How Janet Evanovich Writes

 

I recently picked up a copy of Janet Evanovich’s (with Ina Yalof) How I Write – Secrets of a Bestselling Author (2006.) The book is written in question/answer format which makes it a little tough to read (no real continuity) BUT if you can stick with it, it’s filled with tons of good information from a very accomplished (and fellow Granite Stater) writer.

janetI have yet to go to see an author without someone asking if the writer is a “pantser or plotter” A pantser writes by the seat of their pants and a plotter outlines and plans what they will write (for the record I am a 100% plotter.)

It’s the question everyone wants to know – how do you do that voodoo that you do so well? Read how Janet answers this question in her book:

  1. Q. How do writers set up their books? Do you outline them first, or do you just have an idea in your head and then spin the tale?

JANET. I have lots of writer friends, and we all have our own system. I know people who make detailed fifty-page outlines before they begin, and I know people who start on page one and just wing it. I’m somewhere in between. I start with the characters. I do a short character sketch for each of my major characters. Next, I pick a location and then I decide what the crime is going to be.

Once I have those elements down, I make a time line of the action. This means that I know the beginning and the end and a bunch of things that will happen along the way. The time line is usually about five pages long. It gives me some plot points and a definite direction. The details come to me as I write. As it turns out, I usually stick to the original outline, but I don’t have it carved in stone. I try to be flexible when I need to be.

How I Write is actually a brilliant little book that has, for the most part, flown under the radar. Sure some of it’s dated, but it’s filled with lots of time-tested little nuggets about the whole writing experience from conception to pitching to selling. It is well worth the read to find out exactly how a bestselling author ticks.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Big Magic and Get to Work

I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and while it is a book intended for “creative souls.” It really hits home for writers. She talks about creativity and harnessing the spirit needed to bring forth a creation.

big magicIn her book, Elizabeth tells the story of having a great idea with a South American plot for a book. This was an idea that had never been covered before (involves people from Minn., murder, and developers) and she “just felt” it would make for a good book. Problem was she kept putting it aside, things interfered and the story never got told.

One day she meets Ann Patchett and they embrace – soul sisters in writing. A few months later, they have lunch and Ann tells Elizabeth she is working on a new book about South America.

“Well isn’t that funny,: said Elizabeth, “I was working on an idea like that, but then let it go.”

Ann asked Elizabeth to describe her plot line and it turned out to be the *exact* same plot line that Ann was working on.

Co-incidence? Trends? Timing? Who knows? But you have to admit, it is a little woo, woo hair raising.

Elizabeth uses this as an example of Big Magic (as in there is a creative force that surrounds us.) She puts forth the intriguing idea that creative ideas can “visit” us and then choose to leave if we don’t nurture them.

I’ve seen this in my own writing. I’ll have a great idea for a story, not be able to devote the time to give to its “birth” and then I’ll see that someone somewhere else picked up the ball and ran with it. In a way, this philosophy of “visiting ideas” makes it easier – it falls into the “if you love something let it go, if it was yours…” It’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons – guess that idea was never really mine to keep.

But it’s also a cautionary tale. Great ideas need to be nurtured and they need work, lots of work. If you have a fantastic idea then you absolutely need to set the time aside to work on it so that it can grow and mature.

Because if you don’t it’s very likely that someone else will.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Writers and Their Creative Outlets

Let Your Creativity SoarAs writers, we’re creative. Our muses love words and help us get stories onto a page.

If your muse is like mine, it enjoys exploring other creative outlets. There’s something about doing a different type of creative activity that can enhance creative energy. Being creative in more than one area of our lives can enable us to use creative energy throughout our day.

I feel that my writing improves when I do something that requires the right side of my brain. Some creative ventures lead to new story ideas, others help with a work in progress.

I find it’s all about being in the moment of creating something that enables the muse to jump up and down with excitement and churn the creative pot.

Here are some other-than-writing creative outlets I have tried:

  • Pottery – I have to mention this first because it’s the one thing I can think back on and still laugh about. I was not at all graceful like Demi Moore’s character in “Ghost”. Not even close. No matter how much I focused or how much water I used, or how much I begged the clay to ‘work with me’, I had nothing to show after my 6-week class. The hand print in plaster from kindergarten remains my best work in that area!
  • Soduko puzzles – addicted to these for years and I love the challenge of them. I can be stumped on an Easy puzzle and breeze through a Challenging one at times. It’s all how the creative connections are made at any particular time.
  • Musical instruments – I used to play the piano and guitar. I’m grateful for the lessons, the years of playing, and the challenges that came along with matching notes on a page to activities the hands and fingers were doing with how it sounded. (My fave music to play was jazz and blues.)
  • Photography and drawing – B&W film photography and pencil drawing gave me a lot of time with my muse. As I focused on turning what I saw with my eyes into a picture on photo paper or drawing paper had me doing a lot of introspective thinking about writing — what I think I write isn’t always what ends up on the page.

