Sunday, June 29, 2008

Author Questions and a Few Answers

posted by Aunty Cindy

Recently I started a delightful email correspondence with a “newbie” fantasy writer. The daughter of one of my former employees, who wanted to ask me some questions about being “a professional writer.” I was thrilled at the chance, and some of my answers to her questions turned out to be as enlightening for me as I hope they were for her. I thought I’d share a few and see if they give you any insight into your own and other writers’ processes.

1)What is the process you use to complete a story?

I'm a very linear writer. I start on page one of Chapter one and I write through to The End. SHEESH! I really hate to think of myself as that inflexible, but when it comes to my first draft, I am. I envy writers who can sit down and write whatever scene occurs to them and then go back and tie them all together (Diana Gabaldon says she does this). Unfortunately, I don't think I'll ever be one of them.

Once I start revising, it's that "whole 'nother story!" I can skip around all over the place, and sometimes I have to. If I change something, like a location or an article, in one chapter then I have to go through and make sure it's consistent every place. I also save hard copies of my critique partners' comments, and I have no problem picking up any of those, going to whatever chapter and reworking based on their suggestions.


2)Do you write every day?

Usually, however, I can't write when I'm on a vacation. Lord knows, I've tried! My CP actually loaned me her Alpha Smart TWICE (both times I was on a cruise) and I never did use the dang thing. I have done revising, critiquing, and contest judging while on vacation. This truly must use another part of the brain, more analytical than creative. As long as I can find a few quiet moments (and they don't even have to be all that quiet) I can read and/or revise.

After the two Alpha Smart episodes, I've pretty much given up on trying to write first draft while traveling. But I always use the opportunity to catch up on my reading. I can't read in a moving car, but have no problem reading on a plane or in the airport.


3)Do you write by hand or type? Why?

Definitely type! My handwriting is so bad that even I can't read it sometimes. Probably the only person who might be able to decipher my chicken scratches is my goddaughter, the pharmacist. I asked her once if they had to take a class on reading doctors' handwriting in pharmacy school. She just laughed.

Plus, it is far easier to delete and cut & paste on the computer than cross out words and write between the lines and in the margins. I'm one of those writers who constantly changes things as I go along. I guess in one respect I'm always revising and rewriting. The computer is perfect for doing that.

4) Are you a character writer or plot writer?

Actually, I think one depends on the other. The plot is going to depend on how the characters act and react to the things that happen to them. And of course, the things that happen deeply influence the characters and how they view themselves and their world.

5) Why do you write?

I guess I'm one of those people who was born a writer, or at least a story teller. I loved books even before I could read them for myself! Once I did learn to read, I devoured every book I could get my hands on, and if I didn't like the way it ended, I made up my own ending. It wasn't a far stretch from there to start writing my own stories. Sharing them wasn't nearly so easy, even though I wanted to.

I've tried "not writing" and even went for several years when I wrote nothing. That was a very unhappy period of my life. Eventually, I discovered I am not a happy person unless I'm doing some kind of writing. And you know the saying, "When mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" So as difficult and frustrating as writing can be sometimes, it still beats not writing ALL TO HECK!

So if you are a writer, how do you answer some of these questions? And if you are a reader, what other questions would you like to ask your favorite writer?

14 comments:

  1. I think it's very cool to present these, what I'm sure are common questions, and answer them for your friend and for us all. I agree that typing and a good word processor make writing a lot quicker and more convenient, especially now that laptop computers can come along for the ride. My own writing habits are rather similar to yours, including the occasional attack of story obsession and the tendency for my characters to be disagreeable or downright stubborn.

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  2. I'm in the middle of deadline stuff and house issues, etc, but want to pop in to say hi! Great post, Cindy!

    When I started doing interviews for Heart of the Wolf, I got a lot of the same questions and also, are you a plotter/pantser? What time of day is best for you for writing? Where do you like to write best? But the one question that kept popping up that made me dig deep--Where did you get the idea for your werewolf story? What made you write it?

    On the surface, it was because I was writing vampire stories and loving it, but the market was becoming saturated. But that only touched the surface of why werewolves.

    At that point I hadn't read any werewolf stories romance or otherwise, so my only references to them were horror stories in the movies. However, I'd done a lot of research for a YA about berserkers. The Norsemen believed they could shapeshift into different creatures, and wolves were one of them.

    When I was a kid, having read about the polar bear who fell in love with a princess, but could only be in his human form for the night, and his bride couldn't see him that way--in the back of my mind, I thought it was pretty terrific to have a hero who was a shapeshifter, though cursed and unable to control it. He was sexy, and kind and a total dream. But also, I'd loved White Fang and Call of the Wild when I was growing up. So the combination of reading about fantasy romance shapeshifter stories, mythologies from all around the world, and wolf stories combined to form Heart of the Wolf.

    If I hadn't been asked that question so many times, I wouldn't have gotten to the deep psychological reasoning behind the book. LOL!!!

    I've been working too hard...

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  3. Morning Christina,
    I actually had to retrain myself to compose at the keyboard, because for years, I did write in long hand. I definitely can't do it any more, for all the reasons stated. :-)

    Yes, I love when my characters take on "a life of their own" except when, as you put it, they are disagreeable or downright stubborn. Mine are often that way... Now I wonder how THAT could happen???

