We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! Renée Rosen’s newest historical fiction novel is called White Collar Girl, and takes place in 1950’s Chicago. What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? For me the most important part of writing is editing. But within the world of editing I’ve come to truly value the importance of the paper edit. Before I turn my books in I always do a paper edits, and if time permits, I’ll do more than one. I’ve found that my work reads very differently on paper than it does on the screen. The paper edit stage is where I’ll catch things like word echoes, continuity errors, something like a three- page chapter following a thirty-page chapter and other problematic issues. Sometimes I’ll even print the manuscript out using a different font, which helps me see it with fresh eyes. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? Creating characters that come to life on the page is really one of my greatest challenges. Just like with real people you meet, some characters come to you and you feel like you’ve known them all your life while others take time to reveal themselves. When I come across the latter type, I usually start by trying to find out as much about them as possible. For every one detail I use in the book, I’ll have ten or so others floating around in my head. I might begin with something as simple as their physical description and then I’ll drill all the way down to what the inside of their closet looks like. When all those little details come together the story generally starts to write itself. The characters take over and I become the vehicle that merely delivers their tale. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? I was fortunate enough to have studied with Carol Anshaw and I’ll never forget that she used to tell us that the first draft is you telling yourself the story. Don’t worry about how sloppy or full of holes it is, just get a beginning, middle and end down on paper. Once you have that foundation you might very well go back and change every word on every page but before you can do any fine tuning, you have to first tell yourself the story. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser –I think my love of Chicago history started with my first reading of this book. It made me fall in love with the city. Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters—totally original and filled with wisdom in ever monologue. Each time I read it, I discover something new. Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux—80 of the most powerful and brutally honest pages you’ll ever read. This slender book is one I treasure. Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson. This is such an amazing character-driven novel and when I first read it, I realized what was possible to do on the page. Check out Rosen’s book below.
We know readers tend to be writers too, in this feature, we’ll share writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I believe that story comes from character; I have to know my characters inside and out in order to write a novel that’s halfway worth reading. That said, I’m also a big fan of trusting my gut. When I was starting my novel Bittersweet, Mabel Dagmar began speaking to me very early in the game, long before I knew how untrustworthy she is or exactly what had happened over the course of the summer in which the book takes place. I took dictation for about fifty pages, until I knew she had a hold on me; then I went back to the drawing board and really got to know her by thinking about her all the time, filling out a character sheet on her, and imagining who and what she would come in contact with that would challenge her. Once I know a character well, I’m able to ask what she wants, deep down, in her core. Everyone wants something. A novelist’s trick is to write a story that aligns many wants to support a thematic idea, without it looking like that’s what I’m doing. As plot grows, it’s valuable to understand whether a character’s desires align with that central idea; if they don’t, out she goes. Bittersweet is the story of Mabel getting what she wants, plain and simple, but it took me a long time to understand what that was and how the book would tell that story. I’m also a big believer in casting (in my mind) a real actor (preferably someone I’ve seen on screen in a number of different roles) to play each of my main characters. That way, when I’m stumped about how a character would drink a cup of coffee or walk down the street, it’s easy to see her with my own eyes (plus, then I get to call watching a movie “research,” which is just one of the thousand reasons I love my job). And revision is my best friend, because I can stretch the limits of my characters and then pull back in the next draft after I’ve learned how they would or wouldn’t react. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I need to write about fifty pages in order to understand whether the story I’ve imagined actually has legs; if I can’t make fifty pages work, then there’s no way I’ll be able to compose four hundred. In these first fifty I’m looking for moments that crack me up, that make me afraid, that feel risky, that open my up to questions about the book I didn’t know I had when I first started it. If I don’t discover something new in those early weeks of work, then I know I haven’t found my next book. