Back to Top

Tag Archives: On Writing

I’m about to dive into what I will call The Next Historical until such time as I have a working title. I’ve also been listening to the RWA 2010 Conference DVD. Right now I’m going through the craft track sessions. For those who don’t know, the RWA National conference records nearly all the workshops which are then available for purchase as a DVD or individually. There are sessions on writing craft, the business of writing, chats with major authors, publisher spotlights and keynotes.

Quite often the craft workshops give me horrible hives and make me feel inadequate as a writer. I’ve skipped a few workshops because the subject matter was not something I was interested in (how to shop your MS, for example).

Today I listened to the workshop on historical dialog given by, among others, Madeline Hunter and the Riskies own Janet Mullaney. It’s a GREAT workshop. I could listen to Madeline Hunter talk about writing for hours, and I wish Janet had had more time to talk about regional dialects (please take this as a hint for a future post, Janet!) I’m not kidding when I say that so far this is one of the best workshops I’ve listened to so far.

There’s also a workshop on Pantsing that contained some really fascinating information backed up by solid research. This is dear to my heart because I am a pantser; a seat of the pants writer. I’ll listen to that one again. I cannot plot a novel in advance. Not if my life depended on it. That’s just the way it works for me.

Writing The Next Historical

All of which gets me back to The Next Historical. I can’t sit down with no idea whatever. Before I start writing, I will do things like set up the new folder and put in all the base documents. For a historical, that includes my chronology of Regency Events, a blank cast of characters where I will note the names of my characters (as they appear) their birthdates, eye and hair color so if I forget I can look it up. Subject to change and deletion. I also have a template for a list of scenes (set up to automatically number, which I use for about half the novel, after which I almost never need it.

As I write each chapter, I write a sentence or two about what happens  and whose POV it’s in (because so far I only do one POV per chapter.) This is also subject to massive change and deletion. It gives me a quick way to check for arc and see what chapters might need to move where as my writing fleshes out the story and the conflicts that arise. I also put in the master document template and the template for chapters and the document where I will track my daily word count. I also keep a list of Action Items which will be a list of Things That Need to be Fixed But Not Right This Minute. I’d say 80% of that list gets written out– that is the problem goes away as I continue writing.

Daydeaming and staring off into Space

 I also spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t writing, but are definitely thinking about my characters. In the car. In the shower. When I’m cooking, doing a crossword, reading some unrelated book. . . . I’ll jot what if notes, lots and lots of them. My mind wanders a lot. I’ll do some web surfing on things I think I might put in the story — historical facts, locations, events, etc. Basically, I muse and daydream because of course the synopsis I provided to my editor is fake, in that it’s not the story I will write because I cannot plan in advance.

For me, the characters drive everything. If my hero and heroine relate to each other in such and such a way, what things could happen that would stress that relationship– put the two of them in the kind of conflict in which they also learn about the things they admire in each other? I mull over these situations and imagine them in my head.

About now you might be saying, Carolyn, that sounds an awful lot like planning. Except none of that will happen. Here’s what happens instead:

I reach a point where the weight of the characters in my head is so great I have to start writing. Often there is a goodly measure of deadline panic involved as well.  So I sit down and start writing a scene where something has just happened and my hero and heroine are now in conflict with themselves and each other. It’s not likely to be any scene that I imagined. It will be a scene that is required in order for the nature of their relationship to explode.

I’ll write and someone will say or do something I didn’t think of before and I can see how that’s interesting so I follow. If it’s not interesting to me, I don’t write it. Or delete it as quickly as possible. Because it doesn’t matter if it’s a necessary precursor to their coming emotional and physical intimacy, it matters if it’s interesting to me because only then do I care about making it even more interesting for them. And me.

Right now, The Next Historical is a huge weight and I have to start writing about them. At the moment (completely subject to change) they don’t like each other. She has a very good reason (which I expect will be revealed much to my great surprise) to think he’s not nice. And he is in denial about something. Probably her. There’s only one way for me to find out and that’s to get the two of them on the page and let them show me.

Geeking out

As a somewhat geekish aside, I use a master document with each chapter a subdocument. Each chapter exists as a separate file, each of which can be worked on individually. When I’m done for the day, I expand all the chapters into the master document. This is awesome because I have set up automatic page numbering and automatic numbering of the chapters as well as all the necessary headers. I NEVER have to worry about having the wrong page number or chapter number anywhere in the document. When I’m done, I condense the master document so that any changes are saved back to the individual files.

With the master document expanded, I can do a quick word count, change ALL the instances of someone’s name to something else, spell check everything etc. This is how I quickly know if I’ve hit my word count, particularly if I’ve worked in multiple chapters. Moving chapters into the correct place to adjust the story arc is more or less trivial. (not quite but I won’t bore you with the details.)

On my google page I collect Quote of the Day and in my email, a Daily Inspirational quote.

Because I’m still nose to grindstone with my manuscript-due-June 16, I went looking for some inspirational quotations about writing to get me through. (Yes yes I do realize that by doing this my nose has strayed from the grindstone)

Here are some Writing Quotations I found (Diane comments are in red):

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (a vein??)

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler (More blood?)

So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it. ~Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete, 1948 (Do you mean if I write, I might be wrecking some paper?)