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  4. Thanx for the interesting insight into your book, Terry. Glad you took a few minutes out from your busy schedule to drop by and share!

    I do get asked the plotter/pantser and where-do-you-get-ideas a lot too. But since I think I've covered them in other posts (or I intend to devote whole posts to both subjects) I decided to not include them in this one.:-)

    WOW! I remember an ancient video game my son used to love called "Berserker!" But I don't remember if the video character morphed into other animals... maybe. Hmmmm (cue Twilight Zone music)

    I love hearing stories of how other writers "do it" as much as anyone, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading more posts here in that same vein.

    Cindy

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  5. Hey Aunty,
    Sorry I'm late to the party today. We just got back from the weekend jaunt to NYC where it is HOT and CROWDED.

    I write just like you do only I revise as I go. I only write in longhand at the beach and never, ever on vacation or when I'm on a work trip—which usually consists of a cushy hotel room. I'm always so sure I'm going to get a ton done since I'm blissfully kid free, but it never seems to happen.

    Nice to know we're all nuts in the same way!
    Marie

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  6. Hey Cindy,
    I also write from beginning to end, and find myself with lots of revisions.

    I try to take weekends off, but I do write on planes and on vacation, usually early in the mornings, more or less as I do at home, but without the pressure of a set page count.

    I still do quite a bit of handwriting, especially when I am having trouble getting inside a characters head. Somehow I feel closer to the words.

    I write because I enjoy the process. And of course the end result.

    Michele

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  7. Welcome home, Marie!

    The weather has been pretty mild here for the end of June, just SMOKY! There are dozens of fires here in NorCal. Luckily none close to me, but the air is full of smoke and haze and it is NO FUN to be outdoors. :-(

    Yes, I'm afraid we writers are all a wee bit nutty, but it's nice to know we are all in this together.

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  8. Oh no, Michele, you are one of THOSE!

    A morning person, I mean. I am so TOTALLY NOT a morning person, though I was forced to be one for many many years. Once I became a manager, my secretaries all quickly learned to NEVER book a meeting for me before 10 am. I still say I am not a fully functioning human being before 10 am. Okay, maybe I'm not EVER a fully functioning human, but before 10 I am NOT EVEN CLOSE! :-P

    And yes, the end result of the writing definitely makes the process worthwhile!

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  9. I'm one who starts with page one and goes through to the end, too. I've tried that writing other bits first--it doesn't work for me.
    Of course, after our editor gets done with it and wants me to change the middle, that's when I'm tearing my hair out!

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  10. Hi Cheryl,
    Thanx for chiming in! Let's hear it for us linear writers... RA! RA! RA!!!

    So far, the revision process has been smooth sailing for me (Aunty raps on her wooden desk, her wooden book case and her own head). Here's hoping it stays that way!

    BIG THANX for everone who spent part of their Sunday with me!

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  11. Hey Cindy--
    Sorry this is a late comment!! Busy weekend to say the least.

    This is a great post and having these questions in mind are great for author interviews and guest blogs that I know you and all of the Casa ladies will get used to answering throughout the Fall.

    I'm glad to have learned more about your writing process :)

    Danielle

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  12. Another straggler, sorry Aunty Cindy:-) Great post! I'm also fascinated by how other authors "do it." I'm very linear too, though I will occasionally write a whole scene and insert it if it feels like the story needs it. Just did that, actually:-)

    My characters can be pains. I can poke and prod and slam my head into the desk, but if they don't want to do whatever it is I want them to, they just...don't. And I hate that moment of realization that they aren't going to budge until I change things, because it always means a big fat deletion of pages and a rewrite. Always comes out better in the end, but the Delete button is a painful, painful thing.

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who is physically unable to write on vacation. Even trips...I just did a cross-country move, and I bought the car adapter and everything for my laptop, determined that I would rack up some massive page count. And I got...nada. I am not alone! WOO!

    Thanks for the great post:-)

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  13. Hi Cindy, sorry for the late post but we've had internet troubles.

    What a great post! It had me thinking.

    My process:

    I'm definitely a linear writer.

    Do I write every day?

    I try to, but with a busy family, sometimes I fail.

    Computer or by hand?

    Up until a few months ago, I couldn't write on anything but a computer. I got stuck (for a long, long time) and in my desperation, pulled a card out of "A Tool Kit for Writers" by Naomi Epel and it said to "Switch instruments" At that point, I was willing to try anything, so I picked up a pen and a notebook--I had a ton of notebooks in my office since I collect them but never write in them - go figure. Writing with pen and paper got me out of my writers block and aside from my horrible handwriting and the difficulty I had transcribing it, it was wonderful.

    Character or Plot?

    Character, I always have strange people running around my head and then have to figure out how to build a plot around them.


    Why I write:
    I write because it's part of me. Simple as that. I've written poetry, lyrics, music, stories, and books. I remember the first time I wrote fiction, I was six-years-old. A couple years after my parents' divorce, my mother moved us from NY to Florida. I didn't want my Dad to be lonely, so I wrote stories for him. I've been writing ever since.

    Robin :)

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  14. If I hadn't been able to write while on vacation, Calvin never would have gotten the girl!

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