Tuesday, March 20, 2007
About six years ago I paid $99 to take an online course called “Inside Sessions”. I’d seen it advertised on TV and thought it sounded interesting. Whoever put it together did a video interview with several best selling national authors such as Ken Follett, Amy Tan, Tom Clancy, Sue Graphton and a few others. They asked them specific questions on different parts and points of writing, then cut the filmed interviews into topics. The course was split up into chapters, focusing on one topic and you got to hear the different authors way of doing things.
Absolutely fascinating stuff!
At the time I watched this I was struggling to figure out my career (the very term was hard to utter, even in my mind). I had one book out that had done poorly, I’d gotten out of my contract and had just had my second novel rejected by a different publisher. I knew I was missing something and was sure that there was some secret formula out there that I needed to discover. And I did, through Inside Sessions—the secret? There is no secret! There is no one way that works for every writer. In fact, I dare say that no two writers do everything exactly the same.
During this online video course, they talked about outlining—one thing I was very interested in at the time. In fact I had bought a book called “”The Marshall Plan” which outlines every detail of the book you want to write. You fill out forms for each scene within each chapter, you have very specific character roles, and essentially map out the entire book before you write a word of it. I was trying to do this, but kept making changes, thus having to go back and change the entire thing (250 pages in a 3 ring binder). I know other authors that like this formula, but it wasn’t working for me and I wondered WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? But did you know that Tom Clancy never outlines at all? Ken Follett on the other hand outlines first by thirds, then chapter, then scene, then character within the scene, then dialogue by the character in the scene. He spends an entire year outlining in this kind of detail, each item of his outline put on a 3X5 card and taped to a wall in his office. Two amazing writers, two completely different ways of writing.
Rewrites—Sue Graphton goes through several—Tom Clancy, not ONE. Some of the authors answered with long explanations, showing that even they don’t do things the same for every book they write, and other’s were exact and followed the same process for every thing they wrote.
Editing—some revised AS THEY WENT, which I had been told in writing conferences was impossible. Other’s were so well planned and plotted they didn’t revise a thing once they finished.
Time—Tom Clancy writes a book in about four months. Ken Follett spends an entire year outlining and another year writing it.
Why they write—Amy Tan writes to educate the world on Chinese culture and take her people from the shadows and into mainstream understanding. Sue Graphton writes to entertain and because she loves a good mystery.
By the time I finished this program (I was on dialup and could watch about two minutes at a time so it took awhile) I felt better about my writing than I had since being naïve enough to think my first book (the one that didn’t sell well, remember) was going to change the world! I put the binder of my Marshall Plan manuscript away—in fact I put the entire story away (it later became Tempest Tossed). And I sat down and wrote a brand new story that had been in my head. The next day I went to where I’d written the day before and revised it before starting my ‘fresh’ writing of that day—it had always driven me mad to know there was a change I needed to make but I felt I couldn’t make it yet OR I’d start writing and later find out I’d been repeating myself. A few days later I cut out ten pages and thought I was going to have a stroke, but I’d changed my mind about that particular direction and like trying to find the right dress, I needed to try this one on for size.
So here I am six or so years later and I’m still trying to figure out my groove. I wrote Star Struck in 3 months, revised it twice and sent it in. Unsung Lullaby was a work in progress for five full years and I had nearly 500 pages in my ‘cuts’ folder and 292 in the finished draft. I currently have parts of six different novels on my computer, each one will hopefully become a book one day, but I’m only working on one. I have 230 pages of cuts and 83 pages of finished product. I’m avoiding my writing today because I know there are two scenes that have to go. Ouch.
The point is that every writer writes in their own way and that’s a GOOD thing. If you don’t write like me, congrats! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and yet, it’s what works for me. If you don’t write like Sue Graphton, no worries, neither does Amy Tan. I continue to learn so many great ideas from other writers I associate with and love to ask them about their specific tricks and tips but amid taking notes on what they do, I take comfort in knowing that I have my own trail to blaze and can build any kind of wagon to take me there.
So, the big question: what works for you?
(I did also learn you can buy Inside Sessions on video--but Amazon only had one and I just picked it up. Sorry--but if you bring me chocolate covered cinnamon bears I might let you borrow it)