Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The writing process

Everyone’s is different, and mine has definitely changed since that first M&B. I used to write the beginning quickly and get stuck at the end; nowadays, it takes me loads of thinking time before I get started, and then it’s rapid.

Plotter or pantster? Ten years ago, it was plotter. Nowadays, it’s mainly plotter with a bit of wriggle room. I did try panstering something, and all I did was stare at a blank screen or play word puzzles online for a fortnight. I ended up with a very tight deadline for that book when I finally gave in and planned it. (Lesson there: try something, but don’t think you’re a failure if it doesn’t work for you. A different process might suit you better. Experiment until you find what works for you, and don’t worry if it changes over time.)

And I’m very careful about reading craft books. Friends of mine swore by Donald Maass and how his books helped them move their writing up a gear; I tried reading them, and it froze me for a fortnight. I was looking at my book with my head rather than my heart, and convinced myself that I was utter crap (aka a really bad attack of the Crows of Doubt, as Julie Cohen would call it). It took me a while to get back to normal. (For the record, Liz Fielding and Kate Walker have very good guides to writing romance – they’re kind and full of common sense, much like the authors themselves. And I’d also recommend Sarah Duncan’s blog for writing exercises and generally making you think without freezing you. And all three of them will be guests at my blog party, so keep an eye out for them!)

So how do I write a book?

Character comes first, along with their conflict. I start with a two-page outline, which I agree with my editor (and we have an unspoken agreement that if I get a lightbulb moment when I’m writing, i.e. a deeper conflict or a better solution, go for it). Basically it’s a one-liner for the hero and heroine, a paragraph each on their conflict, and then the events in the story.

Once it’s been agreed, I break it into chapters, then start writing. Because I’m a plotter, I know where I’m going, I know what motivates my characters (and I just have to remember to make sure that’s on the page and not still in my head), and I know how they react to things. Sometimes research is involved, and I’m a bit of a ‘method’ author (so it’s probably just as well I don’t write crime!). I like to walk in my hero and heroine’s shoes. So, for example, with Rico Rossi – I have been to every single place in Rome mentioned in the book. I’ve put my hand through the Mouth of Truth. I’ve pedalled a Riscio in the Borghese Park. (And, OK, so I was obsessed with the Colosseum as a kid. Write what you know…) I’ve also made the two-tone icing for the cakes and taught someone how to use an icing bag (cough, was nothing like the book, though I had a lightbulb moment for that scene). For my first Cherish/Harlequin Romance, I dragged my husband off to ballroom dancing lessons (and I probably doomed us because my heroine found the waltz really tricky – we’re, um… oh, let’s just say we’re a lot better at Latin). And if there’s a scene at the seaside, that probably means I had a yen for the sea and we had a family research trip mid-book.

Actually writing it: I tend to write in dirty draft. That means note form, not properly paragraphed or punctuated, and just get the words down. The following day, I’ll tidy that up and it gets me back in the story enough to do the next bit of dirty draft. And so on until the end.

Once that’s done, it’s a read-through and check for continuity (especially if I’ve changed a name). And then I email it to my editor.

And then it comes back from my ed with revisions, and it’s ALWAYS ‘dig deeper’. (Or ‘lose the elephants’, or ‘take the reindeer out’ – though then I had a lightbulb and put in a few more and she let them stay.) You’d think, now I’m on book 54, that I’d know how to do it and not get slapped with revisions. Um... Nope. I certainly hope my books are better now than they were ten years ago, but it’s my editor’s job to make me try harder and shine more, to make it a better read. So it’s dig deeper, hope there are only two sets of revisions, and meanwhile start thinking about the characters of the next book.

And if I get really stuck on revisions, two certain writer friends who share my editor and know what she does/doesn’t like will bounce ideas with me (actually, we’ll do it for each other). And sometimes there are parcels of emergency chocolate. Or emergency lunch. (That sounds a bit bad – but it’s really not an excuse for a jolly. Sometimes you need to step away from that screen, talk it over with someone who isn’t as close to it as you are, and who can make you laugh out of panic mode so you can take a more balanced view of it.)

So that’s it in a nutshell. And if you see me playing word games, I’m not skiving off – I’m thinking. Ditto playing Beethoven :o)


Carol Warham said...

Thanks Kate. It's really interesting and enlightening how writers get started and how things evolve for them.

Katie said...

Your writing process is fascinating - thanks for sharing :-)

Kate Hardy said...

Carol, Katie - glad you enjoyed the post! :)