Saturday, April 23, 2011

What Writers Write and How They Write It*

*I wrote the following article at my publisher's request. In February 2011, Inknbeans Press posted it on their website. I am reprinting it below with a few changes in celebration of the completion of my fifth novel, Forsaking the Garden. Enjoy!

In July 2009, I sat down in front of my computer and made a promise to myself: I would write a thousand words a day and not worry about editing what I’d written until I had a complete novel. Four months later, I had the 120,000-word manuscript for what would become The Thief of Todays and Tomorrows. The sense of accomplishment was so much more than I could have imagined – like getting high without all the nasty side effects, save one: I was addicted.

It took me the better part of three months to edit my first novel down to a more reasonable size of 90,000 words. Editing my own work taught me a lot and changed the way I write forever. I try to avoid words I know I will later want to edit out, like probably, maybe, and perhaps. I keep a character name list in an effort to ensure I don’t switch names around as I write (this is still a stumbling block for me, even with the list). And I read my dialogue aloud as I write it.

My desk is a cluttered jumble of reference books, including one that boasts 30,001 baby names. Because I know that I prefer names that start with hard Cs or Ks, I now force myself to choose the first letters of names at random. If I find myself unsure of what happens next, I visit and play a game or two while I mull it over.

I don’t create an outline before I begin to write because an outline ruins the story for me. The characters tell me where they want to go and I follow their lead. The end of one of my books is generally just as much of a surprise to me as it is to the reader.

Because I never want to be without an idea for my next novel, I keep a journal. Almost every day, I warm up by writing in that journal, usually using writing exercises to create short scenes. This journal has so far produced three novels: Circle City Blues, An Unassigned Life, and Forsaking the Garden, which will be published by Inknbeans Press in June 2011.

I still write a thousand words a day when I’m working on a new manuscript. If I don’t, I actually suffer from a kind of withdrawal. Writing is more than my job – it’s my addiction. And nothing feels better than finishing a book.


  1. That was so well said, I agree with you on the part about not writing an outline. I don't create one either. And I am too, just as surprised at the ending of my work as you are :)

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Holly! And thanks again for the great review on Circle City Blues.

    Today, I actually went against my own writing rules and created an outline for my next novel. It's not much more than chapter titles though -- there's still a lot of mystery to it. I wanted to see if having an outline would make me more productive. I'll let you know the results of my experiment!


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