Friday, April 30, 2010

I Can Haz Writing Process?

Surprisingly, I haz. And so does every writer. There are a bazillion different stories out there and a bazillion different ways writers create them. A group of writers (yours truly included) thought it might be interesting to see just how different (and similar) we all are.

For what it’s worth, here’s my process. I hope it gives you some glimpse into what works for me. Make sure you check out

Sean Ferrell

Tawna Fenske

Cynthia Reese

Linda Grimes

Kiersten White

to see their methods to the madness.

The Beginning – Percolating the Idea

A new idea passes through my brain like a drug - I can't get enough of it at first. I lie in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because I'm thinking about the opening, the characters, the ending, the bits and pieces that will make it into the story. Percolating is absolutely essential for me to be able to write a good story. At this stage, I might outline the book in a back cover blurb sort of thing – one page max – before I begin writing the first draft.

Writing the First Draft – In Longhand (yes, you read that right. In LONGHAND)

I do not currently have a life that allows me to sit at a computer for great stretches of time. So I write the first draft in long-hand because I can write anywhere - on the subway for a half-hour, in a waiting room, at hockey and figure skating practices. I'm more forgiving of my writing when the first draft is in long-hand because it prevents me from going into editing mode. I can scratch out or scrawl something that I know I can fix later. I don't feel the need to self-edit like I do when I'm typing into the computer.

The Murky Middle or Where I Usually Stop to Figure out Where I’m Going
I go through this with EVERY book I write. I write the first half then stop. Maybe for a couple of weeks. Sometimes a couple of months. I’m not a huge outliner and maybe that’s why I stop. I don't need to know every single thing that happens in a plot before I write it like Cynthia. But neither am I a complete pantser like Tawna. I guess I’m a hybrid. I know my beginning, I know my ending. But that middle? Oi.

Sometimes it helps at this point to go back and type the first half into the computer to see if it's working. And if it is, sometimes that unsticks me. Once I get through that murky middle the ending flows pretty quickly. I usually get a first draft done in about 4 months.

Revisions (2nd and 3rd drafts)
Once the 2nd draft is in the computer, I print it out and read it. I consider what any revisions might do to the story. Are they consistent with the established themes? Will the revisions alter motivations (yes, Cynthia, I’m all about the motivation!) If I'm deleting scenes, or descriptions or other information am I leaving plot holes? If I'm adding scenes, descriptions or other information am I killing the pace? This stage takes about a month.

Once the third draft is done is when I celebrate. It’s a Real Book! Now I can take a break and send it to the CP’s (I like sending the whole thing and not chapters). Then I put it aside so that when I come back to it I do so as a reader – not a writer.

Final Intense Draft
After I get the CP’s feedback I’m ready to tear into it again. It’s the final opportunity to make the story ready to send to my agent. This stage is an in-depth, cohesive examination of all characters, motivations, plots and sub-plots to make sure the whole story works.

The Agent Okay
She will inevitably have another few suggestions that will require more revision but by this point I know my story so well I can handle changes.

There you have it. Ink to paper. Keyboard to screen. Whatever gets those words down. In writing it's not how you manage the journey it's the destination that's important. Ending up with the words all writers love ... The End.

Don’t forget to visit these amazing writers to see how they do it too!

Sean Ferrell
(literary fiction)
Tawna Fenske
(romantic comedy)
Cynthia Reese
(southern romance/inspirational romance)
Linda Grimes
(light paranormal mystery)
Kiersten White
(young adult)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Five Best Things About A Book Launch

5. You get to order your favourite dessert Pasteis de Nata - (portugese custard tarts) and a cake with a picture of your book on it and share it with friends and family (Although I must say I only got to eat a piece of the cake - the tarts were snapped up like money drifting on the street!)


4. You get to thank everyone who's supported you and share with them the joy of having a book published. Because writers all know how important supportive friends and family are through this slog!

3. You get to sign actual copies of your books with a cool pen - a dream you thought would never come true (I really like cool pens

2. Friends bring you lovely bouquets of flowers and plants that you can enjoy for days afterwards (Well, I'm hoping I can keep the plant alive for more than a few days - I'll work hard on it Stephanie!!)

And the number one best thing about the launch?

1. You get to watch your Mom and Dad read the dedication of your book and see your Mom's eyes well up with tears of love. Thanks Mom and Dad - having you there was the best part of the launch!

Friday, April 23, 2010

First TV Interview

Yet another new thing I never would have experienced if not for writing a book - I had my first TV interview with the multicultural station here in Toronto, OMNI 1! It was a bit nerve wracking but the reporter made me feel very comfortable and, even though the interview was conducted in both English and Portuguese the interview segment only showed my Portuguese responses. I was a bit concerned about speaking in Portuguese to a Portuguese language station but it turned out okay. I've never heard myself (or watched myself) on tape speaking Portuguese and I was surprised to find I could actually be understood! My daughter said I sounded like my Aunt Olimpia so I guess that means I sounded sort of authentic.

