Touring my Writing Process

I can’t tell you how flattered I was when Nina Killham, whose book Believe Me knocked me right out and whose blog you should be following, invited me to participate in a blog tour meant to highlight the myriad writing processes of authors and writers.

Nina’s answers to the four deceptively simple questions are fascinating, and I’ve been following the tour backwards to see what other writers have said.

And while I still have my doubts that anyone would be interested in my own process, such as it is, thinking about my answers to those questions was extremely helpful.

So here we go:

What am I working on?

I’m working on two main projects right now and a scattering of smaller ones.

The first primary WIP is something I’m not calling a romance, because that would appall the main characters, who have no patience for  the fancy tropes and trappings (emphasis on “trap”) of romantic relationships. Unfortunately, they’ve been drafted into creating the “perfect wedding” for their respective siblings, a couple of Love at First Sighters who don’t have a clue how much work a happily ever after can take. It’s up to our two anti-cupids to show ‘em how perfect imperfect love can be. I’ve been posting very brief excerpts on Sundays, starting here.

The second is about a wereduck P.I. with PTSD. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Umm . . .wereducks?

Seriously, though, this is a tough question. Aside from plots and premises, I think all writers bring unique elements—characters, POVs, facets, assumptions, cultural cues—to our stories, or we should.

We’re filtering everything through our individual imaginations—and once they’re written, stories are filtered through the readers’ imaginations, too. It’s a game of telepathic telephone, and it’s an amazing, intriguing exchange.

It’s possible that my own filters are snark-colored and geared toward characters who don’t think outside the box as much as stomp it flat because it’s a stupid box and who has the time?

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I want to read or what I think it will be fun to work with—whatever sparks my imagination and gets me playing the What If game.

I want to see two intelligent, impatient people fall into unexpected, imperfect love.  I want to know how a prey animal might deal with a were-eat-were subculture.

Occasionally, a character will grab me, tell me all about themselves, and insist on word count—and sometimes they catch my eye and make me work for it. Those last ones are my favorite.

Also, humor tends to leak into my serious stuff, and my humor can get pretty dark. On the advice of a couple of really good friends, I’ve decided to roll with it and see what happens.

How does your writing process work?

I plan by the seat of my pants.  No joke.  I generate enough stuff to make a general outline, and then start at chapter one, and plan each consecutive chapter as I go, based on where the last one went.  Sort of.

I’m also an inveterate scribbler. By the end of the work day at the library, I’ve usually accumulated a small pile of scraps and/or a cache of e-mail drafts containing bits and pieces and lines and discoveries and also—hopefully—an idea of what I want to work on once the kids go to bed. I rarely get more than an hour or two of consecutive daily writing time during the work week, so I do what I can, when I can.

You can’t tell from my blog, but I hate leaving a bad sentence behind, but I’m learning to embrace the concept of crappy first drafts—as if I have a choice—and kick myself over the speedbumps.

Mood music and friends who nag with love are also key.

Speaking of the mood music and friends, the amazing Jalisa Blackman, from whence good playlists and enless encouragement comes, will be blogging about her process next week.

Her autobio:

Jalisa pretends to blog at Semi-Educational Reviews, but it’s really a placeholder for her tweets (@J_M_Blackman). She teaches 6th grade language arts and is working on completing her thesis and fourth manuscript. She isn’t sure which will kill her first, but if she survives, she’ll still be living in metro ATL with her husband and pets, a dog named Harley Quinn and a cat named Ororo.

Lisa is one of the most imaginative writers I know—when she builds a world, it stays built, and I’m in love with fully half of her characters, who range from jealous werewolves to child geniuses, burned-out cops to too-human androids, dutiful daughters to rebellious rich boys.

I can’t wait to read her answers!


Someone else’s brilliant advice

I’m chipping away at pachyderms and marsupials today, so I thought I’d bypass original content in favor of theft someone else’s.

Nina Killham posted a link to some excellent writing advice from Howard Jacobson today, so I swiped it, in the forlorn hope that you might not have visited her place today.

I couldn’t get the BBC video to embed—‘swhat I get for living in the US—so please click on his photo below to get to it.

His advice, and outlook, is exactly what I needed today.  And I’m  loving that wallpaper.

