But for those who are a little more shy or just don't comment for whatever reason, it really does warm my heart when every so often I get an email that lets me know my blog is actually having an impact on someone's life, even if I'm just entertaining you for a few minutes while you read.
So I wanted to share something with you.
I've gotten permission to repost this letter anonymously. I think the struggles this writer is going through are the kind that anyone interested in writing a book goes through. They're even the struggles that those of us who have written a book go through and I'll bet even published authors still have similar concerns. So here is the letter. And at the bottom are a series of questions the writer asked me that I'll try to answer. (BTW Eva, who is mentioned in the letter is my sister) Also, this post is epic! FYI
I wrote this huge over-dramatic message about how my life is at a standstill unless I write this novel idea I've been nurturing in the cockles of my heart for 6 years - and then Firefox crashed....twice........fortunately!
But, hi there Frankie! How are you? I hope you're not too busy! Eva gave me permission to message you about writing and I remember you being very smart and nice, so I'm going to take advantage of your kindness. Here goes nothing:
You have been consistent and dedicated to writing your book (I've been following the blog a bit). I don't think I'm cut out for writing as a career field that you're so far familiar with, but I'm kind of at a standstill as far as "life" goes, and I'm thinking the sense of catharsis that might come about from producing something satisfying and capable of being shown to others might help me move on with things. I'm not a good writer and have no experience with long-term writing projects like novels, but I'm not sure if those are the only limiting factors to my problem with this "book", I'm trying to write.
I have written a synopsis that has been built up for about 6 years, and it fleshes out the story, plot, and characters to an extent - but I purposely left room for a movement that book might direct itself in. However, the main problem is that I throw out everything I write - and starting over again always proves to be another exercise in futility. So, as you might tell motivation isn't that high! I was wondering if you could answer some questions so I might get some insight into the brain of a dedicated writer. Of course you're not obligated to respond, but your input is very valuable to me! No worries if you're too busy, though!
Questions and Answers
* How do you write the "beginning" of the book? It seems that when you reach the point where your characters take life and become their own decision makers, inconsistencies become very apparent (especially at the beginning of the story). Do you approach writing chronologically and then edit it to reconcile everything? Do you write some parts of the book out of order to keep control of what's going on in pieces? Do you even run into this problem?
How do I write the beginning? By doing it over and over and over again :-) There are a 1,000 ways to begin your story. Funnily enough, Sara at the Babbbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler just put up a post about beginnings you should check out. Which brings me to my first point--slightly off topic. But there is SO much information out there on the web, so many amazingly insightful, funny, and heartwarming blogs from all kinds of writers, as well as blogs by editors and agents meant to help you. There is an entire community out there and a world of information at your fingertips if you're willing to take it. But--back to answering your direct question.
For me, I'll imagine what a character is like at the beginning of a story and I'll see how they are different in the end. I have visions of my story through the climax, the moment everything changes and life is resolved. So when I'm trying to figure out my opening, I try to create a situation for my character that best showcases who they are at that point in time (opposite of who they are at the end), if they are insecure, if they are hot headed and jump too easily to conclusions, they are depressed. I'm not a big in media res fan. I need a chance to get to know my character first and care for them before they start jumping into major action or danger, but there should be tension on the first page and a voice that pops. I also like to write in a lot of hints about how the story ends and I will sprinkle the end of my story in the opening pages.
In ROSE LILY, we open with the MC Lilliana Brandywine running an orientation booth for her family's school. It seems kind of random, but actually it showcases exactly who she is within a few pages. We learn that not only is she the daughter of the headmaster, she is the youngest of seven, she's about to start training as a mage, her family's famous and wealthy and she doesn't really want to be a part of any of it. All she wants is to be seen for who she is, not who she's related to, and the chance to study magic, that's it. Of course I never give her any of that (because I'm a mean mean story goddess). But you see where I'm going? I picked the situation that best showed who she was at the moment we meet her. Her voice comes through strong and you learn her feelings about all of the above not because I spell it out for you, but because she is a bit snarky, and sarcastic. We understand her feelings about her role at the school and in her family because she 1) refused to wear the orientation uniform 2) left her name tag at home 3) attempts to hide her face with big chunky sunglasses and 4) is sort of rude to the people in her line.
Now we know who she is, how she fits into her world and how she sees it. I've given you enough information to identify with her, and bring on the strange event of the day that sets the story in motion. And then to make sure you do feel sympathy for her (because she is VERY snarky at the start) I give you some insight into some of her emotions (her longing for a mother she never knew) AND I make her do something that really characterizes her as a person beyond that of a famous snarky teenager. She hears one of her sisters is in trouble and tears out to help her.
So orientation shows us her personality, but her actions really tell us who she is as a person, mix that with something different happening, plus tension, and a stab at her emotions and bam. The begining is served.
Just remember there are no hard and fast rules, that's just how I do it.
As for the rest of the question, I outline a lot before I start writing. But even before the outlining phase I spend a lot of time daydreaming about my story and lots of random scenes will pop into my head and I'll have a sense of...oh that scene goes just before the climax, or that's where she'll learn a clue or here's where the characters change so much they can't go back, that happens in the middle. Then I'll write the outline with those scenes in mind and write the story to fit them. Usually if the scene is strong I'll write it out of order and then rewrite it to fit into the story when I get to that point. Sometimes I find I don't have space for a scene or its not working and then I'll go backwards and rewrite and edit until I'm at a place where the scene does work, or I face the fact that it doesn't and then I usally store it away to be reincarnated slightly in a later book.
