October 10, 2006

The 95% They Never Tell You About When You Start Writing A Novel

That would be the 95% of the time when you don’t feel like writing.

I’ve seen it in so many writers and I’ve done it myself. Write a little, stop. Write a little, stop. Put it down, put it away, put it where you don’t have to look at it, under your bed or hidden away in an obscure computer file where even Bill Gates AND the CIA couldn’t find it. Anything to get it out of your sight and off of your mind, because dammit, you don’t WANT to write today. Today stretches out into tomorrow, into the next day, and all of a sudden you discover you’ve wasted an entire week, month, year, and have not even one page to show for it, when what you originally SAID, and meant with all your heart, was, “I want to write a book.”

Sound familiar?

I thought so. We’ve all done it.

But authors who get book after book after book published year after year don’t allow themselves to do it often.

Here’s what you need to realize: Someone a lot smarter than I said, “Writing is mostly re-writing.” And it is. Pages of great prose don’t just fall there by accident when you’re typing away thinking about something else. Oh sure, sometimes a brilliant thought or phrase or an unexpected scene does happen and you don’t have a clue where it came from, but that’s one of those magic days when you’re blessed with some otherworldly sense and it flows from your fingers.

Those magic days don’t happen often. You usually have to work at it.

Most days it’s just slogging away, hating hell out of what you just wrote, KNOWING you’re the world’s biggest fake because your dialogue is the suckiest ever, your narrative would bore even the most desperate reader half to death, and nothing jells.

That’s when you really have to buckle down and keep at it, because that’s the 95% of writing you never hear about in author interview blogs. Pubbed authors rarely want their readers to know what goes on behind the scenes, but y’all know me, I don’t care. I’ll tell you.

What happens behind the scenes, those tough days when nothing jells, is that if you’re smart and you want to be published any sooner than 2075, you keep noodling with it until it does jell. I would venture to say most of what most authors write is done like that. You just sit there and force yourself to keep writing whether you like it or not.

And then, when you save it to go back to the very next day, you’ll either find that it’s not nearly as awful as you thought it was and a few words here and there will salvage it, or it is as awful as you thought. If it is, if you’re anything like me, you go back and start noodling with whatever’s bothering you until you Get It Right.

I don’t recommend my method for everyone. Many authors say they keep on writing till it’s completely done, till they type THE END, and then they go back and fix everything. That works for them. It doesn’t work for me, and I’ll tell you why.

Because I know me.

If I know something isn’t right with a scene I just wrote, I can NOT go on until it is right, and sometimes that means days on end of shifting words, paragraphs, deleting this, adding that, sometimes swearing the whole time, but I have to Get It Right. Then, and only then, can I move on. The good news about doing it that way is, when I write THE END, it’s almost as good as I can get it. And then I go back and fine-tune it. And then I have someone else go through it for typos and continuity.

I think a lot of that, with me, is that I’m extremely conscious of character development, which is supposed to be happening all the way throughout the book. To me, character development is the most important part of the book because my characters ARE my book. Nothing else is as important because if readers don’t like your characters, there goes the book, no matter how slick your plot might be.

What happens in one scene leads to the next, and to me, if the wrong thing happened I’m usually going to know it right away, even if I did just type it myself, and I’m going to want to fix it so that the character development makes sense. If I don’t, I’ll flounder around and the rest of the book will be off-kilter until I go back and fix what happened way back when things went wrong.

That little voice always tells me something’s not quite right. Experience has taught me that if I don’t listen to that little voice, an agent or editor will nab me on THAT VERY SPOT sure as hell. It always happens. Every time. So if I hear that little voice, I go back until I find where it went wrong, and fix it. I might as well get it over with while it’s fresh in my mind.

You may be different. Things like that might not bother you.

They do bother me.

The point I’m making is, writing a novel isn’t just a matter of sitting down and typing out a book in a month and sending it off. It never works that way. I doubt it even works that way for Nora Roberts, although I could be wrong about that. 😉 But most of us have to re-write until boiling hot blood spurts out of our foreheads. I sweated on one paragraph in one of my earlier books for almost two weeks until I finally wound up deleting what was bothering me so much. I do that routinely now and I don’t even miss what I deleted.

Writing a novel isn’t always fun. You don’t end every day thrilled with what you wrote. You may have to completely rewrite it tomorrow, and the day after that, and maybe even a week after that.

But isn’t that better than writing nothing at all?

If you want to get published and stay published, you don’t have a choice. You have to do rewrites and you have to keep at it day after day. Even then, you may have to do more rewrites when an agent or editor gets their hands on it, but I covered those kinds of rewrites in an earlier blog. This is about keeping after it day after day no matter how bored you are or no matter how badly it’s going. Because only keeping at it at least ensures you’ll have a stab at getting where you want to go.

Not keeping at it ensures that you won’t.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how my skiing lessons went last week…well…I don’t want to talk about that right now. Maybe next week, after my ego heals a bit more. Or maybe I’ll talk some about character development. We’ll see how it goes.

Love y’all, you KNOW I do! Come back soon, ya hear me?
Always and Forever
The Hotclue

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  1. Nora reently said something like “First, I vomit the first draft. Then I go back and rewrite it.” I think the word “vomit” is accurately descriptive here. 🙂


  2. Ya gotta admit though, she has her audience wrapped around her little finger. What astonishes me, and even her staunchest fans will admit this, is the difference in literary quality between her JD Robb books and her category romances. Nora’s smart, she knows both target audiences well, and she gives them what they want. And in return, they’ve made her a millionaire several times over. I think most writers do pretty much the same thing, from what I’ve seen on different author lists, just write whatever to get the first draft, then go back and rewrite. To me, though, that’s a lot of wasted time. But something else Nora said, and I do see the wisdom in this, is that she never knows if there IS a book until that first draft is finished. In my case, I struggle more with that part of it. I know there’s a book there, it’s just a matter of plodding through it till I get it as right as I can. Others’ mileage may vary. 😉


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