A question I often hear writers ask established authors is – How do you write? Some aspiring writers struggle to get their ideas into the written the form, others worry that they’ll never finish their story, whilst some just wonder if there’s a better way of doing it. Seeking advice from peers is not only helpful, but also inspiring.
I’m excited to share some insights from six fabulous authors who have worked the hard yards to become published novelists.
I’m normally a seat-of-the-pants writer who allows the story to flow out in first draft, unimpeded by plotting constraints. When my draft is finished, then I pull apart the story to look at the structure and tweak it to make the plot tighter and the character arc stronger. I spend probably a quarter of the time drafting and three quarters of the time editing a book to make it publication-ready. Unfortunately, there are some books that falter during the drafting process, so when they do I fall back on ‘goal, motivation, conflict’ (Google this if you don’t know what it is) because that’s the backbone of the story. It helps me focus on the characters so I can be sure they’re driving the story forward – that way I don’t end up with a series of scenes that don’t really go anywhere and don’t move the story forward. I try to write every day, and if I can stay home and block out a few months to race through the draft of a story I get a better result, particularly with the characterisation. Editing, I can pick up and put down. If I try to do that with my first draft, I end up with a disjointed story.
I think my author methods have, like the seasons, changed in many ways over the years. Some methods wax and wane depending on other life influences but other methods, especially the essence of story, has grown stronger. I love writing first thing in the morning, before anyone has interrupted my day. I write far better when I’m ‘in the zone’, ie, been able to spend quality hours/days on the manuscript and not distracted by the constant other (enjoyable or otherwise frustrating) distractions of life. In my 20s, I was always a pantser. I’d see an image or hear a conversation in my head – or see something in my own life and think ‘what if’. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve discovered how to combine the two practices – the thrill and evocative sensations of the pantser, but now framed by a plotter who knows that smart, tightly constructed plots with surprise twists create far greater reader (and author) enjoyment and satisfaction. I’m still not disciplined enough to my art but probably my biggest pieces of advice are these (and I know they’re contradictory but they both work at different times of our writing journey).
Do I plot out my story? Yes and no. I begin with a simple outline that includes my primary conflict and a prologue with action to (hopefully) hook the reader – even for my romance without the suspense! Once I’ve completed about twenty-five percent of my story, I sit down and do a chapter outline, and usually, by then, I’ve decided how I’ll resolve my conflict. My best advice with editing would be to take a break from your work upon its completion. For me, the worst mistakes I’ve made in the editing process have shown up later, because I was in a hurry, and had begun my editing immediately after finishing my story. Some writers can sit down and write effectively at any time of the day – but not me. So I try to stick to a schedule when I’m deep into writing my next novel. Writing once I wake up after a decent nights sleep seems to work the best for me. As the mom of a demanding autistic son, it’s my concentration level that’s usually affected after about six to eight hours of interruptions. Oh – and I drink LOTS of coffee!!
I started out my writing life as a pantser but I’ve found, as I continue to write, that I’m becoming more and more of a plotter. In fact, for the current work in progress, I’ve actually used cards to plot out chapters and have actually really enjoyed it. Not that that means that characters don’t have a way of changing things still!
I usually try and write first thing in the morning (before the kids get up!) but really just try and find moments here and there in order to keep things moving along. Writing at night doesn’t work really well for me as I’m usually a bit brain dead. I read the last few pages I’ve written before continuing writing but try not to do too much editing before I’ve finished the first draft.
Writing can be a lonely process, yet on the other hand it can be the most gratifying experience I could ever imagine. I am not a plotter when it comes to writing. I write character driven stories and the only way, in my opinion, to write those is to know my characters inside and out, really getting to know them. I start my stories with an idea and let it morph from there. My initial writing process is to get the bare bones of the story down and learn by characters as I go and then go back and edit after the story is complete. I have learned through the years to not force a story if I want to go in one direction and my characters tell me “no way”. In this sense of writing, it can be lonely as I shut myself away from everyone and just write. However, my writing always has a part of me in it – a part that I don’t share with people very often, but I allow to come through the stories. It typically is the emotional or vulnerable part of me. Therefore, writing these types of stories allows me to pour out emotions I normally hold very close and allow no one to see it and therefore becomes one of the most gratifying experiences I could imagine ever and I get to relive that gratification every time I finish a book and every time I hear from readers.
I’m definitely a plotter. I like to work out the skeleton of a story and then research details such as locations, dates, events to ensure authenticity. Characters’ names are important too – they have to not only suit the character but fit in with the type of story being told. When I worked from home in the day time I’d do all my writing at night, but now I write whenever I find the time. The next day I’ll read what I wrote the previous day and do quick edits before I keep writing.
Thank you to all of the authors who took the time to share their knowledge and writing journey with us.
She writes about intrepid women entering worlds that are new and strange to them – whether that’s an everyday woman from our world traversing a portal into a sepia kingdom, an amorous mermaid stranded on dry land, or a reclusive oyster farmer who must face the modern world when a geek arrives on her doorstep. Louise also works with computer games companies to develop fantasy and sci fi world-building.
Titles: Dance with the Devil, Black Ice, Dangerous Deception, Deadly Tide, Fatal Flaw, Grievous Harm, Until Death, The Marriage Merger, No Cure For Love, A Tender Deception
Sandy Curtis writes contemporary romance for Ormiston Press’s Lavish Novels line, and is also the author of seven romantic thrillers published in Australia and Germany, two of which have been finalists in the Romantic Book of the Year Award.
Sandy has presented many writing workshops including 10 days teaching creative writing at the University of Southern Queensland McGregor Summer Schools, given library talks, and been a panellist at writers’ festivals. She is a member of many writing organisations, and has organised the Bundaberg writers festival, WriteFest, since its inception in 2005.
In 2010 she was awarded the Regional Arts Australia Volunteer Award for Sustained Contribution to the arts in regional Queensland, and in December 2012 she was selected by the Queensland Writers Centre to receive the Johnno Award for outstanding contributions to writing in Queensland.
Titles: The Blood She Betrayed, Sisters of the Shadows: Volume One: Pool of Rathorne
A graduate of Illinois State University, Tamara Ferguson was a Vice-President of her graduating class and a Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. She was awarded the Illinois State University College of Applied Science and Technology Collegiate Achievement Award upon her graduation.
Titles: Aquila, Sisters of the Shadows: Volume One: Streamer
She’s an eternal optimist who really enjoys making things as difficult as possible for her protagonists.
Titles: Mirrored Deception, Second Chances, Trusting Love, Crashing Hearts
Emma Leigh Reed has lived in New Hampshire all her life. She has fond memories of the Maine coastline and incorporates the ocean into all her books. Her life has been touched and changed by her son’s autism – she views life through a very different lens than before he was born. Growing up as an avid reader, it was only natural for Emma Leigh to turn to creating the stories for others to enjoy and has found herself an author of contemporary and romantic suspense. With a BA in Creative Writing/English, Emma Leigh enjoys sharing her knowledge with others and helping aspiring authors.