Anyway, not that many of you who read the blog can understand the language, I'm still linking the piece. They started it off really nicely with clips from the 2006 deportation of Portuguese workers in Toronto to Portugal (the catalyst for Illegally Blonde's story) and ended it with the info on my book launch at the Bloor-Gladstone Library on Sunday. All good stuff. Here's the link to the interview. Click on the tab just above the female news anchor called Web Stories and then click on the item called Livro Sobro Deportados(Be kind!)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making Things Worse

Sounds like a pretty ominous blog title, huh? Well, after my week from hell where my daughter started off with a massive head cold, then I spent two sick days with a bug I don't ever want to revisit me, then it turned into three more days where my son developed a high fever, then strep throat I could definitely say that every day last week things definitely got worse (thanks for all the get well wishes, by the way).

In real life, things getting worse is not such a great experience. But for fiction? Oh, yeah. Making things worse creates GREAT fiction. And that's what the Donald Maass worshop held by the TRW last Saturday (just before things got worse!) taught me. As a writer you should Always. Make. Things. Worse. And then … make them even more worse (is that grammatically correct?? Make them worser?? Well, you get my meaning). After that workshop I have the sneaking suspicion that Donald Maass is a bit of a sadist - a very smart, very charming sadist who only wants to make your books better. Pain is a good thing when it comes to improving your book.

I always knew that conflict and drama were necessary to make a book more unputdownable. But what Mr. Maass's workshop taught me was that you should take every thing that happens to your character and up that conflict even more, and then up it again. Increase the problems (both the number and severity) that occur. Try to have every chapter end in a way that shows your character getting in deeper. This upping of problems should always be in the back of your mind. But, you say (and I said it as well in my mind as I was listening to him), that's just too much isn't it? I mean, for every horrible thing that happens to your character, that drives him/her into a worse mess, well that just makes it more difficult for you to get that character out of the situation, doesn't it? As a writer, why do I want to make that much work for myself? Why you ask? WHY???

Because, people, you can't think as a writer. You need to think as a reader. Readers want to be entertained. I certainly want to sit on the edge of my seat, turning that page wondering "Oh, God! Why did she just do that? How on earth is she going to get out of that mess?" As a reader, I want my stories to make me anxious, keep me guessing. I sure as heck hate it when my real life is like that but my stories? Bring the problems on, baby.

So, as I head into the depths of revision to a book that already has some pretty catastrophic things happening to my main character I know I'll be thinking about what more nasty, horrible situations I can throw at poor Jani. I just hope I'll be able to figure out a way to get her out of the messes she walks into. Squee! What fun. Guess I'm a bit of a sadist myself...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When You Know You Have to Put Your WIP Aside

It's been a bit of a rough week. I've been sick for a couple of days and being laid up has given me the time to think about whether I really should just keep shouldering on with my WIP or if I need to put it aside and stop hitting my head against the brick wall it has become. I've decided to put it aside. That's hard for me.

Everyone knows that putting aside your finished first draft for a time is a necessary part of the writing process. Some distance, perspective, a break if you will, gives the writer the necessary energy to not only see the flaws in the work later but to tackle them with the enthusiasm and energy required to make the book better. But leaving aside a draft when you're more than half-way through it? Isn't that giving up? Shouldn't I just keep chugging along despite the nagging voice in my head that says something is not quite right here? Well, I've decided to listen to that voice because I don't want to end up at the end of a draft really disliking this story because it isn't what I envisioned in my head. I want to return to this story - and I will! - with the same kind of enthusiasm and energy that I give my finished first drafts. It's a still unformed, unfinished thing but I do see its potential. I don't want to give up on it. Yet, that's what it feels like right now. I worry that I won't get back to it. Some other new, shiny idea might take over and seduce me to work on it. And there it will sit. Lonely, unfinished, unloved by its creator. Okay, I'm still a little sick so I'm getting a bit melodramatic but you get my drift.

In the meantime, to make me feel less guilty about this abandonment, I've picked up a manuscript that had gone on a limited submission about a year ago but both my agent and I felt the need for a revision. I wasn't ready to tackle it then (I was finishing the book that is about to go out on sub now) but I picked it up, re-read it and knew it was a solid, good book. I just had to heavily revise the first half. I'm excited about it. I've got ideas and enthusiasm. And doesn't every book deserve that much from their writers? So don't despair my poor, unfinished wip. I will return. Hopefully more excited about you than ever before.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Fan Mail

I was going to blog about the fabulous Donald Maass workshop that the Toronto Romance Writers (TRW) held on Saturday. And I will because it was both exhausting and exhilerating -two things a writer's workshop should totally be. If you're not completely wrung out by the time you finish one of these sessions you have not been listening to the speaker. But more about the workshop in future. What has absolutely thrown me for a loop and is pre-empting that blog post is getting my first complimentary fan mail on ILLEGALLY BLONDE today.