What creative outlets do you enjoy to keep your creative energy moving and flowing?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Your story’s logline and roadmap

 

This weekend I gave a writing workshop for teens on story development. It was sponsored by Adaptive  Studios  – a company that takes old screen scripts, turns them into novels (primarily YA) which are then turned into movies (I know, it’s kind of like YA Inception.)

The workshop starts off with the assumption that you already have a story and it walks you through creating a logline. The logline (a term that is typically used when talking about movies and scripts) is a 2 to 3 sentence description of your story. It must answer:

  • Who is the main character (protagonist)?
  • What is the inciting incident?
  • What is the protagonist’s quest?

Note: Adaptive also suggests that you include the film’s genre, but for obvious reasons I’m leaving that out of this discussion – although you should always know your writing genre and who will be your reading audience.

I spent much time on this part of the workshop. For many of the young writers, it was a new concept. A few of them questioned why you needed to know this information at the beginning of your work. Couldn’t you put it together very quickly when you were done?

I took a piece of paper, drew a few lines and showed it them, saying “This is why you need the logline.”

bullseye

This one looks a lot better than my scribbled example.

A logline is the essence of your story. It is the backbone of facts from which you can then create the body of your work. “How on earth,” I asked the group, “can you hit your target if you don’t know where your target is?”

The logline created at the beginning of your work gives you a place from which to start.

Let’s say you want to write a story about a young girl (protagonist) who doesn’t appreciate her home and what she already has (quest). Her house gets washed away in a flood (inciting event) and she meets friends who help her discover that she really wasn’t missing anything in her life.

Okay, so you’ve got the log line, you can start writing. You create your characters, the landscape, the inciting incident and then… you hit a brick wall.  You have writer’s block (which is another term for “I’ve gotten lost in my story’s roadmap.”)

Because a house washed away in a flood is a house that is *probably* destroyed. And a house washed away in a flood is *probably* a house that didn’t travel that far away from the problem.

Hmm, you go back to your logline, that initial target. What if, you say to yourself, what if I turn the flood into a tornado and the house gets lifted intact and is then dropped somewhere that is far away?

Not likely, but it *could* happen right?  But now you’re talking, you’ve gone back and refined your initial premise to something that is more specific and more helpful to the quest.

You get back to writing.

As you can see a logline is not cast in stone – *especially* at the beginning or for a work in progress, but it does show you the initial direction you need to go. It points you to your ending, your target.

Take a few minutes to figure out the backbone of your story and write a logline. Write it on an index card and then tape that card to your office wall to remind you of your story’s path. Look at it often.

Because, not to get all zen on you or anything, in the end, you can’t know where to go, if you don’t know where to go.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Weeding and Words

I think about my words as I weed my garden. Last weeded 6/11/16; photo taken 6/14/16 at 6 am.

I think about my words as I weed my garden. Last weeded 6/11/16; photo taken 6/14/16 at 6 am.

Sometimes, weeding is the best way to learn how to write.

Thinning plants can be as painful as deleting favorite passages of description or dialogue, and just as essential. If seedlings in my garden are two crowded, none of them thrive; if my page is crammed with too many details, I risk losing my readers’ attention.

Weeding out what’s crowded, stunted, or unnecessary is essential, especially since I always start with more than I need. In order to ensure the hardiest, strongest plants, I sow more seed than I will ultimately nurture. Some won’t germinate, and some won’t grow straight and tall; some will have to be thinned. Similarly, I scatter words profligately, knowing that I won’t keep them all, just the ones that hit home.

I'm committed to keeping my new asparagus bed weed-free. It will take consistent attention and considerable patience before the asparagus are ready to harvest - just like writing a book.

I’m committed to keeping my new asparagus bed weeded. It will take consistent attention and considerable patience before the asparagus are ready to harvest – just like writing a book.

Weeding is good practice for becoming a strong editor. It’s easy to pluck out the weeds that obviously don’t belong: the ones that grow in the pathways and between the beds. Eradicating the weeds from the vegetables themselves is often more difficult. Some weeds hide or become entwined with the plants I want. Some even look like the vegetable plants I’m cultivating, so I have to differentiate one from the other and then tease them apart. Occasionally, I have to transplant a seedling from one place in the garden to another, to give it a better chance of survival.

It’s the same with my prose: I sometimes have a hard time identifying which words don’t belong; sometimes, I have to recast an entire sentence in order to strike the weedy word out. Sometimes, I have to move a paragraph or a chapter to a new place in the work, where it has a better chance of telling the story at hand.

Every year, I have a new idea for the garden: a clear vision of how I want it to look and what I want it to yield. Every year, it surprises me. Last year, it was cucumbers that grew in abundance. This year, I’ve already harvested pea shoots, two kinds of lettuce, scallions, spinach, herbs and tatsoi, but the radishes, which are supposed to mature in twenty days, haven’t yielded anything in over forty.