Getting my own goat . . .

I’ve been following the fabulous Nina Killham’s blog ever since I read Believe Me and went searching for anything else she’d written.*   Damn, but the woman can write.   

And one of the things she can write about is writing. 

Recently, I’ve been so bound up by the ‘rules’ of writing and whether my current WIP might not be another ‘practice’ novel but the real thing—whatever that might be—that every sentence I write seemed to be a worthless pile of unconnected letters.  I even posted a think-I’ll-go-eat-worms whine about it. 

But Ms. Killian provided the perfect counterargument.  And a fairly graphic graphic, too. 

She also referred back to a post written by Jennifer Louden, aka the Comfort Queen, who provided wise words and some suggestions of things to do when everything seems to stall. 

I particular like number ten.  It may be a superstitious cop-out, but you can’t say there wouldn’t be a certain amount of proactive effort involved. 

But that aside, I was reminded of why I quit my old writing group a couple years ago.

One person got a nibble from an agent, and suddenly, anything anyone brought in, was being judged on whether it would sell once it was a novel—because that’s the only thing that brings in enough money to be ‘worth the effort.’ And the basis for criticism wasn’t whether someone’s newest pages told a good story or had POV problems or even made no sense at all, but solely by the rules of the latest class someone took or writing book someone read.  

Do you know how many contradictory rules are out there for writing a cover letter to an agent so she or he will give your sample pages a mere glance? Let alone how many superstitions are floating around out there about how many lines on how many pages go into a synopsis and which font will tell an agent that you’re the next Stephen King and which ones are the kiss of death?

Some people got into an actual shouting match about whether it was unprofessional to mention that a novel was one’s first, each side waving various manuals and fistfuls of printouts from different websites. And I’m not even going to get into the fight about calculating word counts.

The whole thing made me tired.  And not a little ticked off.

I mean, I can understand it if a reader thinks that my stuff has too many people or too much humor or not enough humor or—I’ll admit this one did hit the old ego—I was ‘trying too hard.’ I do respect the honest opinions of everyone in that group.** No one is required to love my writing—if enough people don’t get it, I need to do some serious editing. I have to be able to take it if I want to get better at storytelling. I don’t have to agree with them, as I say to my kids, but I do have to be polite.

But I don’t like it when I am given regurgitated 2nd hand criticism originating from someone who not only hasn’t read my particular piece and is not present, but gave these rules in a class I didn’t take or wrote it in a handbook I didn’t read. And I don’t like it when the focus of the criticism isn’t on the characters or the dialogue or the plot or the regrettable fact that everyone who came in contact with it is clawing their eyes out in confusion and despair,***but on whether it fits in with the latest superstitions from the publishing industry as divined by people who are not actually in the publishing industry.

After a while I felt patronized and pressured and just not good enough. So I stopped going to the meetings.

Unfortunately, it appears that I can generate those feelings all by myself.  Anne Lamott calls it K-FCKD, the radio station that plays in your head 24/7 and tells you how much you suck. 

I tend to forget that I didn’t start writing—in notebooks with unicorns on the covers and later on my Dad’s manual typewriter—because I wanted to see my name on a spine or have fame and fortune.  I wanted to tell a good story, one that resonated in my imagination the way my favorite stories do when I read them.  If my stuff resonated for other people, that would be absolutely awesome, and if they liked it enough to pay me for it, holy cow . . . but it was the act—the rush—of writing that was the real deal for me.   The absolute need to get that idea or character or bizarre thought down on paper right now—to escape, as Stephen King put it, through the hole in the paper.

Otherwise, why bother?  Right?

So I’m going to do my damndest to get out of my own way.  The destiny of my story can take care of itself for a while.  Right now, I need to go back to the beginning.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the goat.


 *Two of her books are on the shelves near my favorite spot on the couch and I visit the other one on a regular basis at the library.

**Except for the guy who told me in an impatient voice that quote, “no one cared”, unquote about what I’d just shared. He tore a lot of people down this way before he finally left. He’s allowed his opinions, but I don’t respect him for how he shared them. In fact, I still occasionally hope he dies alone and forgotten in a box–because I’m allowed my opinion, too.

***I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened, or at least it hasn’t been traced back to me yet.