Jennifer's Journal


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

I love the process of writing. I love everything about books - reading them, holding them, looking at them.
…Linda Fairstein

Writers who live in cold climates have an unfair advantage, or so I’ve always thought. Time is on their side since early springs, like ours here in Louisiana, seldom entice them from their work. The lamentable truth is that our hot summers have much the same effect. When it’s too hot outside to breathe, we may as well stay inside and write. At least, that’s my excuse for summer hibernation in my cool office, playing with preliminary work on three books and trying to decide if I have time to actually write one of the extras before deadline pressures demand that I turn to the one under contract.

May the euphoria of playing with story ideas always run in my veins, for this is the joy of being a writer.


Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
…Sir Richard Steele

There was a time when I dictated my books. It was necessary due to a series of contracts calling for 300,000 words per year. I spoke the words into a Dictaphone, transcribed them onto an electric typewriter, read and corrected the manuscript once, and then sent it to a professional typist for the final draft. It was a good way to work, much more intuitive. Then along came computers. Typing and corrections were so much easier that my old method seemed cumbersome. Dictaphones went out of style, though I missed mine. When voice recognition software was developed, it seemed the answer to everything. Problem was, it didn’t work as advertised. Every upgrade was an improvement, but it was still easier to type the words than to make constant corrections. Recent advancements have changed all that. Now I'm back in the groove, talking to my computer and watching the sentences fly onto the page. Wonder how many words I could do in a year this way...

I will take pleasure in the writing process no matter what method is used. Any words on the page are automatically good words.

An author's needs are simple. He needs four things: the ability to see; to remember; to reflect and to project. Anything else is a refinement of these qualities...
…Hallie & Whit Burnett, Fiction Writer's Handbook

Office supply stores are wonderful places. I love all the different kinds of pens, the markers, the paperclips and sticky notes in bright colors. New technology fascinates me; I can stand for hours checking out new computer programs that you do wonderful things like make cards, signs and mailers. At the same time, I'm addicted to old-fashioned writing implements. Heavy notepaper that's engraved or embossed is irresistible, and I adore fountain pens and scented, colored inks. It's a good thing I'm a writer; otherwise there would be no way to support my office supply habit!

Let us rejoice in the pleasure of small things -- even if we can be fairly sure the IRS will never believe gold-plated page markers are necessary in order to write books.


Never judge a book by its movie.
…J. W. Edgan

The accepted wisdom has been that making movies from historical novels is too expensive because every costume and set has to be created from scratch, including exteriors. A part of this theory was gained from the spectacular failures of such star-studded epics from the 1960s such as Cleopatra. Things seem to be changing, brought about by the success of films like Shakespeare in Love, The Mask of Zorro, Great Expectations, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Or maybe it’s the times; maybe they’ve discovered people have had enough of hit men as heroes, unlikely monsters and gross, so-called comedies. Since I love historical stories in any form, I’m thrilled. And as a writer of historical novels, I take it as a good sign -- even if it seems unlikely they’ll run out of classic novels and call me any time soon…

I will always be enthralled by the story movies in my mind, for they are truly my own. My imagination is the camera and I am producer, screenwriter, director, and all the actors.


A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.
…Vladimir Nabokov

Many writers, and some editors, forget that stories should entertain on a variety of levels. It isn’t just about the characters and what happens to them; also important is what they gain from their experience, what they learn about life, death, pain, love and a thousand other things. More than that, it’s the words, the way they sing in the mind, flowing, swirling, achieving rhythm and balance, saying more than is on the page. It isn’t just what the sentences say, but how they say it.

May the words always make music in my mind, and cause my fingers to dance on the computer keys.


A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.
…Richard Bach

They used to be called "galleys", or "galley pages", in the days when they were laboriously hand-set, and were actual printed, but unbound, pages of the book sent to the author for final approval. Changes to a manuscript at this stage required that every letter and space be replaced to an exact count. This was because the addition or subtraction of just one space could require the expense of resetting every line down to the end of the chapter. Also, since corrections were made by the printer rather than an editor, more errors could be introduced. As the printing process became more mechanized, galleys were called "page proofs" but were still printed pages of the manuscript, and changes were frowned upon for all the old reasons. Since the advent of computers, they’re now called "AAs", or "Author’s Advanced" copies, and are simply a version of the manuscript prepared for a computer-generated printing process. Changes are easier, but still hold the prospect of human error – and adding pages of new text still affects the cost of a book. Regardless of what they’re called, they represent a final chance for the writer to catch errors, one last visit with the story. And a headache for those of us who have to read and correct them while knowing the book is pretty much as good as it’s going to get.

