Tag Archive: writing process

As we get down to the wire for editorial tweaks to The Five-Day Dig, I took one last look at the sex scene last night. Yes, there’s only one sex scene, and — as you’ll hear — I wasn’t even sure about including that.

Throughout multiple rounds of self-edits, I’ve never felt sure about how graphically to treat the sex. As I’ve mentioned before, the book feels to me like general fiction (maybe mystery) with “strong romantic elements” rather than a flat-out romance. So if it attracts people who don’t usually read romance, the sex could come as a shock to them.

On the other hand, the sex an important experience for the characters, and since I’m coming from a romance background, I’ve described it in quite a bit of detail. My philosophy about writing sex (absorbed in a workshop or article somewhere during my writing “career”) is that you shouldn’t edit — well, you should edit for craft, but not to censor yourself. Of course, I’m sure just about everyone self-censors. (Or don’t they?)

The other reason I don’t want to leave the scene behind closed doors (that is, delete it) is that I spent a lot of time writing it, and I like it. The beta readers who I asked about it seemed to like it, too. So …there it is.

If you think it might shock you, you can always skip a couple of pages when you sense it coming. (You should be able to sense it coming.)

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Yes, I’m talking about writer’s block. Like many authors, I suffered a multi-year bout of block that felt like it would never end. Then it did, and I’m here to tell you how.

I’ll skip the stuff that caused me to fall off the horse. (You can fill in your own life’s stresses.) But once off, I couldn’t get back on, because I kept (subconsciously) anticipating the next fall. I dabbled with writing but never got anything substantial down on paper.

Gradually, some of the bad things in my life faded, outshone by new, good things. Then, I lost my job. While losing a job is generally bad, I was well aware of the silver lining (time for writing!), and I honed in on it. I set a schedule that, among other things, included a writing goal, and I made sure I stuck to it.

Here are a couple of tips for recovering from writer’s block:

1. Set yourself a modest goal that you can achieve. Can you only find time to do a page twice a week? Make your goal two pages a week. Too much? Make it one.

2. Don’t worry whether your work is good. Revisions can be made later. In fact, it’s probably better not to revise at all until you’re back in the groove. Keep moving forward.

While I was unemployed, I wrote 10 pages a week. When I started working again, fear of losing that rhythm caused me major stress, but I think I’m surviving. (Knock wood!) I’m currently meeting my goal of writing five pages of fiction a week, as well as working. Of course, the house and yard are suffering — but you and I both know what’s important, don’t we? ; )

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What’s in a Name?

For a long time, I’ve had this idea that maybe coming up with a really great title for a book could make it a bestseller. Or maybe coming up with a really great title could even somehow prime a great book out of an author. Almost like a magic spell.

I’ve always loved the classic titles that come from even-more classic works, like phrases from Renaissance poetry (Death be not Proud or For Whom the Bell Tolls, for example), from Shakespeare (Brave New World, The Sound and the Fury) or Biblical passages (The Grapes of Wrath — sort of). Or how about Shakespeare’s own titles? (As You Like It or Love’s Labor’s Lost…) Ha! It seems that my favorite titles tend to come from Shakespeare.

Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a magic title yet myself — unless it’s the one for the book I’m working on (which I won’t mention yet, lest someone use it before me). Of my previous books, As You Wish has always been the bestselling, and I sometimes wonder if it’s because the title is similar to As You Like It. My husband speculates that maybe people tend to find the book because the title comes early in the alphabet. One person commented to me that the phrase reminds them of The Princess Bride.

I don’t know. It’s sort of (vaguely) like that John Wanamaker quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

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I wonder if other writers have trouble envisioning the rooms and floorplans of houses and other buildings in their work, because I do. Usually, I end up thinking about places I know in real life and move the characters around in those spaces.

Is that a ghost looking out that window in the middle?

The Victorian house in Eternally Yours plays a big role in the plot and needed to be described in detail. My brother and sister-in-law live in a Victorian twin, and I was able to draw on them for help when I got stuck. (In fact, the house on the cover of the ebook is on their street.)

While I was writing, I also attended a book-group meeting in a huge Victorian single that one of our members was house-sitting. The place was for sale — completely out of my league, but I grabbed one of the sale sheets for reference. That house inspired some of the more elaborate features in Lara Peale’s home: the dumb waiter, the pocket doors and some things I can’t mention without spoilers. (Ghosts?)

Now, I’m working on a book that involves extensive ruins near Pompeii, and the buildings are solely products of my imagination, but they seem kind of disorganized to me. Maybe by the time I tweak details and complete the book, I’ll have a clearer picture of them in my mind — but I wonder how important the minutiae are. Do most readers form a precise image of a fictional building from its description, or do they fill in their own details to form a unique mental picture?

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A couple of interview questions that a book blogger sent me got me thinking about how I write. An inspirational quote that comes to mind is something I jotted down way back in high school while reading JD Salinger’s “Seymour: An Introduction.”

In the story, Buddy Glass has expressed concerns to his brother Seymour about writer’s block. Seymour gives him this advice:

… remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.

That’s basically what I’ve done with my fiction-writing — though getting a book to the point where you’re happy with it is actually not so simple. Following Seymour’s advice may also not be the best plan marketing-wise, unless you have tastes that are dead-center down the mainstream (though, it worked — too well — for Salinger). But if your concern is staying inspired or writing from the heart, then … there it is.

“Seymour: An Introduction” is on my to-be-reread list of classic works that I can’t recall in detail but that I suspect still have a big influence on me subconsciously. (To buy the book on Amazon yourself, click Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.)

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming Shane Salerno documentary on Salinger’s life, supposedly out sometime this year.

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