Answers! (Part Eight: MORE WRITING)

Today's Unrelated Supplement: Movies I want to see and links to their trailers. OF COURSE one is Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland!

Time to dive back into my (growing) stack of questions.

This one is from Lynn:

How many novels did you write before Anna?


Well, that's not totally true.

I had a Brilliant Idea during my freshman year of college, and I started writing it my senior year. (The years in between, I wrote stuff for school. I was a creative writing major, so there was no shortage of Official Assignments that needed to be finished first.) Anyway, I worked on my Brilliant Idea for four-ish years — wrote thousands upon thousands of words, and spent goodness knows how much time plotting/dreaming about it — but I never finished a complete draft.

I just kept rewriting the same few chapters.

Er, not the best way to write a novel.

And then I hit a roadblock. Something much, much worse than my inability to move forward. My Brilliant Idea — the hook that would get me published! — was published by someone else. (This is what happens when you don't work hard enough. Someone else does. And that someone is the one who gets published.)

I nursed my heartbreak for a while, and then decided I needed a new novel, something very very different. I worked on this new novel — REALLY worked on it — for an entire summer, but then paused that autumn to write a short story. I was frustrated. It'd been years since I'd finished a story. I needed to prove to myself that I could still write something with a beginning, a middle, AND an end . . . even if it was only twelve pages long.

So I did it. I wrote a complete short story, revised it several times, sent it to one publication (yes, just one), and got rejected. Which was okay! Because now I had the knowledge that I could finish something and send it out into the world.

And I wrote Anna — my first full draft of a novel — the very next month.

I don't regret my years with Brilliant Idea. It was great practice, even though the work itself wasn't great. And . . . Brilliant Idea lives on! Brilliant Idea (unrecognizable apart from the setting and four character names) is my current work-in-progress, known here on this blog as Second Novel.

[I have shifty, crafty plans for the short story and the other abandoned novel, too.]

Where the Wild Things Are — More classic children's lit by one of my favorite directors, Spike Jonze. Plus, Catherine Keener.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — Freaky and beautiful. Plus, Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger.

The Lovely Bones — I'll try anything with Peter Jackson's name on it. (But this adaptation does look good! Plus, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci.)

Sherlock Holmes — 'Cause it looks all cool and stuff. Plus, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Strong.

Fantastic Mr. Fox — I love Wes Anderson, and Roald Dahl was my favorite author as a child (and this, my second favorite book). I'm still a little unsure about this, but I'll definitely see it.

9 — The trailer makes me go, "Ooo!"

Katie asked:

Do you outline first? Did you know where the story
was going during NaNo? Or did you just start writing crazy stuff?

Crazy stuff. I just started writing crazy stuff.

I haaaaaaaaaaaaaate to outline! I feel like outlines box me in and keep me from thinking of newer, better ideas. I only go there in case of emergency, like if my story is truly tangled, and I have to determine where I went wrong. (I had to write one for Second Novel a few months ago. Not pretty.) But, having said that, I did have a vague idea of where I was headed when I wrote Anna's first draft during NaNo.

And by "vague idea," I mean I just wanted my characters to make out.

That was pretty much it. So I let the characters sit around and talk, and eventually they told me what the story was. Apart from the making out, that is. And then I rewrote the whole novel to include that newfangled "plot" thing. And then I rewrote it again. And then again and again and again.

But never with an outline.*

The Following Comedies Could Be Really, Really Great or Really, Really Not Great:

Mystery Team (trailer NSFW) — What would happen if a team of Encyclopedia Browns had to solve an adult case? Hopefully laughter. Maybe suckiness.

Youth in Revolt — Based on C. D. Payne's awesome YA novel, plus, Michael Cera being Michael Cera. Which I think is still a good thing.

Gentlemen Broncos — Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, and a fantasy writer's convention? Sounds like a recipe for awesome. Probably.

Zombieland — The kind of role Woody Harrelson was born to play. In theory.

Hot Tub Time Machine — Hello, it's called Hot Tub Time Machine. I LOVE.

Begy asked:

how do you manage to overcome writer's block?

I'm sorry. You're going to hate this answer.

By writing.

I wish we could find the solutions to our problems in dreams or books or blogs, but so far, actual honest-to-goodness WORK is the only solution I know. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Keep writing.

Perhaps now you're saying, "But I can't move forward! I'm stuck! That's the whole problem!"

Ahhh. Okay. How are you stuck? What's the real problem?

Are you trapped in one scene? Bored/confused/frustrated with it?

