Saturday, May 24, 2008

Authors and Their Work Habits

A couple of years ago, I interviewed a dozen award-winning romance authors about their work habits when writing. This was used to create an article for an RWA presentation at my local Minnesota RWA chapter, Midwest Fiction Writers.

They were candid about what worked for them and what doesn’t—and most of all, they happily shared what they thought were the most important things a new writer should know in order to succeed in the writing business.

I asked if they wrote an outline or synopsis before they started work on their stories. Here is what they said--most of the authors didn’t like writing an outline or synopsis. When they did write one, it was because they needed to sell their story or because someone like an editor made them do it. Most were only able to give an accurate synopsis if they wrote it after the final draft. If the synopsis was written before the story, very often it had only a vague resemblance to the final product. The few authors who did stay fairly close to the synopsis were those whose story relied heavily on research or had complex plots. Even then deviations occurred on minor levels.

One thing I wondered about was how easy it was for them to write the first draft verses revisions. The response was all over the board. Most authors tended to write and revise as they went along but many said that the first draft was the hardest to write and that revisions were much easier. A few found the first draft very easy but struggled with revisions.

The coolest responses though were the ones to my question, "What advice would you like to share with new writers?"

Below were their responses:

Michele Hauf - Write. Always.

Judy Mays - Never, never, never quit no matter how down you get.

Helen Brenna - It's all about perseverance.

Margaret L. Carter - Read widely, both inside and outside your chosen genre. Find a reliable critique group or partner to comment on your work. Never give up.

Jade Taylor - Read the books you're trying to write. You can't compare them with your own until you do. Your writing must progress. Don't do book planning and research for six months. Give it a few weeks then get busy with the story. Every day needs to be about how far you've come on your journey.

Tracy Cooper-Posey - Don’t get hung up on which commas go where. Get the story written. In the early stages, story is more important than getting the grammar right. And getting the first manuscript written, anyway you can, is more important than obsessing about if the story suits this market or that market. Think Nike, if you must.

Sally Painter - There are a lot of well-intentioned people who have inadvertently derailed good writers. It requires strength and a belief in self to stand up to to these people and decide to write your book your way. I think it is a kind of rite of passage in the learning process. So my advice is to trust your voice, your vision and don't write someone else's vision of you.

Heather Holland - The best advice anyone can give or get is to just WRITE. If you sit and think about writing, you’re a wannabe, if you sit down and WRITE, you are a writer. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Write a little everyday be it a paragraph or a whole chapter. Any progress is better than none, and above all else, just keep trying. Rejections are a part of the business, but if writing is really what you want to do, you can’t give up. Just keep plugging away at that keyboard, getting your words down, and keep submitting. Support from the family and friends are also very important. There’s been a few times where I’ve thought about just throwing in the towel, and my husband picked me up, dusted me off, and told me that I’d better not. Not only would I have been miserable, but he knew he would have been, too. Writing is a passion and it’s too strong to ignore. So, put those fingers to the keyboard, that pen or pencil to the paper and let those words fly.

Karen McCullough - Persistence, persistence, persistence. Keep writing even when the story doesn't seem to be flowing, even if every sentence you write seems like drivel to you. Give yourself permission to write crap. Bad writing can be fixed. Then keep writing and submitting when the rejections start to come back. It's all about persistence and refusing to give in to all the negative stuff.

Cait London - Get a regimen and stick with it. I talk a lot about this--scheduling, working with a growing family, making that space. Here are my three best tips:
1. Make time for writing, DON'T find it. That says you are assertively/actively preparing to work, not just wondering around hoping to "find" time. Block out at least 2 consecutive hours and hold that schedule.
2. The first time you think, "I don't feel like writing," sit your bottom down and write something, even if it's dreck.
3. Speaking of dreck: I've written columns on the importance of writing dreck and writing the clog. They serve their purpose, releasing the true story beneath, getting us in the creative mode, and they can always be corrected/edited later. *More Writers Tips at my first blog, Daily or Not, located at , including Using Fear as Motivation and what Solitaire Teaches Us. Two really good info-bits.

Shelley Munro - Read as much as you can, make a habit of writing every day even if it’s just a few hundred words. Although it might not be many words, over the course of the year they add up. And finally, make a habit of finishing writing the book. Writing lots of partials won’t help much when you need a full manuscript to have a chance at selling.

Allyson James and Jennifer Ashley - Keep going! Persistence is much, much more important than talent. Rejection means "we don't want this ms. RIGHT NOW," and has nothing to do with your talent or skills. It just means it doesn't match what the publisher think it can sell at that moment. Another editor might disagree.
Writers get published when an opportunity matches what ms. you have on hand. To increase your luck, research the market thoroughly, don't just believe what everyone says is the "trend," really research! There's more to it than "paranormal is hot" and "hot books are hot". Figure out WHY they are popular and how you can incorporate that into stories that will be sellable at any time. And then write, write, write! Don't get stuck thinking one book is your "masterpiece" and lavish all your attention on it. Finish it, send it out, move on to the next book.
As for writing methods: Find the way that works best for you and stick with it. Don't let anyone tell you you're wrong! There is no one "right" way to write. The editor is interested only in the finished product, not how you got there.

I appreciated very much the wisdom these authors imparted to me and it seems to me all of this still holds true years later as I continue writing. I'd love to hear from other authors what they've learned works for them and what advice they'd love to share.

Hugs and have a great Memorial Day weekend!