Drafting Novels: Sometimes You Have to Abandon Them

May. 29th 2012

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for. ”

—Ray Bradbury

I’ve been quiet here. My last post was the end of April, and now it’s the end of May. As many of you know, I’m a marketing copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. (I realize this sounds redundant.) The marketing copywriter bit has been keeping me extra busy, as it usually does this time of year. But I’ve also been working on novel #3.

Okay, so it’s really novel #3.5. See, the book I’d been working on since last August just wasn’t coming together — at least, not in the way I needed it to in order to continue with it. Then, this other idea came to me — hit me in the face, actually — with such force that I was left standing and saying, “Well, duh. Of course I should be writing about that.” So, I began writing and have been ever since. Things feel good in the same way they felt good when I was drafting What Happened in Granite Creek (side note: I started another novel in between Forgotten April and Granite Creek, so maybe this is part of my process).

I’m not giving myself a firm deadline for finishing this draft, but my soft deadline is end of July, which is quite doable. That said, I’m not going to rush through it just so I have another book to put out there. Quality matters. I’d love to have another book out at the end of the year/beginning of 2013, but the writing comes first and will dictate the release.

Anyhow, now that I’m slowly emerging from the weeds, I’ll be getting back to regular blogging and also tweeting again (I took a much needed break from that as well). One place I’m always active is Facebook, so connect with me there for the latest news on my work, book chat, and the occasional debate about things like swearing in novels.

What have you been up to and what do you have planned for June? Share! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 10 Comments »

Love is in the Air…But Not on My Page

Feb. 7th 2012

I’ve had some readers who wanted more heat in both Forgotten April and What Happened in Granite Creek. I prefer — as a reader — the less-is-more approach, since I have an extremely vivid imagination.

As a writer, I find it challenging to write sex scenes well, which is one of the reasons I haven’t included them in any of my work. To be honest, I think this is challenging for MOST writers, not just me (Anais Nin being one exception…she made erotica artsy, methinks.)

In fact, there’s even a bad sex in fiction award from the Literary Review out of the UK.

How ’bout you: do you like writers who take chances and include sex scenes, or do you prefer just enough to get the juices (ahem) flowing and then letting your imagination take it from there? Or does it depend on the writer, the genre, etc? Know of any writers who craft particularly good sex scenes?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 1 Comment »

George R. R. Martin Answers Fans’ Questions

Jan. 19th 2012

I adore author interviews, even if it’s an author I haven’t had a chance to read yet, as is the case here. Trust me — George R. R. Martin is on my list! You know, that list that multiplies overnight or when you get it wet or when you shine a bright light on it? Yeah. That list.

Anyhow, this interview is long, but it’s well worth the time. Three favorite parts that I encourage you to check out (readers and writers like):

  • At 5:44: “I have known a few writers who have retired. I cannot imagine ever retiring. Writing and being a writer is too much a part of my identity.” Amen!
  • At 11:55: George explains why he uses multiple third-person viewpoints (I agree with him 100 percent with what he says about omniscient POV). Watch this through 13:30.
  • At 16:34: “Art is not a democracy.” And then he talks about his experience in Hollywood and why it drove him batty. (Watch through 18:00.)

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Posted by Robyn | in Author interviews | 2 Comments »

Scoundrel Know-How

Nov. 17th 2011

NOTE: This post is part of my ongoing series called “What Really Happened While I Was Writing What Happened in Granite Creek.” Occasionally, some of these posts will contain spoilers. I’d rate this one “medium” level, so advance at your own risk. (The perfect solution, of course, would be to read What Happened in Granite Creek and then come back to this post. See what I did there? ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

When I wrote the short story, “Support Our Troops,” I had no idea that the full-blown novel — What Happened in Granite Creek — would evolve into a book filled with suspense/mystery. That’s the fun thing about writing: those times when the story takes over and leads your imagination down the road not taken.

This new road, however, required me to stop and research certain things, like guns and dead bodies and police procedure.

  • I also talked to David Studley with the Crime Scene Services unit of the Framingham Police Department, which is my hometown PD.
  • In my Internet travels, I also came across this: Writers’ Police Academy, where writers gather for a weekend of training in all things police related. I didn’t go, but it’s cool to know something like this exists in case I ever need it.

Have you ever read a book where you were awed by the amount of research that went into it? Share in the comments.

And if you share this post on Twitter, remember to use the hashtag #WHIGC.

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All Thumbs

Oct. 6th 2011

I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and I’ll never forget something the director of the program once said, because it puzzled me, at first.