Try skipping ahead and writing a different scene, something you've been looking forward to. There's no rule that says we have to write our scenes in order! A little distance from your problem is healthy. When you come back to it, your brain will be refreshed, and you'll have a better idea of why that scene wasn't working. And then you can fix it.

Are you having problems with the plot?

Time to brainstorm. Ask yourself questions, LOTS of questions. The brilliant Laini Taylor once told me to ask myself: "What do I want the reader to wonder? What do I want them to hope? To fear? From the beginning, I try to pose questions, secrets, mysteries that will hook the reader in and make them *wonder* — and then along the way I figure out how to give pieces of the answers in the most suspenseful/coolest way I can think of."

Are you having problems with the characters?

Again, time to brainstorm. Ask yourself questions, LOTS of questions. I like to know everything about my characters, things that the reader will never need to know, things that will never even make it into the novel! I ask myself about their families, their friends, their romantic history, their likes/dislikes, their schooling, their career/career aspirations, their health, their habits, their home, etc. The more you know about your characters, then the more real they become to you, then the more real they become to your reader.

Or are you bored/confused/frustrated with the WHOLE THING?

Every writer gets sick of their novel at some point. In fact, I'm sick of my novels waaaay more often than I'm in love with them. But again. Stick with it. Write it anyway, even when it sucks, even when you'd rather be getting cavities filled at the dentist.

Unless you really, really, really can't stand it anymore and you're going mad and you're about to do something drastic like rob a bank or slaughter a goat. Then you have my permission to work on something else for a while. But keep writing. And after a few weeks have passed, go back to your first project. AND FINISH IT.

And, Naturally, the Period Costume Dramas:

Dorian Gray — IT'S DORIAN GRAY! Plus, Ben Barnes and Colin Firth.

Bright Star — The story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne. There will be kissing.

I hope you're all having a wonderful week. Still more questions — some great ones! — coming soon.

What movies are YOU looking forward to?

*This doesn't mean I think outlines are bad for everyone. Just me. I've heard of (though strangely never met) many authors who outline successfully.


  1. You are so right about writer's block. The longer I procrastinate, the harder writing gets. "Breaks" don't help.

    I would like to meet some of these outlining authors, too. What a strange breed.

  2. Okay, first I have to review the trailers:

    Alice-Too scary! (shhhhhh....don't tell anyone, but I really don't like the story of Alice in Wonderland...)

    Fantastic Mr. Fox: A GREAT read-aloud! Hope it's good.

    Dr. Pananssus: You neglected to mention Colin Farrell and Jude Law!!

    Nine: Creeps me out...in an endearing way, if that makes any sense.

    Where the Wild things Are: Can. Not. Wait.

    Hot But Time Machine: Have to wait until children not around to watch trailer. Best Title Ever.

    On to the writing......

    I don't outline either. I just start on a whim with a vague promise of stuff that I think will happen....which sometimes does not, but that is okay. I'm weird in that I keep a file while I'm writing, kind of like Laini Taylor describes the working doc, but it is pretty loose and flowy. I just record possibilities and thoughts that help the story along.

    It is always interesting to me to read the processes of other writers.

    (I hope you are taking your own advice about second novel:)


  3. Love to hear about your process. I'm looking forward to seeing Sherlock Holmes. I'll have to look into the others. Those period pieces look lovely! I'm a Colin Firth fan!

  4. Jemaine Clement!! Yes!!! So sososo excited for Gentlemen Broncos, I think! I have Jemaine's water bottle, one I stole off the stage of a FotC gig. It lends me power.

    And I'm glad you don't outline, because outlining in my view is the absolute worst ever. So I don't have to feel guilty now.

  5. OH!!!! Also looking forward to the movie New York, I Love You. The release date keeps getting pushed back, though.

  6. Great post! I'm looking forward to Where the Wild Things Are and The Lovely Bones the most.

    Can you tell what your first novel was? The one whose "hook" is already published? Just curious!

  7. Of course you would like 9, of course. Because I'm beginning to believe you're the more successful, talented, better looking, and more clever Right Coast female version of myself.

    I'm calling this post the Thanksgiving Dinner post because there's so much good stuff in here that I'm full-to-bursting. I loved it so much, I shove back from the table and sigh and rub the belly. But unlike other great meals, Thanksgiving Dinner is far superior because of one thing. Leftovers. You get to enjoy mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, whatever, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, as long as it lasts.

    It would be impossible to adequately enjoy or acknowledge all the choice bits in here, so I'll gladly be reheating these leftovers again and again. See you for my pre-dinner snack. Or breakfast. Adieu.

