A Writer’s Process

Prolific author Lynn Viehl talks, in a series of interesting entries on her blog, about her novel writing process.

While I’m writing the book I do not back-track to read and mess
with what I’ve written, edit or rewrite the new material as it lands on
the page, change my mind about the story, hate myself, hate the work,
avoid the work, wait for the planets to align correctly before I write,
let my inner rabid bitch off her leash, wonder how what I write will
affect the reader, worry about the state of my soul, chakrahs or ego,
or otherwise railroad myself.

My apologies in advance to the
writers who do any/all of the above. My methods are a professional
necessity, because honestly I could not handle what you do in order to
write a novel.

She also mentions that she gets an advance of about $21,000 a book which, because she mentions it so often on her blog, comes across more like boasting than informative candor.

In  another post, she discusses how she pitches her book projects to editors. Once she has a deal, it’s time to…

… move into the construction phase of the novel
process. I’ve already done the imagining, researching, and outlining for the novel, and I probably have at least a hundred pages of it written as part of the pitch, so everything is ready to go.

A hundred pages? No wonder she can just write without angst… she’s already gone through all her angst, and made all the tough decisions, in her massive (way too massive, in my opinion) sales and outlining process.

I "sell" my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels (and now my MONK books) on the basis of a punchy page that reads more like book-jacket copy… and then I write a beat sheet for myself that oulines the rest of the plot. By beat sheet, I mean a crude version of the outlines we write in the episodic television business (you can see samples on my website or in my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING).  All together, it might amount to ten pages, mostly in bullet-point form. A hundred pages? Good God.

Unlike Lynn, I also rewrite my books as I go, usually starting my work each day by editing whatever I’ve written the night before. Then again, I also go through almost all of the whining and self-doubt that Lynn manages to avoid…but in the end, I think it helps my work. It forces me to concentrate on plot and character… and to go back and rewrite/refine/hone my writing.

But everyone has their own method. Mystery novelist  Sandra Scoppettone, for instance, doesn’t outline at all, discovering her plot,  her characters, and her murderer, as she goes. Now that is unimagineable to me…

20 thoughts on “A Writer’s Process”

  1. Well, I usually enjoy my own small advances alone in a dimly-lit room, with a bottle of scotch and a dog-eared copy of InStyle Magazine.
    I actually didn’t mean to sound snarky: was really wondering.
    Re: Viehl, one wonders if she’d be better advised to edit, rewrite, change, hate, avoid, wait, unleash, wonder, worry, and railroad. Mightn’t those things, kinda, y’know, improve the work? So after 72 books you’re not still working for peanuts, honey-covered though they may be?

  2. “So after 72 books you’re not still working for peanuts, honey-covered though they may be?”
    She’s written at least 4 books a year (I think she’s mentioned 5 or 6), so that advances translates to $80K+ a year, which is, as Nero Wolfe would say, “satisfactory.”
    I read an excerpt from one of her science-fiction stories, about the doctor running a sick bay in outer space, and it was pretty funny.
    I suspect what may be hurting her income is that she’s written 25 books under five pen names in several different genres. She just started a vampire series that will run for several years, and she’s checking out the Romantica genre for future books (“Romantica” — a phrase I wasn’t aware of until recently — is erotic romances, with more explicit sex scenes than the usual fare.)

  3. Lee,
    I never plot and I don’t know how my stories will evolve or end. What I do need is a well-defined character or two and an initial dilemma. Then I sit back, become an observer, and see what my characters will do. If I try to mess with them they go on strike.
    All this results in novels that take off in their own direction and have a lot of spontaneity and surprises in them. I submit a one-page proposal to editors, as you do, mostly shaped to be jacket copy. I do have a general idea where the novel is heading.
    Recently I did a novel in which the hero is a mining geologist trying to revive a dormant gold mine in Nevada. Before long he is involved with the dead mine owner’s mistress, the two widows of the bigamous dead owner, some Wobblies, a former household steward of the Czars, some rummy ex-miners, and other characters. All of these characters were invented as I needed them. If anyone had asked me beforehand whether I had an inkling that I would write the bawdiest novel I’ve ever written, I would have categorically denied that I was even capable of such a novel.
    You have a great web log.

  4. The writer you quoted thinks you slammed her. She wrote about you on her blog today —
    //Can’t expect everyone to adore me. I really do try to live by those words. Example: this morning I got a couple of e-mails about Lee Goldberg’s recent post, and folks asking if I was going to respond. I could counter with my view, and a few facts about the reality of writing for the genre fiction market, but Lee’s entitled to his opinion. He also has some insight into how the process is different for other writers. It’s a good counterpoint post, even if it isn’t particularly flattering. You can’t expect people to like you, or flatter you, or suck up to you 24/7. Not going to happen. Okay, if you’re Neil Gaiman, maybe. But for the rest of us, it’s an uphill battle with very few allies and lots of enemies all the way. And you already know the first thing that slides downhill, right? Expect to have many days when you get hit with a face full of it.
    Wipe it off and keep moving, or throw it back. It’s up to you.//
    It didn’t read like you were slamming her to me (except the dig about her trumpeting her advances, which she does). Do you think you were you slamming her?

