State of the Author, May 2017

Posted in Elantra, Essalieyan, writing.

This is a bit late. Again. But at least it’s in the right month…

The first half of May was Michelle revising first draft of Cast in Decep­tion (as noted below, I messed up the title because, umm, it’s not War >.<). so it could become submis­sion draft. This took a bit longer than I had orig­i­nally planned. The second half of May was War and the start of the as yet unnamed Severn story.

But mostly, it was War. Which is not finished yet.

I’ve mentioned that I work on two different books simul­ta­ne­ously until I reach the end of one of them, at which point, I don’t have the mental space for anything but the book that is ending. It’s just that the ending of War is longer than many short novels in this day and age, because while it’s the end of a book, it’s also the end of an arc comprised of seven books.

I think I should be able to finish it on my annual writing retreat in Bris­bane.

—–

Else­where on the internet, a piece of writing advice — such as it is — was posted. Authors across my various feeds have commented on it. The title of the article is: If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now.

I remember being a new author. I remember writing my first novel with an intent to submit it for publi­ca­tion. I was working full-time with Tanya Huff at the time, and she had sold her first novel to DAW (Child of the Grove). She was there­fore, in the days when the internet was not what it is now, my resi­dent expert.

She had thoughts. She had advice. She had fairly rigid beliefs in how a novel was written. For one, she thought a novel couldn’t be written without an outline.

I faith­fully tried that method. Both she and I believed, because that method had been tested and had been successful — she’d sold her book, after all — that it was good advice; we both believed it worked because it had, demon­strably, worked. I wrote my outline. And then I started my book. After about ten pages (stan­dard manu­script format, which is also almost an arti­fact of dinosaurs), I had to go back and revise the outline, because the part of the outline I was writing had changed. And of course that meant I had to revise the rest of the outline. So I did.

And the next day, after four pages, I had to go back and revise the outline again. And the day after. I think it was three days before I had to revise the outline again — but I was at the very begin­ning of the outline. And… this was frus­trating, to me. I had spent way more time revising the outline than I had writing the book.

And I gave up on the outline. I told Tanya I had given up on the outline. And then I wrote the book. When it was done, I gave it to Tanya, and she told me that she honestly had not believed I would be able to finish the book because: outline.

So it taught us both some­thing impor­tant: there’s no Right Way to approach a novel.

Neither Tanya nor I said “you must write every day if you want to be a writer”. We were both working full-time. We both, however, said you must write. And, if you want to be a writer, then yes, that seems obvious: you must write.

I think the “write every day” advice is an over-appli­ca­tion of the “you must write” advice. I know writers who do not write every day, and they finished their books and went on to be published. I also know people who talked about the books they were writing — but who didn’t, ulti­mately, finish those books because they did not write.

It’s frus­trating when you’re strug­gling. I get that. In fact, it’s still frus­trating to me at times — if it weren’t, Touch and Grave would have been finished long before they were.

But a younger writer came into the book­store where I work, and we started to talk about writing, and she asked me a ques­tion about writing process. And I real­ized that while I could talk about my process, it might be entirely irrel­e­vant to hers.

So I said, “This is not meant to be mean or to be vague; I’m not hesi­tating because I have The Secret and I don’t want to share. Process at its heart is about how to start — and finish — a novel. But… You only start to under­stand your own process when you’ve found one process, any one, that gets your novel from page one to the end. If that process is standing on your head and typing with your toes, which might sound totally strange and impos­sible to anyone else, that’s ulti­mately your process. It’s what gets you from the begin­ning to the end. And… until you get to the end, however messily, you don’t really have a process yet. You haven’t discov­ered what your own process ulti­mately is.”

But the example of Tanya Huff and I is illus­tra­tive, here. We start on page one. We write. We get to the end. (There is whining in between, and frus­tra­tion, and days where we drag our heels, or lose words to real life inter­rup­tions.) We don’t do it the same way. We don’t have the same process. Having to use each other’s process would not work out well for us.

It’s why I really hesi­tate to give writing advice. There’s a natural tendency to look at people you deem successful in one way or another and trust that they know what they’re doing. I’m always vaguely terri­fied that people will try to adopt what I’m doing the way I tried to adopt Tanya’s process and try to bend them­selves around the wrong process – and feel like a failure because they can’t make it work.

And to be fair, once you have a process in place, you can refine it. You can even change it up completely later down the road, when you better under­stand what helps, and what hinders, you. You can look at the parts of a book that were agony to write, and you can try to figure out if that agony was story based or process, keeping what did work (more) smoothly, and shifting your approach for the painful bits. Even indi­vidual process can, and will, change. Tanya stopped outlining, for a while. Friends who never outlined in the past have started to find outlines really useful for a book or two.

23 Responses to State of the Author, May 2017

  1. Zia says:

    I’m glad to hear things have been going kind of better. Glad to hear Cast in Flight is in the state of revi­sions, and I am equally pleased that War is coming along as well. I’m eagerly looking forward to both.

    And I appre­ciate your thoughts on the whole ‘there is more than one path to take to reach a desti­na­tion.’ Though it was directed at writing, it can be applied to a great deal more.

