, "I LOVE THIS BOOK!" There's no greater feeling in the world (at least, for me, not yet). Yeah, I know I still have some revising to do, plot points to clean up, but knowing someone loved it even with those errors is still a pretty cool feeling.

Danita Cahill said...

I'd want to be a painter, Alice. Maybe do a little airbrushart, some creative pinstriping. Oh, but wait. We're talking writing here, aren't we?

Not having sold yet, my chore sheet reads shorter than yours. I'd have to say my favorite part if writing and polishing those first three chapters. It sets everything in place for the rest of the book.

Fun topic!

wavybrains said...

Great blog, Alice!

My favorite part is outlining. I have a purple notebook where I let ideas stew and brew and I love it when an idea takes form to the point that I can say, "Yes. This one will work." Then I get to fill-in-the-blanks and that's the really fun part for me.

I also really like editing. I think, mainly, I just like having SOMETHING to edit.

Getting the rough draft down is the part that I don't like as much. I'm not an edit as go person--if I were, I'd never finish. I dangle the promise of rewriting in front of me like a carrot.

Do you usually write the first three chapters and THEN write the synopsis? Or synopsis-chapters-edit synopsis????

Alice Sharpe said...

Thanks to everyone for their responses. I had a full day outside the house today, so I haven't been keeping up like usual.

Paty likes stewing and brewing ... I do, too, although right now, with the current three book project in my head, it's a little overwhelming. Paty, you are like a never ending trail of ideas. It's cool.

Genene, LOL, I forgot to add the step of counting money!!!!!!

Flo, I love that feeling of being grabbed and twisted and forced to think and ultimately write about an idea, too.

Karen, no, I didn't mention the agent hunt. Good for you for having faith in your project. Your project will see ink, I just know it.

Ah, Eli, shame on me for not mentioning that magical moment when someone in charge of money (power) and who has read a zillion things since Tuesday is moved by something you wrote. I feel it still. Bravo!

Danita, we all know your penchant for openings -- and who could argue the point? There is nothing if there isn't a great start...

Wavy. Let's see, I get an idea, I write backstory, I write the event that starts things, I think synopsis, I write it...oh, wait, I start chapters--ack, honestly, I'm not sure which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Okay, I know, the idea comes first, then the synopsis, then the chapters.

We're all different and yet we all write stories. Thanks, everyone.