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy (These quotes are not exactly inspiring me…)

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. ~Franz Kafka (Okay. Now I’m depressed)

Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller (Aw, thanks, Joe. That’s reassuring)

Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life. ~James Norman Hall (I know! I know!)

There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes. ~William Makepeace Thackeray (This is more like it)

Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains; God composes, why shouldn’t we? ~Audra Foveo-Alba (I’ve been asking myself this very question)

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth (Sigh!)

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. ~Vladimir Nabakov (I’m reassured)

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov (This is what I aspire to do!)

As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. ~Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894 (Um…isn’t this contradicting Chekhov?)

When you are describing,
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don’t state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things,
With a sort of mental squint.
~Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) (Oh)

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it. ~Jules Renard, “Diary,” February 1895 (That’s the ticket!)

Take care that you never spell a word wrong. Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelled, and, if you do not remember, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well. THomas Jefferson (oh oh. Now we’re getting into mechanics)

Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~Orson Scott Card (What’s a metaphor?)

A metaphor is like a simile. ~Author Unknown (Oh)

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Mark Twain (But what if you can’t think of lightning, because lightning bug is stuck in your mind…)

A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one. ~Baltasar Gracián (Isn’t it, though!)

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. ~Henry David Thoreau (Yipes)

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing” (Uh…very helpful, Bill)

The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson (Yeah!)

Writer’s block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite. ~Laurie Wordholt (I’m starting to get nervous again)

I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener (Me, too, Jimmy)

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. ~Sholem Asch (Ain’t that the truth!)

The ablest writer is only a gardener first, and then a cook… ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827 (Haven’t I told you before that I am so-not-a-cook? I’m even worse at gardening)

My language is the common prostitute that I turn into a virgin. ~Karl Kraus (Karl, there is no need to get crude)

It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis
(That’s me! I’m going to write.)

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart… William Wordsworth
(Ah, now this is inspiration!)

Writing only leads to more writing. ~ Colette
(one can hope!)

Tell us your favorite writing quote!

Come visit my website for a Sneak Peek of Scandalizing the Ton, my October 2008 release. Enter my contest, too!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 24 Replies

You must not come lightly to the blank page–Stephen King

This will be a short post, because I can’t take it lightly that I’m facing a blank page, and I have a great deal of writing to do to meet my June 1 deadline.

I’m starting a new series! At least three books about three soldiers. I don’t want to say too much more about it, except that I’m at least one-third the way through it.

This has got me wondering, though…

How many pages do you usually write on the days that you write?

What is the greatest number of pages you have written in one day?

I am about to step up the pace and write more pages per day than I’ve ever done. I have no idea if I can do it! I’ll give you a count next Monday.

Which brings me to another question.

What do you do when you look at the blank page and you can’t figure out what comes next? What do you do to get over that hump when you don’t have any time to fool around?

Of writing well the source and fountainhead is wise thinking–Horace

By the way, go see Made of Honor at the movies. It’s great!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 18 Replies

I recently finished ON WRITING by Stephen King (one down on the TBR list!) and I highly recommend it to fellow writers. I suspect even non-writers might be intrigued by King’s insights into the insane business of fiction writing.

For anyone who has not read it, the book has two main elements: memoirs of King’s own journey as a writer including the story of his comeback to writing after his horrific accident in 1999, along with practical and entertaining advice on the craft. Both make good reading. His advice on adverbs alone cracked me up:

They’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day..fifty the day after that..and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions.

But I’ve been writing long enough that advice like this is not new. What I did find most useful are his ideas on how to deal with reader reaction and critical feedback.

You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.

I ought to print this out and tack it up somewhere in my writing space. Just for those moments when my work gets slammed by a reader on Amazon or on an online review site and I forget that for each online bashing I can show at least 10 positive reviews.

The concept that struck me most in ON WRITING is King’s concept of an “ideal reader”. He writes:

I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.

The Ideal Reader is the personification of your target audience. Someone who enjoys the genre and the type of stories you write, someone who “gets” you at your personal best but is also smart enough to know when you have fallen short.

I don’t think I have a single Ideal Reader. My critique partners are great but none of them love the Regency enough that I would write with them in mind. Failing an Ideal Reader, I’m all too prone to let the wrong people into my head when I’m writing: my mother, the nun who taught me in 1st grade, the random wacko on Amazon, the lady who wrote at length to chastise me about all the “pages and pages of explicit sex” in SAVING LORD VERWOOD (though she did say she forced herself to read the whole thing!). Having an Ideal Reader might help.

What would my Ideal Reader be like? She must love the Regency, relish a nice dollop of historical detail along with the romance, not have rigid expectations about whether she wants a sweet or sensual book, and enjoy reading about flawed characters.

Perhaps I am my own Ideal Reader. Pretending I’m writing just for myself often helps me through rough patches. But it is hard to judge my own work while I’m writing it and taking the time to let a manuscript rest is hard given publishing pressures. Thinking of a reader outside myself might be the better way.

Maybe, when I’m driving myself crazy trying to please too many different readers, I should just think about the Riskies and friends here. I’ll have to try that next time Mrs. Grundy gets in my head!

My fellow writers, what do you think? Do you write with an Ideal Reader in mind? What is she or he like?

For readers, whose Ideal Reader do you think you might be?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 14 Replies
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By