A fellow author in the TRW bought Illegally Blonde on the weekend and sent me such a lovely - really, really lovely - email about how much she enjoyed reading it. The best part? She stayed up very, very late to finish it because she couldn't stop reading. I swear, those words are like manna from heaven to a writer. And she's recommending it to others too. More manna. And totally unexpected. For some weird reason I never expected to get comments from readers. And fellow authors? Yikes - that's like scary. Really. Those guys can see so much - good and bad! Besides, people are busy. It takes a lot of effort to go out and find a book and then read it and then to actually sit down and write something to someone expressing your enjoyment of a book? Colour me amazed. I think it might just be my favourite part of this whole journey to publication so far. Feedback from readers is like the gravy on an already fabulous bowl of poutine (I don't like cake and icing that much so my analagy had to go to one of my favourite Canadian dishes, okay?) And if those readers are also writers it gives it a special flavour too. Writers can be some of the most critical readers and the credo usually goes if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all. So when a compliment is given it is very special. And very much appreciated.

So, fellow writers and readers, remember if you can take the time and you feel you can honestly say you enjoyed reading something send a note (email, twitter, Facebook comment, whatever) to the author. It totally makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making Choices and Taking Control

When I started this journey to becoming a writer I believed that, in many ways, I would be powerless in the big machine that is the publishing industry. Writers often feel like it's other people who have the control over their destiny - over whether their book succeeds or fails, over whether they get a contract or not, get an agent, etc. More often than not, it feels like you don't have much choice over how things turn out. But after thinking about this a little more (and having a great discussion with the fabulous writers Helaine Becker and Claudia Osmond last night at the torkidlit tweet-up)I really don't believe that's true. I think writers have more control or choice in the direction our career takes than we believe.

The biggest choice writers make is the choice to be a writer. No one held a gun to our heads and made us take this path. And no one is holding that gun to our heads now. So when we complain about how hard and unforgiving this profession is - make a choice. Keep writing or don't. You're in control of that.

Some writers feel trapped in unpleasant or unfulfilling relationships with their agents or their critique groups or whatever. There is a choice there too. If you need to change your situation it is your choice to do so. No one said every decision would be easy. Heck, even choosing between two good things is hard. But, again, the point is that you can take control of your life by making a choice. And by choosing to do nothing that is also a choice. But don't say you can't control your outcome and then feel defeated by the situation.

Some writers talk about how their book wasn't publicized enough or it was lost on the shelves. What kind of choice do we as writers have there? Well, writers can try and market it as much as they can on their own - a choice many writers take. Some target a more manageable PR and marketing plan like developing an online network of writers who can support and publicize each other's books. Others let the fates - and the public - decide on whether the book will be found. That again is a choice. Whatever the outcome - success in book sales or not - you have still taken some control of the situation by making a choice.

Then there are the writers who choose to focus on the next book. Maybe they've decided to make it bigger, better, more commercial, more controversial, more this or that - whatever they choose to focus on no one else has decided that direction for them. And this may be the most powerful choice of all. We choose to write what we choose to write. That is completely within our control.

So the next time you think you're a cog in the wheel with someone else turning your life this way and that, think about it. Are you really that powerless? Really?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Trip to Ottawa - Some more firsts

The family finally got away from hockey, school, work, life by taking a quickie vacation to Ottawa, our nation's capital. I'd been there before and so had the hubby but hadn't done too much touristy stuff. We'd been there for work mostly. The kids had never been there and since my oldest had received an early acceptance to the U of Ottawa plus a scholarship we thought we'd combine a college scouting trip with some family fun.

We survived the almost five hour drive there (yes, Ontario's a big place and Ottawa is about 4 1/2 hours away from Toronto). There were a few close calls as to whether we'd survive the drive or not - with 3 kids each wanting either quiet, or a movie - not that movie! - or music - not that radio station! and me, the supposed driver, that almost got us killed once when I forgot that we weren't on HWY 401 with it's one way two-lane 100 KM speed limit. Rather we'd taken the old HWY 17 route that was a normal two lane road and as I zoned out into the last hour of driving forgot I couldn't just pass the car in front of me by pulling to the left. Luckily my husband saw the oncoming motorcyclist just in time and yelled "What the **** are you doing?!" which immediately snapped me out of my stupor and I pulled back into the proper lane. Yikes. That woke me up for sure.

The hotel was super nice with two big bedrooms and two baths and a kitchen and an amazing pool. Unfortunately I'm not a swimmer so I didn't bring my bathing suit which my family grumbled about but honestly, it's been a long winter and my body is just not ready to see the light of day yet.

We toured the Byward Market, the Canadian Mint, and the Parliament buildings. We weren't planning on taking that tour but a nice lady gave us the tickets she'd gotten for her nephews who turned out didn't want to do the tour. And it was the highlight of the trip. If you ever get a chance to go into the Parliament buildings please do so - the gem? The Parliamentary Library. It honestly took my breath away when I walked in.

But the coolest thing? I walked into Chapters and got to see my book on the shelf! Granted I had to ask them to go get it since they hadn't unpacked it from their recent new shipments but, hey, they had 3 copies of it and there were 12 more copies in Chapters in the Ottawa area!

I love my nation's capital!