  5. How is what Lee wrote a slam? Does disagreement now count as a personal attack? What nonsense.
    Having read about this author’s blog before (and having read the blog as well), it seems that she gets into these contentious situations fairly frequently. I think she stakes out a “me against the world” position purposely.
    I particularly enjoyed her “reviewers can teach me nothing” diatribe a few months back.

  6. David, her attitude may be derived from experience. A few of her posts have talked about how she was given lectures by “established” authors about how she should behave. One described a dressing-down she received for having the termity of sitting next to a relatively famous author at a con and treating her like she would treat anyone else. Another gave her incredibly bad advice about how to network at a gathering where networking was frowned upon. She used her experience as the opening story in her Authors Behaving Badly file, so she does exhibit some sense of humor and self-awareness.
    So I would assume — and we all know where that leads to but I’ll say it anyway — that she can be a tad prickly when it comes to dealings with other writers. Lee was not hard on her at all; look to his fanfic criticism for that.
    There may also be another issue that male writers don’t face. Women in general tend to get criticized face-to-face a lot more than men. Maybe it’s me, but I’m amazed at the things that are said to women, either to keep them in line, or for sheer nosiness. That may contribute to her attitude.

  7. I’ve also heard Suzanne Brockmann (NYT author of military romances) talk about writing 80+ page outlines before starting a book. If I remember correctly, she outlines every single scene so that when she starts writing, nothing is left to chance. She’s also very prolific. That said, outlining to that extent doesn’t work for everyone, and removes the magic for many. I’ve lost count of how many multi-pubb’d authors I’ve heard say doing so leaves them bored with the story; they’ve written it once in outline form, why write it as a book? I write to signposts on the road, as I once heard it described by Robert McCammon. Once I get to one, I figure what I need to do to get to the next!

  8. To be honest, to me, this post does read a bit judgemental. I get the feeling that you Don’t Approve.
    And I happen to think $21k a book, when you can churn out multiple books in a year, is pretty good. If you’re making more, I’d love to learn how you do it. 🙂
    I like PBW and I enjoy your blog as well, you both are an highly anticipated part of my daily routine. I hate to see you at odds with each other.
    Going back to lurkdom,

  9. I certainly didn’t mean my post as a “slam,” nor do I disapprove of her process…it’s just not one that would work for me (it obviously works tremendously well for her). And like I said, every author has their own approach to tackling a book.
    I’m a regular reader of her informative and entertaining blog…which has been on my blogroll to the left for some time now…and if there was a gentle dig in my post, it was about how much she likes to mention her advances. I think $21K isn’t a bad advance at all, but like I said, it struck me as more boastful than helpful.

  10. I didn’t take either post as a slam. I regularly read her blog because I find her honesty refreshing. I was actually happy that she mentioned her advances. She’s right about the fact that not many people will discuss money in this business. When you’re new, like me, it’s helpful to read about those kinds of things. I find it gives you something to strive for.

  11. “The writer you quoted thinks you slammed her. She wrote about you on her blog today –”
    Um… No, she doesn’t. Go check out the latest post.
    (Yeesh! People go looking for a fight where there ain’t one.)

  12. Money, money, money, money . . . MONey!

    I’m back!! Since I did NOT get my novella finished, I should be spending tonight writing on it. But I’m not. I’m playing. I’m HOME ALONE! The boyfriend-in-law’s band is playing tonight, so the middle daughter, the DJ son, the FVT, and the hus…

  13. hi Lee and people I know (jordan, michelle, alison). See? Selfishly speaking, the best part of all this is finding very cool blogs outside the usual rioting group. The actual discussion is interesting but I have nada to add on that.

  14. Just weighing in.
    What I see going on here is a tempest in a teapot. Else someone is trying to stir something up.
    I found the posts on both blogs (I read them both religiously) to be reasonable expressions of opinion and an agreement to disagree. Disagreement is not always attack, nor is it cause for alarm. Different people, different views, different methods.

  15. Her openness about her advances is dangerous (for her) if she ever wanted to be buddy-buddy with other people in her genres, but it helps people like me–another writer–to know what others are getting who are selling roughly at my level. (And through the joys of BookSCAN, I can find out who those people are now!) In 10 years or so, I’ll share my old info, too. Right now, though, people would lynch me, and I’m not setting myself up for a mob yet.
    Holly Lisle has an even more detailed outlining method, I believe. I could do it, but if it works for them…


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