Monday, October 11, 2010

Motivational Monday - On finding the way

"That's the way things come clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they've been all along. ~Madeleine L'Engle"

This weekend I went to Wordstock, a literary festival in Portland, and listened to a few YA authors talk about writing and their books. One thing that always fascinates me is how hungry people are for information as to how to get a book written. And it seems to me, now that I've been in the audience a number of times, listening to authors talk and answer questions, that we ask authors to talk about their writing process again and again, as if there is some secret key that will unlock the mystery for us.

I think writers new to the experience of writing a novel believe somewhere in the back of their mind that there must be a right way and a wrong way. And more than wanting to do it the right way, they are very afraid of doing it the wrong way.

Yesterday, Becca Fitzpatrick, author of HUSH, HUSH said she uses note cards and writes scene after scene on them, and shuffles them around, trying to find the right order, then begins writing, only to eventually throw them all away and start again with new note cards containing new scenes. She said she may do this three or four times while she's writing a book.

L.K. Madigan, author of FLASH BURNOUT and THE MERMAID'S MIRROR, defined her process as plunge, persist, and polish. That is, plunge into the story, persist through the murky middle when it gets hard, and use revision (lots of revision, she said) to polish the manuscript when it's done.

For me, every book is different. Some books beg to be discovered as I go along (My first novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME was very much a discovery novel). Other books want me to have a good plan in place so I can write quickly and efficiently (with SPRINKLES AND SECRETS, I had a brief summary of what each chapter would be about before I started writing). Some books, like my current WIP, are a combination of discovery and planning.

And it's perfectly okay to begin one way and decide a different way would serve the story better.

So, here is the big news - there is no right or wrong. There is only different. And like everything else in life, it's up to you to figure out what will work best for you.

I know we often long for someone to shine the light and show us the way.  Especially when we're in that murky middle. My advice? Trust in yourself. Listen to your characters. Have faith. And as Lisa said, persist. I often tell myself when it gets really hard, there is no way out but through.

This week, you may want to try note cards. You may want to try a chapter-by-chapter summary. You may want to write and discover your story as you go along.

But whatever way you choose - persist!

Happy writing! 


  1. Love Madeleine L'Engle!!

    That literary festival sounds wonderful. I'm one of those always asking questions of pubbed authors. In the beginning it was to see if there was a right way/wrong way of doing it, but now it is more for interest and also sanity purposes. I follow some wonderful authors--ahem, you are one of the best!--and when I see their comments on twitter, on their blog or on facebook, it helps to know their process so I don't drive myself nuts in comparison. Like when they say they wrote 5000 words in a week but it was from a full outline :-)

    It's also always fun to get new ideas to bring to your own work!

    Thanks for sharing as always. You call your post Motivational Monday, which is exactly what it does for me at the beginning of a new week, with my brain clearing out of the weekend fog--motivates and inspires me for the week ahead.


  2. I loved hearing how other writers work on their novels.

    And you're right -- there isn't a "wrong" way. As writers, we just have to find the best way that works for us. And it can change from book to book.

    The Wordstock Festival sounds like a cool conference.

  3. I love Madeleine L'Engle's quote. Just recently I fleshed out what I think will be THE outline for my book. This outline was literally years in the making, a product of multiple revisions of my manuscript and multiple journals full of research and brainstorming. And now that I look at the outline it seems so simple, so obvious. Why hadn't I thought of it sooner?

  4. I'm always interested in how other writers write. I guess because I'm hoping they're doing something I haven't thought of and might work for me. Although I'm doing pretty good on my own right now:)

  5. Excellent post, Lisa. It's true, the only way out is through and sometimes we just have to keep trying new things to get through. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I want to thank you for the candid comment you left at my blog on Friday. It's a perfect tie-in with what you have here, actually. So often we seek the "right" way to go about writing when it's much more fluid than that.

    Thank you for the reminder there is room within the verse novel genre for variety and that learnedness doesn't necessarily trump passion.

  7. Rachel - I agree, it is fascinating to hear how others write. And it can be reassuring, absolutely.

    Karen - I used to worry if a new book wasn't happening the way another book I wrote happened. Now I know - for me - each book has its own path, and it's okay.

    Anita - congrats on the outline!! That is wonderful!

    Lisa - that's true. Like I may try Becca's note card method one day, if I need to shake things up. So it does give us tools to put in our tool box, I suppose!

    Kate - I like that parts that are easy to get through rather than hard. But there are always those parts, unfortunately.

    Carolyn - thanks for stopping by. It is absolutely much more fluid than that!!

  8. I'm a discoverer so far. It's so much fun to discover the story along the way, right alongside my characters.