For me, whenever I get stuck, I always go back to the begining and work my way through.
* Do you think your advanced degree in English has helped you a great deal specifically in the technical writing of your book?
Yes and no. I don't think it's necessary to have an advanced English degree to be a good writer, or for the technical aspect. For all the know how, you just need motivation. Motivation to go read books on writing, to read other books in genre, to learn how the industry works, to connect with other writers, to put yourself out there. Going back to school is a great way to learn how to research and learn a lot of these things and develop your skills, but anyone can do that on their own. What I did find invaluable though was meeting the girls of the FNC, we all connected in a Writing for Children's class and I can safely say that my entire book and my entire life would be something totally different right now if it weren't for them. Every opportunity you take and every chance in life has something valuable for you to learn, see or do, you just have to take those chances. So don't let not having a degree get in your way, but if you're thinking about one, maybe your intuition is leading you somewhere special.
* At the moment where you wrote your first page and decided that you were involving yourself in a long-term project, did you feel nervous or confident? To me, hundreds of pages and months/years of time spent trying to be satisfied with the way your ideas are represented seems almost impossible and really screws up my motivation. Do you think about this? What is your main motivation (besides publisher demands)?
The moment I started with my first page I was excited! First pages (especially when you're first starting) are the easiest! You're giddy, the idea is fresh (for me at least). And I never thought about how long it would take. Sure if I knew two and half years ago when I really started writing this book (though it was in my head for a few years prior), if I knew I'd be still revising today and unagented etc, I'd probably have been really sad and frustrated. But I don't regret these last two and half years at all. They've made me the writer I am today, and shaped my story into what it has become (which is awesome). The original draft and the current draft are like black and white-totally different. Everyday I get better and so I relish the time spent. Sure I'm working towards a goal, sure I'd love to have finished yesterday. But far more important to me than racing through this, is producing something I've dreamed about my whole life, somethin I'm proud of and something that others will be proud of also.
You have to write because you love it. You have to write because you're compelled to. You have to love it! Thinking too much about the obstacles and the timeline will severely screw with your head. Writing takes time and then publishing takes even longer sometimes. My motivation: simply that I just can't stop. This is what I feel called to do. This was what my life was supposed to be. Writing.
* Do you follow any established methods of novel-writing? I read about the "snowflake" method, but I feel like it risks constricting character development. I read Steven King's "On Writing" and he has some very specific guidelines that a lot of authors do not follow - is it worth investing time trying to find and study a method of novel-writing?
Good for you that you're reading other books on writing. It's helpful to see what all the processes are and hear how different writers work. The thing is, what works for one person will never work for anyone else exactly. The best thing you can do is pick and choose which techniques are helpful, or experiment with different methods until finally you come up with your own. Just write. The more you write the more you'll know, about yourself about how you work and soon you'll have your own method.
* How long have you been in the process of writing "Rose Lily"? (I'm sorry, I'm sure you've answered this a lot)
Ok, well this is such a complicated answer. I guess I've been in the process since February 2003. I had an idea that triggered an entire exercise in world building and created a very detailed mythology. I began with the world and started creating characters in it and a story that soon sprawled over several books in my mind.
Then I had a dream a few months later, the dream that inspired my story. I answered questions about my dream and found the answers were in this world I'd already been creating for months. In September 2007, I actually started writing the story. It took me almost two years of wrtiting and rewriting the story over and over again, before I finally realized at the start of the summer 2009 HOW to tell the story and since then, everything has clicked into place. I wrote my current draft in 6 weeks and I've been revising it now for I guess something like 4 months.
* Eva mentioned that you reached a point where you felt it was necessary to edit a large portion of the book. Are you able to explain how you go through that (that huge moment of disclosure)?
I used to edit obsessively and write chapter 1 over and over. The FNC is still traumatized by this I think. But my writing teacher Gretchen Haertsch finally
I just go through it chronologically. Usually I have the FNC look at it and tell me anything major that needs to change, usually I already have a bunch of ideas. I reoutline and start going through the chapters one by one, fixing errors, deleting plot lines, adding plot lines. Except for the dreaming phase and pre-outlining phase which is all out of order, I'm very methodical and always go through in chronological order.
* Many people say they want to write a book, but don't? In your opinion, why don't they?
Well, it could be because writing is hard. It could also be because the person lacks motivation. But really, I think the answer is pretty simple. Because they don't love writing. Sure, being published is fun and a big ego boost. But there are 1,000 other easier more sane ways to boost your ego. If you're going to write, you have to love it. If you love it, if you feel it in your gut, you will write that book, no matter how scary, how daunting, how busy you are or whatever other obstacle life throughs at you. When you have a true passion for something, nothing gets in your way!
Thanks so much for reading. I understand you probably have a very busy schedule, so I won't mind if you don't get around to responsing to this longwinded message...or if it takes a very long time. From the perspective of someone who feels that the process of establishing your ideas to the point of satisfaction for hundreds of pages and months/years of time is an incredibly hard task, I really am envious of your dedication; your input is super valueable.
Thank you! I'm really honored that you asked and I hope you find my answers helpful to you! Dedication is definitely a HUGE part of this. But at the core is LOVE.
And now...back to editing!