History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 March 2010

Writing is writing is writing

A non-writer friend of mine recently expressed interest in the "process" of writing.
"What about it?" I said. "You pick up a pen and -- "
"Stop right there. I want to know how you do what you do every day; other people would be interested in your 'process.'"

I don't know how interested anyone might be, but here goes. I'm a pantser until I get near the end (last 100 pages) of my book; then I turn into a plotter.
I write in the morning and the late afternoon or evening (propped up in bed with a bowl of nuts and chocolate at my fingertips). I write first with pen on yellow note pads, in longhand, making numerous crossouts, circles, arrows, and other roadmap markers so I can wade my way through the draft pages later, when transcribing them onto my computer.

I write 4 longhand pages per day, which equals about 1000 words on the MSWord program I'm using, and I do this almost every day including Saturdays and Sundays and many holidays. In the afternoon or evening I create the 4 pages from scratch; the following morning I type them into the computer. I do have some personal rules for myself that I try to follow.

First, I try not to pick up my pen until I have an idea about "what's coming next" in my story. If I draw a blank, I go do something else, research reading, maybe. Or practicing the harp. Or sweeping off my deck.

Second, If I have a headache or am overtired or don't feel well, I don't write, on the theory that nothing worthwhile comes from pain or nausea.

Third, I used to do a quick edit on the printed-out 4 pages each day; now I stifle that inclination with a promise to myself that I will revise and polish when I reach the end of the book. It's tempting to nitpick and try to perfect, but I'm learning.

Fourth, I have never experienced writer's block, but I have had moments of grave doubt, fear, feelings of inadequacy, and "I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing" angst. I don't stop writing and the doubt passes. Eventually.

I don't work with a critique group, but I do have one long-time critique partner who will read for me and comment honestly. We've been friends for 25 years, and I trust her [trust is essential!]. I also work with a "study group" of three writers; it's not a critique group but one that undertakes "craft exercises and craft explorations." Every week we pick an exercise to hone our skill in aspects such as pacing, character goals, subtext, dialogue, etc. and how other writers handle particular issues (Bernard Cornwell on tension, for example).

I don't write for money; I write because it's personally satisfying. I try to do it well and keep improving. I read a lot of fiction (latest is nonfiction: Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains), history, and selected books on craft (lately Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction. I read other writers whom I admire (Pam Rosenthal), and I go to bed each night counting my blessings: I am retired; in good health; I don't do this under deadline pressure, and I find crafting a good historical novel is an absorbing challenge.

As for choosing settings, finding stories, and creating characters... I'm still working on it.

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Blogger Svea Love said...

I love reading about other authors writing processes. Thank you for sharing!

1:31 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, I like how you do it! For some reason, my brain just doesn't' want to settle down and write until after lunch (usually around 2PM). I can plot and edit in the morning, but actually writing then is very hard.

I'm in New Orleans right now on a writer's retreat weekend with some friends and fellow writers and it's a scream to see how different we all are. After breakfast, I retreated to my room. One of them settled in a coffee shop with her lap top, and one of them is drafting long hand in a park.

Tonight we're going to plot over hurricanes, LOL! Should be fun.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Blythe Gifford said...

It's amazing how different everyone's process is! I write first thing in the morning, on a computer. And if I don't know what comes next, I write nonsense until I trigger something. I now push myself to four pages (is that a magic number?) and then I get to quit! (Of course, we won't go into the revision process here. Like you, I've learned that I'm better off not doing it daily.)

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Starting your writing as an enjoyable pastime with no pressure is the way to go. Once you are ready, there will be to publish and put up with the pressure and rewards. Good luck and enjoy your writing.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Lynna! I love hearing about different writers' writing processes. I a plotter--the new book I'm starting is currently laid out on my dining room table on notecards. I do change story elements as I write, but I can't imagine writing without a road map, and I have tremendous admiration for writers who can do so.

I can write at all time of the day if I have to, but in general my most productive time seems to be about 4:00 in the afternoon to midnight or beyond (if the story is flowing, and I don't have to get early, I'll keep working).

I usually write on my laptop, but I like moving around the house. I have a favorite armchair surrounded by books that I like to curl up in. Sometimes I write with DVDs playing (yes, I know it sounds odd, but it worked very well for Vienna Waltz). If I'm out for the day with free time, I'll work in a café. If I don't have my laptop, I'll handwrite (I once drafted a scene on a recital program).

Kalen, your writers' weekend sounds fabulous!

Off to write and look at the rainy landscape...

1:20 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Lynna, thanks for sharing your process. I am always intrigued by how my colleagues work. Right now I have so many different things claiming my time that I have to grab the chance to write when I can, in spare pockets of time, rather than stretches, which is my more usual process. And I'm readying one nonfiction ms. for delivery to my editor while writing a novel for another editor, so my brain needs a toggle switch!

2:31 PM  
Anonymous lynna banning said...

Especially for Leslie Carroll: The April issue of Sunset magazine has a wonderful little article by Anne Lamott on "time."
Something I'm going to try to live by from now on...

9:54 AM  

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