This post is part of a blog tour series in which writers answer a set of questions about their writing process, and tag other writers to keep it going the following week. Many thanks to my friend and critique buddy Chris Negron for tagging me! Chris is an agented writer on the verge of international acclaim, repped by Amy Cloughley of Kimberly Cameron & Associates. And there’s Japanese archery. Naturally.
What are you working on?
I’m always working on more than one thing. I’m pretty ADD like that, and while I don’t recommend it, I’ve learned to accept it’s part of how I work. I start multiple projects and tend to them a little at a time until one of them catches hold and demands my full attention. Right now I’m working on a couple of stories based in Atlanta: one takes place during “Snowmaggedon” this past January, and another involves a battle between two food truck proprietors. I have also started a women’s fiction novel about what happens when a marriage is on the verge of destruction, and I’m tinkering with a fun story about a reluctant sleuth who is a single mom. The mystery genre is new to me, so that one is particularly challenging. I’m still in love with romantic comedies, too, and I look forward to finding another great story along the lines of The Marriage Pact series.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
What I love about the romance genre is that it transports me (temporarily) into another life – one that takes my breath away and promises me a satisfying ending. While a good romance always has some escapism, elements that are outside the scope of our ‘normal’ lives, I like for my characters and their relationships to be as realistic as possible. When I can relate to a character as a human being, not just a beautiful cardboard cutout, I find it’s easier to get absorbed in the story.
So, I want my heroes and heroines to have real flaws – not just cute little quirks. They should make mistakes, even big ones like Marci in The Marriage Pact, and deal with the consequences. When people read the interactions between my characters, I hope they feel they could be hanging out with their own friends, or flirting with their very own sheriff’s deputy or country music superstar. (Okay, so not everything is realistic!) I have a psychology background and experience as a relationship therapist, so I have access to an entire spectrum of human nature that I try to put to use in my writing. Plus I’ve had a really weird life myself, which helps more than anything. I hope that all somehow comes together to make my work a realistic, funny read. And if not, it’s still a great way to kill a few hours on the beach.
Why do you write what you do?
I’m kind of obsessed with people and relationships. Even my non-writing career has pretty much boiled down to developing and nurturing relationships. When I write, I think about plot, but I live with my characters. My favorite thing is the way they interact to screw things up for each other. Relationships bring out that best and the worst in all of us, and I’m fascinated by that.
Love stories are one of the most accessible kind of relationships for readers, but I also love exploring friendships, relationships between parents and children, bosses and underlings, etc. At the end of the day, we’re all seeking connection. The goal of my writing is to connect with readers’ emotions and impact them in some small way.
How does your writing process work?
It starts with an idea, or as I mentioned earlier, several ideas. I tend to sketch out notes in my head first, talking to myself in the shower or in the car after I’ve dropped off the kids. Now that I’ve written three novels as more of a ‘pantser’ (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), I am trying to refine my early process a bit to include more planning in the beginning. I use character maps and dossiers to understand back story and what motivates each character to do what they do. I also plot out the story arc on index cards to make sure it flows the way it should.
I write a first draft in a software program called Scrivener – which allows me to easily move pieces around and put things in the scrap pile as needed. This process involves lots of coffee, jazz, closing the door to my office, and occasional screaming. I try to bind and gag my internal critic while I’m writing and just let it flow, but to be honest that bitch is pretty loud and I think she’s learning Morse code. Once I’ve released her, I often go back and toss entire chapters and I’ve been known to start over more than once. This probably, eventually, produces great results. In the moment, though, it feels more like AAAAAAAAARGH!
When I’m close to finished, I export the whole thing to a Word document and send it to my local printer. He puts it together in a book format for me, which I take to a quiet spot (like a corner booth in an Irish pub or a coffee house) and tear it up with a pen.
I make those edits, re-print and go at it again. And again. Somewhere in there I try to take a step back and work on something else for a little while, to give myself a break and fresh eyes. I also read parts of the work out loud – sometimes to myself, sometimes to other people (like my fabulous critique group). This helps cure wordiness and artificial-sounding dialogue.
When I feel I’m getting close, I send the draft to my beta readers and give myself a break while they read the book. That’s when I start work on the cover concept with my designer, sketch the blurb, etc. Then I feed the beta readers vast quantities of wine and cheese and listen to their feedback. Once I’ve recovered from that hangover, I color code the whole manuscript according to the various issues that need attention. One color is for timing and plot issues, one color for character development, one for major scene editing, one for minor issues, etc. You can see a picture of this point in the process at the right – Sticky Note Hell. It’s pretty painful, but that trash can full of itty bitty stickies at the end is totally satisfying.
One more run-through later, the book is ready for the proofreader. She catches all the stuff I missed in previous rounds and checks for other problems with punctuation, grammar, and overall consistency. I can’t emphasize enough how important this part of the process is – the devil really is in the details.
Thanks for reading! If you are a writer and want to know more about my writing process and the lessons I’ve learned in the process of writing three novels, please join my Writers & Authors list here. Next week, please visit the Writing Process posts from these two great emerging voices in Atlanta. You’re tagged, Tracy and Ryan!
You can find Tracy at her website and blog.
Ryan Van Meter
A lifelong resident of Atlanta, Ryan Van Meter has loved books for as long as he can remember – at least since his Dad gave him a dollar for reading one of those texts assigned from the family bookshelf. Although he still feels at home picking up something from Steinbeck or Shaara, he found his reading passions in Southern literature and detective fiction. He still finds himself reading occasional pages of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! at night on his deck when the Georgia heat really kicks in, and he was thrilled to recently discover that there were still some Lew Archer novels he hadn’t read yet.
After getting his law degree at UVA, Ryan drifted from his passion for writing early in his legal career, but he rediscovered it a few years ago while writing a children’s book for his first nephew. Now he spends his spare time spinning yarns that meld his experience as a lawyer and former Congressional staffer with his loves of the South and a good mystery. When he’s not writing, you can find him walking to a Braves game, cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, snapping photos on vacation, or caring as best he can for his yard in the Georgia heat.
I’m M.J. (Manda) Pullen, an author and mom in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I blog with honesty and humor about writing, publishing, motherhood, psychology and whatever else strikes me in the moment. Look for me at the local Irish pub. I’ll be the one covered in ink and sticky notes, muttering to myself about scene structure.
If you enjoyed this entry, please follow along with my blog or join my Writers and Authors Email List. At the end of each month I do random drawings with various prizes for list subscribers, the friends who refer them, and everyone who comments on the blogs. Good luck with that!
My current roster of books includes The Marriage Pact series, a trilogy of Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novels. You can find them for all eBook formats and in paperback here.
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