Saturday, February 5, 2011

So You Want to be an Author?

I've read a lot of posts about the writing process, but not much about the life of a writer. Actually, a writer's life is great fun, we sit around the computer, drink a lot of scotch - or wine if the writer's a female, and tell jokes to one another.

For relaxation, we hie ourselves to the French Riviera or the Swiss Alps and regale each other with tales of woe about how badly our publishers treat us while we reach for another bite of caviar.


Typically, there are times of writing frenzy. Our muse stands behind our chairs, whip in hand, goading us forward until the story is complete. During that period, our lives are solitary, alone with notes and thoughts. Our characters keep us company and we guide their antics along as best we can. Sometimes, they take off on tangents that have to be clipped later.

Then comes the editing. Grammar errors, spelling errors, structural errors, plot holes, character inconsistencies, time line problems, red herrings all have to be excised. For me, that's the hardest part.

Then the research begins. What do the settings really look like, smell like, feel like? I had one character stop to buy a new car, and before the story was done, that car line was taken out of business, so every reference to it had to change.

If it's a period piece, are the characters wearing the right clothes? In one scene set during WWII, I had Eva Peron dancing in a Dior gown, straight from Paris. Unh-uh. During the war, most fashion houses either closed or were moved to Berlin by the Germans. So the gown had to come from Berlin.

Then the story is complete, right? Not yet. The story has to be examined for consistency, redundancy, and every scene has to have a purpose. Many lovely scenes have been deleted not because they were poorly written, but because they were not necessary. I have two great songs sitting on my hard drive that I had to cut from DOG ISLAND because they just didn't fit. During this phase you have to be your own worst critic. If you aren't, there are thousands sitting on the sidelines waiting to chop your work to bits.

Then comes the final phase, which I call "Taking it up a notch". Where can there be more conflict, drama, turmoil, problems? In the genre I write, there can never, well almost never, be enough problems to work through. Don't make it too easy for your MC to achieve his goal.

Now your manuscript is ready for submission, but that is a topic for a whole other post.


  1. The title was "So You Want To Be An Author" but you went on to write about being a writer! Oh, authors are a whole different breed. Suddenly we become a fantasy, one of those people gawked at when asked what we do for a living. I reply "I kill people." Mystery author here! Yes, we exist and walk among you!
    We carry our books around in the backseat of our cars. We sell at grocery stores, the post office and even at funerals. We have to leave the house looking presentable. We are expected to smile and be "on" no matter how crummy we feel at the moment.
    We travel on our own budget to network at conferences and conventions we can't afford. Nobody sees us eating Top Ramen for survival to maintain this glorious lifestyle. That's why authors chow down whenever a free meal shows up.
    As we like to say, "I'm a writer in private, an author in public."

  2. Outlining is the beginning of the fun. Research can be enjoyable. Writing is easy. Editing is difficult. Marketing is a challenge.

  3. Welcome Sunny and Stephen, and thanks for stopping by. Sunny, I guess I never thought of anyone being a writer and not wanting to be an author. And figuring out ways to stretch the budget is just one of the battles.

    Stephen, I agree that research is enjoyable, but for me, outlining is one of those things I do because I have to - otherwise the story would stray all over the place. It does anyway, at least in the earlier drafts, then the tough editing has to bring it all back into line.

  4. Excellent blog! You hit it right on the head. Sometimes I forget how much I do in order to write and market a book. After a time it almost becomes second nature.

    Every little detail has to be researched because if you get it wrong, a reader will be sure to let you know. Readers are smart people, and they keep us in line.

  5. I depend heavily on criticism from my writer friends. They let me know right away when I've made an error in mechanics (too easy to do when you're rolling) and when I've been illogical.

    I think you've nailed it.

  6. Super blog. I kept nodding my head, yes, yes, yes. I was an editor at a newspaper for several years. Dull, dull, but it taught me how to look for all those errors. Brake for break; Accept for except; lie for lay.
    A good critique group can help a lot, but ultimately we are our own judge and jury as to when we have changed from a writer to an author. Thanks for showing us what we might have forgotten.

  7. Thanks for that blog. I write crime fiction. When I get a complete draft I give it to a couple of expert readers.
    One is a retired English teacher, the other is a lawyer. They both scare me. The lawyer will bust me for errors in procedural aspects in crime/crime investigation--and for errors in logic, should they occur--and they do.
    The English teacher will bust me for bad writing, point of view errors, and so on.
    I also liked your saying, "Punch it up." That's what the biographer Don Herron said when I told him I'd written a crime novel. It's got to be tense and tight. Thanks.

  8. This is great. I think I mixed up the sequence- writer first to author second. I'm back to being a writer after several submissions- at least for today. Tonight, I think I'll fantasize about being an author again.

  9. Marja, Dac, Velda,Clark, and Theresa. Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate all your comments, and hope you come back often.