I will read and correct the AAs on my desk, taking pleasure in the parts that are good and doing what I can about those that fall short of expectation. I’ll do this in the knowledge that, the gods of writing willing. I can always try again with the next book.


If you’ve ever put eggs on to boil then wandered off to your office and forgotten about them, you may be a driven writer. If they not only boiled dry in your absence but burned and exploded, then you know you are!
Sunday, August 13, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

People will read stories only as long as they care about what happens to the characters; therefore, the writer's first task is to make readers like the hero...enough to want good things to happen to them, or hate and fear the villains enough to want bad things to happen to them.
…Phillip R. Craig

Make your villains human, the writing books advise us. Give them good characteristics because no one is all bad. It’s also suggested that the demise of the villain be the natural result of his actions rather than at the hand of the hero. Hmm. Popular fiction is the direct descendant of Victorian moral tales; the main point is the battle of good versus evil. Readers want to pull for the good guy and boo the bad. They need to feel that people can overcome the problems and difficulties in their lives by their own merits. The blacker we paint the villain, then, the more heroic the hero or heroine becomes when he or she rids the world of the evil represented. And the more hope that victory implies.

I will remember that writing advice is never set in stone but changes with the story, the genre, the times and a dozen other factors. We are the gods and goddesses of our stories; we decide their truths.


I love deadlines. I especially love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
… Douglas Adams

Nobody actually loves deadlines. I feel about them the same way I feel about mosquitoes and red wasps; they should be zapped whenever possible. Yet deadlines are what keep me plugging along on my current writing project instead of wandering off to scribble on other fascinating story ideas. They keep me on track, forcing me to finish books on time. I was made aware of this the other day as I tried to organize the fifteen quilting projects and five knitting projects I have going in various stages. These could have been stories! Okay, so I still don’t like deadlines. But I can see them come around without reaching for the bug killer.

I will strive to remember that everything has a purpose, and the fact that keeping my deadlines sacrosanct leads to more contracts with yet more deadlines is actually a good thing…


I believe all novels have already been plotted in the real life. In fact, life is a writer's first draft.
…Tad Wojnicki

Writers, as a general rule, aren’t good gossips. They don’t get out and about much so seldom hear any really juicy bits. When they do hear something, they can’t repeat it with any satisfaction because they seldom remember the names of those involved. What they can recall with blinding clarity, however, is the course of events and why they took place. It’s human nature rather than human beings that fascinates them. Like prospector panning for gold, their brains dump everything that can’t be used in some future story.

Allowances must be made for those who become irritated because we can’t remember names. Notes should be taken if all else fails. Wandering off in the middle of their tirade is really not acceptable behavior.


Writers write to learn, to explore, to discover, to hear themselves saying what they do not expect to say.
…Donald Murray

So often, we forget why we write. We stop writing for any reason connected to our inner needs and write for the perceived market, at our editor’s suggestion or to the guidelines of the publication team. This way lies madness. Or worse, burnout. We aren’t machines to produce ideas on demand. If an idea has no meaning for us, we might as well be writing a grocery list. It should come as no surprise then if our muse, bored out of her skull, wanders away.

Let me write what is real and true for me, the story that would make me shout and laugh with glee – if I weren’t afraid folks around me would send for the guys with nets.


When you write -- and especially when you write imaginative fiction -- you literally make something appear out of thin air.
…Al Sarrantonio

Copy cat writers seldom succeed. Run fast in the other direction from whatever is currently in vogue, be it serial killers, hit men heroes, cowboys, babies or smart-mouth chicks. Those stories were planned more than two years ago and will almost certainly be passé by the time your book is published two or more years from now. Originality is key. Think deep, think long, turn over mental rocks. Reject the weird, the taboo, the emotionally uncomfortable or anything that’s different merely to be different. Watch for the sudden thrill that signals personal discovery. You’ll know it when it comes.