I don’t remember what semester it was — my second or third, most likely. We were finishing up a class with Steven, the director, and somehow he started talking about the writing program’s process for accepting students. When someone applied to the program, he or she submitted a writing sample. The writing sample was shared with two faculty members who were in charge of reviewing it (independently) and giving it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Two thumbs up? All good; prospective student accepted. Two thumbs down? Rejection.

Here’s where it got interesting. Steven was saying how his most recent batch of applications had more split votes than ever before, meaning he was dealing with writing samples where one faculty member gave it a thumbs up and another gave it a thumbs down.

Steven then smiled and said, “This means the writing samples are getting better.”

Huh? How could a split vote indicate the writing samples were stronger? Wouldn’t two thumbs up always trump a split vote?

I eventually realized Steven was correct. The beauty is in the polarity of the split vote. A work that’s polarizing — meaning there are those who love it and those who don’t — is often a work that stands out, gets talked about and debated over, and makes a difference (in a good or bad way, depending on your viewpoint).

Yes, receiving two thumbs up is not a BAD thing, and it often does trump split votes. But there is something special, I think, about receiving that split vote. It indicates (though not always) that there’s something irksome there…something itchy…perhaps something uncomfortable…something worth talking and even arguing about.

For me, as a writer, that’s what I’d like my stories to be: treasures to some and irksome and irritating to others.

Why?

Because it would show my writing isn’t residing in the Land of Vanilla. There’s nothing wrong with that place: I can appreciate stories that are squarely set there, and I can appreciate the fact some readers are happiest reading those types of stories. But I know if I stayed there, I wouldn’t be true to the stories in my heart.

As I once said to a friend, I like lifting up the rocks and writing about the world of the creepy crawly things underneath. I like grit. I like dark. That doesn’t mean I don’t like a healthy dose of happy, but, for me, there are many shades of happily ever after — not all versions include rainbows and unicorns and the protag getting her man.

Forgotten April, my first book, is, for the most part, from the Land of Vanilla, and that’s not to say everyone will like it; rather, it’s not so polarizing that it’s going to have as many thumbs down as it has thumbs up (the story isn’t irksome enough).

What Happened in Granite Creek, which is coming out in a few days, will likely be more polarizing for a variety of reasons (it was with my beta readers).

As scary as the thought is of getting some of those thumbs down votes, I think I’m okay with that.

How ’bout you: when you read something where you react strongly — either positively or negatively — what do you do: will you post a review? Recommend or warn people? Get a refund on the book? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 4 Comments »

Writing is Easy. Yes, Really.

Aug. 23rd 2011

Okay, so this isn’t an original concept. Many smart writers like Zoe Winters and Dean Wesley Smith came to this conclusion before I did.

But it’s true: writing is easy.

For many of you writers out there (and even you readers), you’re probably thinking I’m nuts, since it goes against everything we’ve been told. That’s the thing: we — well, I, at least — never questioned the statement “writing is hard,” a statement that I encountered sometime when I was a kid and bolstered in high school, college, and most certainly by many scribes and graduate school programs.

I started to question the statement when, over the last year or so, I began feeling that writing had gotten a whole lot easier. And then I started listening to some of the whisperings of some successful writers who were willing to come clean and reveal, “Yeah, writing isn’t hard.”

If you love doing it and you have any sort of talent for it, well, it will feel pretty easy and straight forward 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent goes like this: 5 percent is fear (usually unfounded) that you bring to the table. The other 5 percent involves actual legitimate challenges — a story that isn’t working, some research issue that’s turned into a pain in the ass, things like that.

I’m not saying there aren’t hard moments — there are — but I do believe that writing is easy. Even revising. Especially once you’ve gotten through a whole book and seen it to the very end. I’ll admit you might have a little extra dose of “hard stuff” during that first book, but I’d be willing to bet — simply because I’ve been there — that much of it you bring on yourself because you’re thinking “Gee, this is supposed to be hard.” So you make it hard. Forgotten April shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did, but I got caught up in the myth.

Think about many of the classic “greats.” Many — William Carlos Williams comes to mind for some reason — worked day jobs. The writing they did was in stolen moments here and there, yet they were able to create brilliant work. Brilliance doesn’t need weeks and months and years to occur. Sometimes our most brilliant ideas happen in the most unlikely places, like the shower (Einstein thought so). The brilliance happens easily, and it’s available to all of us.

I’m not saying writing doesn’t take work. Of course it does. Putting together a 100,000-word novel doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment and diligence. Now, those things may be hard, at first (although if you tell yourself commitment to a deadline is easy, I bet it will be). But the writing part isn’t hard. (If writers are being honest with themselves, they’d probably agree…once you sit down and you’re “in it,” it comes easily because that’s what you love to do.)