When I start a book, I also have what I think is a clear idea. But writing is an act of discovery. I cast many seeds onto the page, see what germinates, and then cull the ones that detract from the narrative arc I nurture to harvest.

Some days, I’d rather weed than write. What’s not to like about squatting in the warm earth, plucking weeds from the soil with the sun on my back, thinking about the work on my desk? Weeding the vegetable patch gives me time to think about what I want to say and the courage to go back and hoe my words.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com

How Julie Writes A Book, aka Our Summer Vacation

red-hands-woman-creativeOn Sunday night I had the great good fortune to be a guest on The Writer’s Chatroom, hosted by our own Lisa Haselton aka Lisa Jackson. I loved answering questions about my writing process and the publishing business. Though hardly an expert, I do know a fair amount. Right now I am deep in the weeds of writing book #3 in the Clock Shop Mystery series (working title, Chime and Punishment). It is due to my editor at Berkley on July 15. Book #2 in the series, Clock and Dagger, is coming out August 2. That means I need to get blog posts prepped for guest spots, work on a social media campaign, and possibly plan some public appearances.

I am so, so fortunate to have a publishing contract. But with that good fortune comes the pressure of producing a book a year for three years in a row. Though at this point in the process, the pain of forcing those words out of my brain onto the keyboard is real (my friend Hallie Ephron said it is like putting a log through a meat grinder) I’ve done this twice before for this series, and three times before for books that haven’t been published. I know I can do this. It may not be pretty, and I may not sleep for the next five weeks, but I can do this.

This summer I am going to write about my book writing process. I won’t make it genre specific, though I can write a post about that if it is helpful.  Posts will include how I plot, writing a series, the editing process, pitching your book, and promotion. What else would you like to know more about?

I post every other week, so two weeks from today we’re going to talk about plotting. I am a plotter, not a panster, and I’ll walk you through my process, how it helps get the first draft done, and what’ I’ve learned by putting it into practice.

Your homework, should you want to play along, is to think about the story you want to tell. Think about these questions:

  • Who are the main characters in your story?
  • What launches your story? “A Day in the Life” can be dull. “A Day in the Life After XYZ Happens” is a novel.
  • What is the overall theme of your story?
  • What else happens?
  • Where is it taking place?

Over the next two weeks, mull your story over. Think it through. Write ideas down. We’ll tackle plotting in the next installment of this simmer series.

Happy to hear any ideas you might have!

*********************

ClockandDaggerJulianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries. Clock and Dagger will be out August 2.

The First 5 Pages

 

I find myself in a very interesting situation.

20160414_104156(0)I have an idea for a book, it’s a memoir based on the experiences I just went through with my mom in residential hospice. A little bit of magic happened in the 2 months she was there and I want to write it up. Realizing this early on, I took notes, interviewed my mom, and have created an outline and story arc. It’s a middle-aged coming of age story. I’ve already written about half of the book. It wouldn’t take me long to finish. The pitch is still bubbling around, but I was able to capture enough of it to form an informal query which I sent to a literary agent.

The agent is young, she handles new and current books, but I thought I could appeal to her “someday your mother is also going to die fear.” I felt a younger audience would be a difficult sell, which is why I picked her. I wanted to see what would happen.

I wrote the query and emailed it on Friday at 4 p.m. Ahem the Friday RIGHT BEFORE THE MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND – yes, that Friday – one hour before the end of the day on that *Friday.*

Her query guidelines insisted that I include some chapters. My book is non-fiction so I simply pitched the idea (as well as I could) and sent it to her. (I suppose that it didn’t hurt that I’ve recently been reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which is all about “doing” as “opposed to “not doing.”)

I honestly didn’t expect anything, oh sure there was hope, I think I’ve got a great idea and approach, but I wasn’t expecting much. At most, I was hoping for a “this is not for me because…” rejection letter so I could sharpen my query.

Instead what I got was a request for the first 5 pages (luckily I have those ready to go.)

So what is the agent looking for? Let’s take a look about what happens in those critical  first 5 pages of a book.

  • Characters are introduced and relationships defined.
  • If you follow “Save the Cat” there has to be a clear moment when we  start to like the hero through her actions.
  • Pace needs to be set.
  • Voice needs to be solidified.
  • A theme has to be either introduced or hinted at.
  • The main tension or problem needs to be introduced.
  • And there’s got to be a hook. A hook that’s big enough for someone to say “Hey, I want to read more.”

That’s a tall order for 5 pages, but it’s the way it’s done. People are busy, if you can’t get their attention in the first 5 pages, then it’s guaranteed that you won’t in the next 300. Even though I have those pages done, I’ll be editing and revising them until they are lean, mean, and shine with my intention. These are very, very important 5 pages.

If someone asked for the first 5 pages of your work tomorrow, would you be able to deliver?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.