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I used to be much more precious about my writing rituals; becoming a mother definitely cured me of that! But strangely (or maybe not so strangely) my most productive two years of creative work to date came right after giving birth: I wrote a novel and two screenplays, and produced a short film. I think the secret lies in the preciousness of childcare; if I only have two hours to work in a day, I’m not going to squander it, whereas in the unscheduled days before my son was born, it was easy to while away the hours. I’m lucky to have both a home office and a great local café (where I wrote most of Bittersweet). But if I’m alone at home, I’m just as likely to spread out on the dining room table as I am on my son’s bottom bunk. I’m currently in the final push on a novel called June. I’m writing from a pretty strict chapter outline that I’ve developed over the course of the past year. When I sit down to write on a given day, I use this outline as a roadmap. Its signposts and landmarks are the actions and beats I know need to be accomplished in the scene at hand, even if I don’t know exactly how I’ll get from A to B. The fun lies in discovering. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? As a kid I loved theater. In my childhood out in Oregon, I went to this amazing camp where we did Shakespeare every summer. As a result, without trying to ingrain the five-act structure inside myself, it is. Also, I grew up advocating for the characters I was inhabiting, as actors are wont to do. Both traits have served me well as a writer. Of course, I thought I wanted to be an actor, but in college I realized I’d have a lot more power (and probably be just as poor) in the writing life. I wrote a creative thesis in college. It was the first time I’d written anything longer than twenty pages, and I just fell in love. I realized I had it in me to create whole worlds. But I didn’t know if this could actually be my job until I was working at the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y and met people like Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth and José Saramago and Saul Bellow, and saw a more direct connection between the books I loved and the people who made them. While I was at the Y, I wrote The Effects of Light, which was to become my first published novel; got an agent; and then revised it for her for a year before we sold it. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? My parents were great believers in my sister and me pursuing creative fields. What they gave us wasn’t advice as much as it was philosophy. In my sister’s forthcoming documentary, my mom says “You know who you are by what you make,” and this idea still very much drives who I am. I’ve learned that I’m a lot happier when I’m working on a novel than when I’m not, mainly because when I’m writing a novel, I’m my most “me”—I recognize myself. I see this in my six-year-old too; he’s a lot happier when he’s engaged in a big, sweeping art project. Maybe that’s just him/us? Maybe that’s a trait many of us have as children, and we’re taught not to value it (because it’s not quantifiable or easily applied to a business model), so when we grow up, we leave it behind? A few months ago I was with my family up in the cabin in Vermont that inspired Bittersweet, and I looked around the main room: my father was transcribing his field notes from West Africa for use in the book he’s writing; my mother was working on her book series; my sister was working on her screenplay; my son was meticulously decorating a tall stack of valentines; and I was writing June. I often meet fellow parents who tell me they’re concerned because their child wants to become a writer or an artist. Yes, it can be a bumpy path, but it’s incredibly rewarding in some pretty fundamental ways that we don’t always honor culturally. I wish for the children of those parents to get to be given the gift I was, of belief and support. For all its hardship, I wouldn’t give up my career for anything! Read more about Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s book, Bittersweet.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? For me, learning different ways to structure a story was crucial, and still is! I’m always on the lookout for great structuring tips. While outlining, in order to ensure causal plotting, I use the phrase “WHICH CAUSED” between scenes. For example: “The queen caught a cold. The queen died. The king died.” This isn’t causal plotting. But “The queen caught a cold.” WHICH CAUSED “The queen to die of that cold.” WHICH CAUSED “The king to die of heartbreak.” This helps me to make sure that one moment causes the next moment. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I have a background in journalism, so I recommend reporting — even for fiction. For Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes, I called a slew of Sex and Gender professors (not unlike my main character Ally) and interviewed them, asking questions about anything and everything including their jobs, daily schedules, likes and dislikes, opinions on current events, etc. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I actually do everything at once: I start writing scenes that I’m 90 percent sure will end up in the story, I start researching, and I start outlining. And most importantly, I start imagining the ending so that I can start planning the beginning. My outline is fluid and evolving — I go back and make changes to my outline throughout the writing process so that I complete the outline only a short while before I finish the book. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Yes! I work in cafes mostly, where I have endless access to coffee and WiFi, and if I have serious, important writing to do, I plug into my earphones and listen to the Dave Matthews Band! Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? No. I wanted to be an actress. I actually still do, but I’m too chicken. But everything I know about writing came from years and years of studying acting. I studied everywhere, with everyone; learned how to break down a scene, how to create and motivate character, how to write dialogue, etc. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? That you should try to write every day, even if it’s just for ten or twenty minutes. I don’t do this — but every writer I admire gives this advice and says they heed it! What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? My worst habit is not writing daily, for sure. I’m pretty good about not using adverbs. Adverbs are deadly, unless you’re J.K. Rowling, who uses them all the time, so go figure… Read more about Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? There is no secret to my technique beyond revising again and again and again, both for meaning and for the rhythm and sound. As many other writes have confessed, my early drafts are sloppy, flat, confused, and disappointing. Four or five drafts into a project, and maybe I begin to see what is there. The difference, in my mind, between writers who are successful in finding an audience and those who struggle, is when and where in the revision process a writer gives up and settles for “good enough.” Learn to be just a bit tougher on your own work than the toughest editor you have worked with and you’ll find that editors suddenly love your work. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? Though I started as a fiction writer, for the last fifteen years I’ve focused on what is called creative nonfiction, or literary nonfiction. But I’m glad this question is here, because it gives me the chance to point out that even in memoir, even in a piece of literary journalism, the people on the page function as “characters.” They are real people, not imagined, but the reader has never met them, so you have to build these individuals up just as a novelists builds up an imaginary character: let us see them cross the room, let us see them fidget, let us hear the peculiarities of their speech, let us in on what seems important to them. People are contradictory and enormously complex. Try to show a glint of that. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I check my e-mail, look out the window, get up for more coffee, linger near the refrigerator, jump up onto the internet to find news of Donald Trump’s latest insanity, and then berate myself for being such a procrastinator. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? No. It is a job. The way I get into writing is to say, “time to get to work.” Did you always want to write? I always wanted to write, and penned silly plays and stories even in second grade, but I grew up lower middle class, my dad was a car mechanic, and I barely knew people who read books much less people who wrote them, so it wasn’t until I neared the age of 30, having washed out of four or five other career pursuits, that I finally decided, let’s try to do this. Let’s try to write a book. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? The novelist Vance Bourjaily once told me that he doesn’t even try to write the first chapter of a novel until he has written a complete draft from somewhere in the second chapter to the end. Only then does he know what has to go at the start. Now this may or may not be a useful technique, but it made clear to me that writing a book – or an essay, or a story, or a poem – is an act of discovery. You don’t sit down and say what you want to say. You sit down with questions, see where they lead you, follow them into unexpected territory, and then many drafts later go back and fix the writing so it all points in the same direction. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Sentences are fascinating puzzles. Read more about Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I’m a big believer in the “writing retreat.” Sometimes writing retreats involve locking myself in a hotel room for a few days to really throw some words on the page—other times these retreats involve gathering with my writer friends in a variety of inspiring, usually beautiful places, where the word count might not be high but the camaraderie and daydreaming leads to a whole lot more writing down the road. This is how The Deacons of Bourbon Street series came into being. Last spring, Maisey Yates, Rachael Johns, and I roomed together at the RT Convention held in New Orleans. We spent a lot more time wandering that fascinating, mysterious city than we did at the conference. When an editor (perhaps jokingly!) suggested we should write a multi-author series together since we got along so well, we jumped at the idea. New Orleans and gritty bikers seemed to go hand in hand for us, and once we settled on that premise, it seemed inevitable that we should pull in Jackie Ashenden, renowned for her dark and sexy stories, to round us out. And all because we visited New Orleans! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? We sent a lot of emails back and forth, since we live all over the place—Maisey and I on the west coast of the US, Rachael on the west coast of Australia, and Jackie in New Zealand. But we also spent some time on Skype. We talked a lot about biker books, about characters, about the kinds of things we liked and the sorts of stories we wanted to tell. We fashioned an overarching plot and then we decided who our characters would be within that plot. We came up with a synopsis for all four books and once that had the enthusiastic support of our agents, we settled down and wrote a chapter each to introduce our characters and stories. That was the most fun—to see all the conversations and ideas we’d thrown around come together into these four fantastic stories. All set in our decadent version of New Orleans’s famous French Quarter. How did you handle plot and character continuity across four books? We talked a lot. Communication is key when it comes to working on multi-author projects. We discussed timing and plot points and the characters’ relationships with each other endlessly. We also sent each other/the whole group the scenes where their characters appeared in our books. The goal was always to make the characters feel seamless across all the books, and to show how they all functioned as this group of sworn brothers, reunited after years in exile. I think we pulled it off, but of course, that’s for readers to decide! Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I was lucky enough to write my book a few months after everyone else did. This was particularly helpful because it meant that I’d already read how the series ended and could write directly toward it—always a huge advantage! So one of the things I did to get in the writing mood was to read those other books and immerse myself in the world. Another thing I did was to curate “inspiration boards” on Pinterest. Looking at moody reference pictures (many featuring Charlie Hunnam, of course, as everyone’s favorite biker inspiration Jax Teller) was another way to get myself in the right mindset. I also relied pretty heavily on a mix I made of songs that brought me into the right headspace. One in particular (Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”) was and is such a perfect encapsulation of my hero in this book that all I have to do is listen to that awesome opening and I’m right back there in the Priory with Ajax… Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I have some family members who are more familiar with biker clubs than I am, but I didn’t base any characters on them. Though I did appreciate it when they didn’t laugh at me when I told them what kind of book I was writing! The truth is that reality doesn’t make great fiction. Characters are always better when they’re entirely themselves instead of pale imitations of real people. “Larger-than-life” makes a good story and fascinating characters. “Just like life” is something we can all do all by ourselves, without a good book. I prefer books. Learn more about Make you Burn here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What’s the best piece of advice you have received? At a talk at Columbia, Philip Roth said something that has stayed with me since; I’m not sure it counts as advice as much as a description of his writing process. He said that he lets himself write freely for some time and then rereads the material, pen in hand, and circles whatever feels alive. This idea, of live material, is what I take to be essential to good literary writing. I’ve come to believe most anything wrong with a first draft can be fixed later—plot can be focused and adjusted, endings changed, themes emphasized, characters and sentences refined, and so on—but what cannot be accomplished later is breathing life into something flat or false. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I came to fiction writing later than most writers I know: not until my mid-twenties. Before then the writing I’d done was almost entirely academic; for a while I’d seriously considered a career in philosophy. When I think about my first attempts at fiction, they seem to me very much influenced by philosophy: back then I started every story or novel with a concept, and developed it pretty linearly. Readers of Bradstreet Gate might be surprised to hear this; that book proceeds so differently, following characters in often unpredictable directions. That improvisational feeling took me a lot of work and time to achieve. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? The best way to get into a writing mood really is to just start writing—if not writing in the most ambitious sense (new scenes, preciously crafted sentences) then just sketching, thinking through ideas on paper. I often do start writing on paper, developing thoughts in notebooks, until I have some material to work with and sufficient momentum to get back to a scene. What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? I do a terrific amount of exploratory writing; that is, writing that probably won’t make it into the final book but that allows me to play with my characters and their situations until the material shapes and reshapes itself into a form I like. Often, I continue to do this even later in the process: once I’ve worked up one scene or one idea, I’ll make myself do another version or two—an altered course of events, a new reaction from my character—just to see if something more interesting happens. That way I have a means to evaluate my choices, and it’s a good way to avoid crutches and clichés. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I’d say my characters contain some elements of people I know, but often several people in combination, and I still try to leave most of my characters’ biographies and sensibilities to invention. For me, sticking too closely to real people would be confining, and possibly prevent me from the important work of having to think through the experience of my characters myself. Maybe it’s that I understand those around me less well than I like to imagine, but copying actual people hasn’t proven as useful in my writing as it seems to be for others—or worth risking the consequence of terrifying family and friends. Learn more about Bradstreet Gate here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? In the early morning, I consume coffee, turn on my computer, plant my butt in my desk chair in my home office, and let my cats get settled into their usual spots. I quickly check email and look at the headlines on a news site to see if the world has blown up outside my bubble. If I don’t need to duck for cover, I start working. I stay off social media until noon (that’s my plan, anyway). Each of my books has its own digital journal: it’s for stream of consciousness stuff, whatever’s on my mind. I open the journal for my current book and type like mad for a few minutes. It helps me discharge anything that’s weighing on me so I can move on. Then I open my manuscript and revise the last few pages I wrote the prior day, which leads into the new day’s work. For those days when the work just isn’t happening, I make deals with myself. Write for 45 minutes and get up and do something else for 15. Write until lunchtime and then do something else. Oddly, times of personal crisis are excellent writing periods for me because what better escape is there than to immerse yourself in a good book? How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I start by naming them. By going through that process, I think through their history, circumstances, and personalities. When was she born? What’s her ethnicity? What’s her birth order in the family? Was she raised in a traditional two-parent family or something else? Would her parents have selected a popular name of the era or something unique? Does she come from a modest background or is she well heeled? Does she later change her name or go by a nickname? Is her name evocative of who she is? The protagonist of my current series of suspense novels is Nan Vining. She’s rooted in tradition and family, so I named after her grandmother, Nanette. But she’s tough, so her nickname, “Nan,” is clipped and direct. I liked the surname Vining because it’s uncommon and has a lot of consonants, which for me makes a tougher sounding name than one with many vowels. Also, it evokes a vine, which is appropriate for Nan who’s tenacious and steady. Her name is a great fit for her, but I’ve changed names when a character has evolved and the name no longer works. Thank goodness for “Find and Replace.” Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I fell in love with writing and reading before I really learned how to do either one. When I was about four years old, I could write my name, with the Ns backward, and three words: yes, no, zoo. My mom was a reader and I was fascinated with her books. I’d look through the pages and pick out the few words I could read. When I got to the white area after a chapter break, I thought that space was there for me to finish the story. I’d take a crayon and have at it, writing, “yes, no, zoo,” and signing my name with backward Ns. It didn’t make my mom too happy to find me scribbling in her books. After I truly learned how to read and write, I wrote compulsively—letters, diaries, stories—but didn’t attempt to publish anything. I didn’t feel I was good enough. Many years later, I took a creative writing class at UCLA, where I started my first novel. After three years, while working fulltime at a day job, I finished that book and got it published. I’ve been writing and publishing fiction ever since. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Finish that first draft, even if it’s a big, flawed mess. And then the next best piece of advice I’ve received comes into play: Writing is about rewriting. What are the perks and challenges of writing a come-back character? Five years passed between my last Detective Nan Vining thriller and my latest one, Killing Secrets. During that time, I wrote a standalone, The Night Visitor, and several short stories. The challenge in returning to the Nan Vining series came from reconnecting with the four earlier books and wondering whether I could still channel the writer who had created that vibrant world. I was afraid I’d somehow lost my feel for Nan, her daughter Emily, her work partner and lover Jim Kissick, and the other characters as well as the dark thread that runs through the series. My doubts disappeared when I started Killing Secrets and it felt entirely natural, as if I’d come home. It felt great to return to this familiar tableau, but also to break new ground. I’ve just signed a contract with Alibi to write the sixth and seventh in the Nan Vining series and I’m excited to see where the journey takes the characters and me. Read More about Killing Secrets here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? Reading out loud. As soon as I finish a chapter, I read it to my victim … ahem … husband. As a writer, I find when I read/write a chapter a few times over, my brain begins to to skim it. And reading out loud helps me to catch any mistakes I might have made. See? I used the word “to” twice in this question. It also helps with the rhythm. Writing should have rhythm. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? The very first thing I do is write the ending. If I start right at the beginning, I tend to veer off course and before I know it, I’m writing a completely different story (I have too many ideas and a short attention span). Writing the last scene first helps me have something to aim for, so I can get from point A to point B without hitting too many traffic cones. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I have “a zone.” When the headphones are on, I’m in the zone and should not be bothered, lest I throw the closest object on my desk across the room. I spend about half an hour to an hour (depending on the intensity of the narrative) with music blasting in my head, one that usually matches the scene. I always have to see it like a movie in my head before it reaches paper, so a soundtrack is pivotal. Then I do my damned best to think like that person, completely immerse myself (which can be hard, especially when writing a dark narrative). Then I need a proper half hour with music to ease myself out, I can’t be ripped away; it messes me up. That’s a lot of my creative process … some just call it madness. Oh, and caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? No, I didn’t. Writing came to me when I was at a period in my life of trying to save myself and clean up my life. It started for me while I was seeing a counselor. I’d go in, guns blazing, F this and F that and F this again. The therapist was a very conservative man who’d cringe every time I cursed or told a colorful story from my past. So he told me to write (I believe he said it hoping he wouldn’t have to hear me anymore). It was supposed to be a journal kind of thing, but I hated journaling. Writing about things I wanted to forget never helped me—it just ticked me off. So I wrote something fake (it’s still an existing chapter in my unpublished/first novel, The Assassin’s Keeper). He read it in silence and I waited, wondering if there were men outside with butterfly nets. When finished, he looked me right in my eyes and said, “That was the best ****ing thing I ever read.” After that, I wrote more and more, writing a good chunk of my first novel in his office. I haven’t stopped since. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Ellipses … I put them everywhere. The truth is, I don’t even know how to properly use them. I just put them in when the page looks a little sad … What’s the best piece of advice you have received? I’m a girl who goes to the beat of her own drum. A lot of the advice from the greats just don’t work for me: I can’t write every day, I DO wait until I’m in the mood, I don’t read while writing … To quote Lillian Hellman: “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.” Read more about Freedom’s Child here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? The trick that probably has served me more than any other is to always stop and write down a promising idea or line when I think of it no matter what else I’m doing. If I’m on my way out the door or even falling asleep and something good pops into my head—some missing piece of information or crucial development in the story I’m working on, or perhaps an idea for a new story—I’ll stop and take the time to write it down even if it makes me late or means I’ll be tired in the morning. So many times in the past I’ve thought, Oh, I’ll remember that, or, Oh, I’ll sleep on it and write it down in the morning, but then when I return to it it’s gone. So now I always make a note of any idea, even if it’s just an indirect reference or a half-baked thought. So many projects that I’ve gone on to develop or see all the way through came from a scribble in a margin of a book or a text I sent myself at two in the morning. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Reading great books always inspires me. There’s nothing like turning the last page of an incredibly satisfying story and just kind of letting the feeling it left you with soak in. Once I’m done processing that feeling, I’m almost always, like, I want to do that. I want to leave someone feeling that way. Even if the book is very different than my own work. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? At Bennington College, where I studied for my MFA, professors often encouraged us to focus not on publishing our work but on getting it as good as it could possibly be. To focus on what was on the page and not who was going to read it or in what format. At the time, I was frustrated by that. I thought, I didn’t come here to journal—I want to write for readers, but now I see the wisdom in that advice. Once something is published, it’s out there forever and your name will always be attached to it. I look back at stories I wrote in college, and even in my twenties, and I thank God no one is going to read them. There’s no rush to get published. And the reading public has no expiration date. Just write, and polish what you have written until it’s as good as it can be, and then worry about everything else. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? I have a list of things I try to avoid, but clichés, verbs of utterance, and exclamation points are right up there. A few of each inevitably sneak into my work, especially in the first draft, but I do try to troll for them in the revisions that follow. I’ll give myself a few exclamation points for every hundred pages or so, but verbs of utterance I try to keep out altogether. As one professor at Bennington told me, “‘F*** you!’ he shouted angrily,” is redundant. It’s clear from what the speaker is saying that he’s angry. Let the words speak for themselves. If the line is really strong, “he said” should suffice. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I definitely pull individual characteristics—sayings, speech patterns, mannerisms, quirks—from people I know, but it’s rare that any given person is the perfect complex combination of factors for the story I want to tell. And there just aren’t that many people I know as well as I know my characters. To write convincing characters, you need to know things about them that aren’t even on the page. You need to be keyed into how they would react to a given situation, what motivates them in that context, and the gap between what they say about it and how they actually feel—even if they’re not aware of the disparity. You need to get inside their heads in a way I don’t think we often do with people in our own lives. We approach people we know from our own perspectives, not theirs. Of course, by borrowing an isolated characteristic from someone you know and endowing your character with it, there’s the danger that the person you borrowed it from thinking the entire character is based on her. It’s, like, yes, you both wear yellow nail polish, but, no, I don’t think you secretly hate your mother! Read more about Local Girls here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? I write everything by hand, then type it all. I can’t think with a keyboard. I stop to make corrections, the cursor flies around, idiot things pop up. All of these break my concentration. With a pen, I just let my mind go. I see and hear the characters and record what’s there. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? For every page that is published I have as many pages in outlines and charts about people, places, plot. I try to get photos of the major characters so I can look at them when I’m writing. I also use a lot of floorplans. I go to Savills UK website and find houses and use them. With everything I do beforehand, I’m thinking about the characters and the plot. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? The first sentence is important to me so I work on that. Mainly, I want to set the tone with the first chapter, so I do a lot of pre-work on that. And no matter how much work I do beforehand, until I actually hear the characters talking, I don’t know what I have. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I spend my life trying to get out of things other than writing. Errands, appointments, emails, calls, etc, make me crazy. In the last few years I have done two around-the-world cruises. I have four wonderful months of internet so bad it might as well not exist. I get to tell people I can’t do whatever because I’m on a ship docked outside Tahiti. It is glorious! I write and write, then write some more. On my last cruise I wrote 102,000 words and outlined my next novel — and I saw some great places. Heaven! Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I never in my life thought about being a writer. I thought they were people who lived on pink clouds, not real. But I had a story in my head that wouldn’t go away, so I thought maybe if I wrote it down it would stop pestering me. When it was done, I paid my next door neighbor’s daughter to type it and sent it to a publishing house that had pretty covers. They wrote back asking if they could send me a bunch of money and would I please write some more books. I haven’t stopped since then. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? After I turned in my second book, I spent three months waiting for my editor to read it. During that time I was eaten up with stories I wanted to write, but I thought I had to wait to get the okay to go ahead. I vowed to never again wait for a publishing person for anything. I go ahead and write at my pace and let them move at theirs. It’s a decision that has helped me stay sane. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Not to fall in love with your own writing. Over my many years in publishing, what I’ve seen kill more careers than anything else is ego. “How dare they do that to my work?!” That attitude has no place in publishing. In this business you need to have a thick skin and be ready to take criticism that would cripple most people. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Good stories. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Yes and no. Fiction characters are never as complex as real people. In real life, you might have a mild mannered friend and one day receive a call saying he/she killed someone. But you canNOT do that in a novel. You have to lead up to it, hint at it. Sometimes I see a character trait in a person and I blow that up to be one entire person. As for villains, I have relatives. ’Nuff said. Read about Jude Deveraux’s newest book, Ever After.