I know plenty of writers out there will read this and dismiss my theory right away. All I can say is this: before you do so, consider it. What if I’m right? What if writing is easy and we’d been told a lie all this time?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 2 Comments »

Sorry, Third Person. I’m Just Not That Into You.

Aug. 19th 2011

I try not to listen when people talk about no-no’s in writing, mainly because there aren’t any no-no’s, at least when something is written well.

Tell me a “no-no,” and I’ll find an example of a book that broke the rule well, at least according to this reader and critic.

But I’m human. So I can get swept up in the “you shouldn’t write in first person” hogwash I hear on forums where writers hang out. According to these forums, I’m the biggest sinner since I’ve written both novels in first person (multiple first persons) AND present tense.

Oh, the horror!

With Forgotten April, I’d started out in third person pseudo-omniscient — I say “pseudo” because I didn’t know what I was doing and was trying to please my wonderful mentor who warned me about writing in first person.

Oh, but the story sucked in third person. BIG TIME. I tried. I tried for 80,000 words. But it was awful and I was depressed and, on a whim, I opened a new page and was like, “I just want to see what it feels like if I write it in first person. It’ll be my little secret. No one has to know.” So I gave it a go and immediately knew it was better — a whole lot better. I brought two scenes — one in third and one in first person — to my writers’ group and they confirmed it. The first person had LIFE.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve written in third person. In fact, I think my short story “Crush,” which is written in third person, is one of my best literary efforts to date from a craft perspective. So I know there’s a place for it, I like reading it (if it works), and I can write in it.

Anyhow, back to the reason behind my title. I’m working on my third novel, and due to recent comments in a writers’ forum about the problems with first person and present tense, I thought I’d approach this novel in third person and past tense. The past tense is working — it feels completely right.

As for third person? Not so much. I tried. I’d write and stop myself when I’d slip into first person and rewrite the section in third. At first, since I was still in those dreamy early stages of drafting, I wasn’t too bothered by it. But then, I figured the story out — you know, one of those breakthroughs where you stop riffing with that one melody you’ve discovered, and, instead, you start composing the full song and weave the melody in. Yeah, that sort of thing. So I was jazzed and excited and was writing a scene that worked really well when, holy crap! I realized I’d written the whole thing in first person.

Guess what? I need to honor that. The story is telling me it needs to be written in first person, and so are the characters. It’s still unclear whether I’ll be using multiple viewpoints, but, for now, this baby is staying in first person, past tense.

Sorry, third person. I’m just not that into you — this time, anyway. I’m sure I’ll be back. You behave while I’m gone.

Do you have a favorite tense you like to read?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 7 Comments »

The Rhythm Method

Aug. 16th 2011

Guess what?

I’m working on my third novel, back to putting in a minimum of 1000 words a day.

I’ve found a new rhythm that’s working quite well: I get up at 6:00 a.m. and go for a walk, about a mile. Come back, make coffee, sit down, and continue with my work-in-progress. I do all this BEFORE looking at email and BEFORE checking reviews, Amazon ranking, etc. This is key. It’s easy to get lost in some of that stuff.

I can crank out 1000 fairly polished words in two hours max — and this includes room for coffee refills and staring off into space and thinking, which qualifies as work, since the brain is still firing, and the images from the story still moving in my head.

What’s great about this method, for me, is that I can start the rest of my day around 9:00 along with the rest of world and not feel any resentment since I’ve gotten my pages in. I’m heading towards phasing out my copywriting business by the end of the year (if not before), but I still maintain a few clients right now during this transitional time, clients who deserve my full attention since they’re paying me good money to give it my all.

Luckily, because my client list is smaller now, I have room for the marketing of my creative writing “business” (selling books is a business) and, often, extra time to put in another healthy dose of words to the WIP.

Or not.

That’s key, too. Anything extra that goes above and beyond the 1000 words a day is great, but not required since I believe a big part of life has to be left for living: reading, exploring, going to movies and museums, having lunch with friends, spending time with family, sitting quietly on my balcony with a cup of coffee or tea or cocktail and listening to the wind, to the old man in my building who walks his little dog named Maggie in the parking lot below my veranda, to the birds and other critters in the woods across the way.

I love this time, when the work is so new and surprising, when the characters come alive before my eyes at the behest of my fingertips on the keyboard. I’m not sure if this will be the “it” novel; I started two different works in between Forgotten April and What Happened in Granite Creek, but I’m thinking it is. I don’t do a formal outline, but I guess I have a mental one. I have to sit with an idea for a bit, a skeleton plot forming, since I’m one of those writers who needs a destination to write towards, even if it changes along the way. But this “marinating” time makes for easy writing when I finally sit down to draft, the words and story tumbling forth.