    So, as always, thank you for writing the novels I trea­sure, and for taking the time to post here.

  2. jamie coady says:

    i try writing and the only way s for me so far is is just writing and seeing what drops from my brain. i will get ook out there if it kills me lol. will try other methods and see whwwat woroks. can’t wait for the next cast book der when it will be

  3. Daniel Catudal says:

    Zia expressed my feel­ings exactly in both aspects. I still need to tell you that reading your post just reminds me how much I love to read your series. Thks for sharing these thoughts with us.
    Dcat

  4. michelle says:

    @Mike: Yes, I meant Decep­tion, not Flight =/. But! I have now changed it so people who do not who how muddled the writer brain actu­ally is will not be confused.

  5. john crawford says:

    Just curious if you are familiar/have read any of Dorothy Dunnett’s work (Lymond Chron­i­cles, etc)

  6. Zia says:

    Lol! That’s what happens when I type on the run. I thought the title was off, but I was busy enough that it sounded good enough for me. I loved Cast in Flight, but I am looking forward to Cast in Decep­tion. Though I am curious on whether or not Helen’s ever going to have a limit on guests.

  7. Debbie H says:

    It is inter­esting to read your insights into writing. I cannot write. But I make up for it by being able to read. A lot! Thanks for many hours of wonderful reading. Enjoy June!

  8. Michael Lichter says:

    Michelle, thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing process. Thanks for correcting “Cast in Flight”; I was pretty sure I’d already read that :). No pres­sure from me, but can’t wait for the next MS book. Best wishes for a less-frus­trating conclu­sion to both Decep­tion and War.

  9. michelle says:

    @Zia: I was also, obvi­ously, typing on the run =/. I try to post here once a month, because in the past, when I’ve been strug­gling with a book that isn’t coop­er­ating, I tended to fall off the internet entirely (it’s the guilt and embar­rass­ment), and people worried.

    I used to think that no one would be inter­ested — at all — in posts that were essen­tially “I’m still working on the book” (whichever book), because I thought people would make that assump­tion, but I’ve come to realize that people are.

    But it’s been a bit hectic here and my brain, when in full writing mode, often holds on to nothing BUT book…

  10. Zia says:

    For some reason my email is not updating me about any replies here. Tech­nology is so fickle some­times. Anyways…

    @ Michelle — I confess I’m one of the people who loves to hear things are still going, you are still okay, and I do enjoy reading things like the post up above, because it’s infor­ma­tion, and it’s super bene­fi­cial. Again, it can be applied to so many things even outside of writing, that it’s great to hear. And while people come to their own conclu­sions about things all the time, some­times it’s fantastic to hear your conclu­sion isn’t a lonely island of one.

    —-

    We had a horse show this week/weekend, and while I’m normally holding down the fort at home, things were close enough time wise with all the horses that I needed to be in both places at once…which was fun. So if this post doesn’t entirely make sense (even more than usual) my apolo­gies >.<

  11. @john: I’m sorry I missed this the first time through: I am aware of Dunnett, but have never read her. (I’m aware of Dunnett because some of my friends are sort of fanatic and thought I would like her work — but, it’s not so easy to find it, these days)

  12. Brian says:

    Your publisher is saying January 2018 for the next Elantra book instead of October 2017, which was the date I had seen earlier. Say it isn’t so. :-(

  13. @Brian: I’m sorry >.>. I may have mentioned in earlier posts that I kind of couldn’t write for a couple of months — no fiction at all. And that couple of months impacted the schedule for publi­ca­tion =/

  14. Astra says:

    You come to Bris­bane? Do you do any sign­ings or book­shop visits? Or library visits while you are in Bris­bane?? Love your books! If you have any public appear­ances in Bris­bane pls let me know. Thank you

  15. @Astra: I have a friend who lives in Bris­bane, so I come here for two weeks and write. I haven’t ever tried to arrange public appear­ances here — but, ummm, maybe next time?

  16. melanie says:

    Michelle hope this comment finds you well, happy, and healthy… I will and can wait and then read your book to the exclu­sion of all else except the bath­room, take care of your self, Melanie

  17. Astra says:

    Yes please do!!! We have Super­nova and ComicCon here and I’m sure either of them would be very excited to have you! Plus any library or book­shop appear­ances would be fantastic. Would love to meet you! You’ve come in our winter but I suppose this is pretty good weather for you lol. Love your books. Please do consider doing some appear­ances here. I’m in the Redlands, which is Bris­bane south­side but will travel!

  18. Dear Michelle, I have been away of your website for a few months. Looking desper­ately for your books again to see if I missed one, I returned to your website. Still missing your books, At 77, you are one of the few plea­sures I still have. The Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion here in the USA filled my time watching TV; still there. A book here or there filled the rest of my time; but missed your books. Have read all of them twice already.. May start the third time although I have tried other authors in between. Since you tend to write more than one book at a time, which series will have your next one? I wish I could clearly convey how much plea­sure your books provide to us your readers. Take care of your­self while under the pres­sure of writing your demanding books. Thank you for the great time you give us.

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