  8. Your whole first list are movies that I would see in the theater (not rentals) and be excited about it and the whole second list you pretty much described exactly how I feel about them, hopeful with a healthy dose of skepticism. The period pieces remain in the, not unless my wife tied me up and I was stuck watching them category. Or if company was over and I watched them to be polite category. Dorian Gray could be decent... But I'll wait to hear from you about that. And Bright Star, there will be kissing but not for me.

    Your writing history eerily reminds me of my own. I'm at the point in my long-suffering novel where I was ordered to outline by an incredibly patient and encouraging editor. But there's been a lot of pre-writing and revising early chapters endlessly. Sound familiar?

  9. I'm super excited for Where the Wild Things Are, and I haven't heard of half these movies. I have some trailer watching to do :)

    Thanks for sharing your writing process, and I'm with everyone else on the outlining=not so much.

  10. I meant this:


  11. Great post! Thanks for the motivation.

  12. Thanks for the fun movie trailers! I will have to see both of the Tim Burton ones, "Where the Wild Things Are," and "Bright Star" for sure.

    Your writing process is so much fun to read about because it is so much like my own, only you are successful and all. And I think it's fun to outline. Yes. I know. That means there is something wrong with me, especially since I have proven to myself over and over again that it doesn't work. For me. I see it as something of a pre-writing exercise when I'm stuck though, not something I do at the beginning. Sometimes I find good ideas, but it is mostly a waste of time, one of those things that I do to procrastinate real writing. I like drawing maps too which would be helpful if I taped them up on the wall instead of losing them. Anyhow. Anywho.


  13. How did I miss this post for, like, four days? Where the heck was I?

    Anyway, I very much agree with you about writer's block. You just have to keep going. I think more often than not, my "blocks" come when I doubt myself and my story. Not actually from the story itself.

    And as for outlines, I don't usually use them either, but I will take vague notes if I'm really hung up. Not the whole book, but just enough to get a sneak peak at the next 30-50 pages. That usually gets me excited to put it on paper.

  14. Thank you everyone, for these wonderful comments! I wish I had more time to reply today. Please forgive me!

    Lexi — Ooo, I forgot about New York, I Love You. I want to see that too!

    Lisa — A tiny part of me wants to tell, but most of me is still so heartbroken that I cannot even speak its name. (It was a GOOD hook.) So I'm sorry! But thanks for asking :)

    Ben — Maybe you're my male doppelganger! I also have a female West Coast doppelganger (YA writer Mindi Scott). Thanks for the linkage to the trailer. That movie is right up my alley! Also, you are awesome.

    Myrna — Oh, I LOVE drawing maps. And you're definitely not wasting your time by outlining. I really have heard of many authors who do! Whatever gets your brain moving is a good thing :)

  15. Can I just tell you that my whole family is going to be Alice in Wonderland for Halloween! Now, we won't be Tim Burton fabulous, but I love it (I'm going to be the white rabbit).

    And, feel my pain...I HAVE to outline. Have to. It creates writers block of a whole new kind (and I don't really beieve in WB).

  16. Jolie — You HAVE to????

    I'm in shock. THE HORROR. I'm so, so sorry. My shoulders are all tense and everything.

    At least your family is amazing! I hope you'll share pictures with us :)

  17. OH MY GOD!!!! You answered MY question and everybody was there on your comment page worshipping you BUT ME!!!! OH MY GOD!!! I'm SO sorry Steph, I DO worship you! But I was freakin' busy with my thesis I barely had time to do MY FAVORITE THINGS! Apparently, since doing thesis consumed my life, it is definitely my most favorite thing... NOT. But now that I'm done with that (and, yes, going to be graduated :D), I have ALL DAY LONG to drown myself into things that I love the most, including reading your blog! So this comment will probably be WAY too late, but I'll post it anyway.

    You were RIGHT: I hate the answer. Believe me, I've tried. But when I read the drafts, they usually get a lot worse than ever. So I throw away that blocked story and make a new one which is why I have LOTS of unfinished drafts in the first place. And yes, I NEVER LOOK BACK to those drafts coz they got me frustrated. It's like, they remind me of my failures. And I hate failure (well, who doesn't?). I think I need something stronger than that. I need drugs. Why isn't there any medication to cure writer's block? :(

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your recipe. I still haven't got a way out, but reading your blog ALWAYS makes my day though!!! And okay, I'll uh, maybe, try to go back and open my unfinished folder.

  18. Begy — CONGRATULATIONS!!! That's so fantastic you're done with your thesis! AND YOU'RE GRADUATING! WOO HOO!! I hope you're celebrating BIG right now. Thank you for this wonderful comment & GOOD LUCK with your writer's block. I know you can beat it :)