Every day, I give several prayers of thanks, so grateful that I get to do this for a living.

Tell me, do you have a rhythm method for the work you do?

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Beta-licious

Jun. 30th 2011

When this post goes live, I’ll be sitting with the Nobscot Niblets — my writing group extraordinaire — listening as they discuss my second novel, What Happened in Granite Creek, which is slated for an October release.

They’re my wonderful beta readers and have been for 6.5 years. Their feedback is always kind, encouraging, but also constructive — we Nibs aren’t shy in letting one another know when something isn’t working.

Even though I’m super comfortable with them, it’s always a little nerve wracking when I’m in the workshop hot seat. I imagine it is for most writers.

If you’ve never been in a workshop before, here’s the analogy I use. You’re a parent and you’re placing your child on a stage in front of people who’ve spent around 10 hours with said child. The people then go on to tell you everything you’ve done right — and wrong — as a parent.

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

I’d like to call up Ben & Jerry’s and pitch a flavor of ice cream called Beta-Licious. It would be banana ice cream with nuts and kahlua-laced chocolate chunks. Yeah, that sums up the experience! ๐Ÿ™‚

By the way — and I’ll be sharing more about this on Twitter and Facebook — I’m taking part in a virtual book took in support of Forgotten April. You can learn more here, including a list of the “stops” I’ll be making over the next month or so.

Thanks, as always, for your continued support!

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Posted by Robyn | in Writing Groups | 4 Comments »

A Tale of Two Typos

Jun. 21st 2011

Once upon a time, in a land too close to home, there was a girl — a writer — penning the product description for her debut novel.

After writing and rewriting, she sends it to some smart writer friends to review, including a copywriter who responds and points out that she likely does not mean that the husband and son of her main character died in a “grizzly” car accident, unless, of course, said accident involved a bear mauling said people.

Duh, she thinks while cursing homonyms — those words like “their” and “they’re” that sound the same but are spelled differently (and, of course, mean very different things). “Thank you, thank you,” the girl says to her eagle-eyed (and very kind) friend for pointing it out before any damage has been done, and she goes on, purging the word “grizzly” from every piece of copy. All except one: the product page for her paperback on Amazon.

She doesn’t realize this, of course, until after the page goes live and someone she doesn’t know points it out to her (gulp). She’s grateful to the person who catches it, but the Internet is one of those things that doesn’t let you forget your mistakes, ever.

Even after she corrects the mistake, the typo lingers in places where the product description has already been “pulled,” like on the girl’s Facebook page and other people’s Facebook pages, including the girl’s high school friend, Tom, who wanted to share the announcement about the girl’s book with all of his friends, which, of course, includes everyone from said high school. And there it is, the “grizzly” (or is it “grisly”?) typo for all of the class of 1991 (and more) to see, and suddenly the girl is in high school again, in gym class, and she’s fat and doesn’t want to change in front of all the pretty girls and her face heats up from embarrassment and everyone stares.

The girl senses her brain turning on her, because she’s unable to stop thinking about the typo, feeling like it’s Out There for everyone to see and laugh at and that it’s worse than if she had a big red zit on the tip of her nose forever.

The girl tries to rationalize that typos happen and that they’re proof we’re all human, and they even happen (gasp) in traditionally published books and The New York Times, but, of course, the girl knows that doesn’t make them any more acceptable.

As for the words “grizzly” and “grisly,” after this incident, the girl knows she will never ever write those two words again. She reckons she could be kidnapped by aliens and forced to watch an endless loop of Grizzly Adams while said aliens feed her the grisly remains of cows or crocodiles or maybe even something a little more human, like clowns or telemarketers, and the only communication she’s allowed to have is via email, but even then, in said communication via email, she would refuse to write the letters g-r-i-z-z-l-y or g-r-i-s-l-y to describe her situation.

“Grizzly and grisly,” the girl says, “You are dead to me.” And she spends the remainder of her days hitting the F5 key, refreshing her product page on Amazon just to be sure.

The End.

Editor’s note #1: Yes, “the girl” is me.

Editor’s note #2: Yes, I realize I’m talking about only ONE typo here and the title is, in essence, inaccurate. Leave me alone.

Editor’s note #3: My version of heaven is a place that’s typo-free and everything you write and think and say comes out just the way you meant it to, with every detail, nuance, and word correct, and George Clooney would be my cabana boy.

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