Let me always play with ideas. They are toys of the mind.


A writer who does not write is a monster courting insanity.
…F. Kafka

Most writers, so they say, are manic depressive, or up and excited when writing, down and depressed when not. That seems something of an overstatement. Writing, when it’s going well, creates a state described as “flow,” one in which the present fades away, time collapses upon itself and pages stack up almost by themselves. This can be addictive fun as the brain produces endorphins for the sensation known as a runner’s “high.” When the writing isn’t going well, or no work is in progress, the withdrawal symptoms kick in. Crazy or just an addictive personality? Your choice!

I will resist my tendency to turn everyone into a writer for the sake of the pharmaceutical companies who need to sell their mood-altering drugs.


If you’ve ever taken pens, notepads and your laptop on vacation, you might be a driven writer. If you’ve sat jotting ideas at night in a hotel bathroom so you wouldn’t wake your sleeping companions, you can bet on it!
Saturday, August 05, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

I never realized how driven to be a writer I would become, or how time-consuming the craft of writing is. Anyone who truly aspires to get successfully published should understand these two things.
…Bertrice Small

The “driven” writer: it sounds extreme, and probably is to some extent. What drives us is not dreams of wealth, fame or immortality – though I wouldn’t refuse those if offered! But no, it’s the stories. They rise up in our minds in living color, haunting us like the flashing images of other people’s lives seen from a car window. They beg to be written, demand it, refuse to let us rest until it happens. It’s as if these people in our heads can’t live until we give them their stories, and they darn well won’t take no for an answer.

I will strive to remember that other people don’t have demanding characters and stories in their heads. This makes them the normal ones, instead of the other way around…


I think the first thing you've got to do is grab the reader by the ear, and make him sit down and listen. Make him laugh, make him feel. We all want to be entertained at a very high level. That is the beginning of the relationship, the symbiosis between the writer and the reader.
…John le Carré

In a recent issue of The Third Degree, the newsletter for Mystery Writers of America, Tom Colgan, Executive Editor at The Putnam Berkley Group said he saw a “disturbing trend” for “character/situation driven mystery that forsakes the actual mystery.” Thank goodness someone with clout finally said it. I’d wondered when it was coming, not only for mysteries but for all commercial fiction. The books that people read primarily to escape are all about story. Readers require an exciting storyline with a series of interesting events in order to forget their everyday lives. They want a story wherein something happens -- or books that are plot-driven. If they wanted mere character interaction with all its angst, waffling motivation and indecision they’d read literary works. Or write their autobiographies.

I will write the story that thrills me, the one I would like to read. I will read the writing advice of others and take from it what I feel to be real and important while discarding what doesn’t attract me.


Writing is done one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.
…Robin Lee Hatcher

Write long enough, and someone is sure to ask you to ghost write their life story. If you’re very unlucky, they’ll offer you a pittance for this best seller they are sure you will produce. This is in spite you having a current multi-book contract -- which you will undoubtedly possess because otherwise you wouldn’t be considered worthy of immortalizing them. Thank them kindly for the compliment while expressing your regrets. Public displays of teeth-gnashing irritation may tickle the bystanders but will embarrass your friends, your spouse and your children.

Give me the patience to deal with those who believe ideas for books come hard but the labor to produce them is trifling. I will consider it a part of my job to educate the uninitiated for the sake of my sanity and that of my fellow writers.


I wanted to be a writer because I loved reading so much. I wanted to write something that would make somebody, somewhere, feel about books the way I did.
…Bill Crider

Books are the downfall of most writers; we can never get enough. Not only do I have books in my bookshelves but on top of them and beside them, also stacked on end tables and chests, piled in the corners of my office, and in boxes in the closets and in the attic. I’ve been known to hide them on top of the refrigerator, in my underwear drawer and behind the soap dish next to bath tub. I loan them, trade them, donate them to charities and libraries, dump them at my mother’s house and still they multiply. Returning from a writer’s conference is always a chore because my luggage weighs a ton from the books I’ve collected. That’s in addition to the three or four I pack because I need a choice of something to read on the plane. I sometimes think I learned to write because I was afraid I might run out of reading material.

I will never throw away a single book because each represents the hopes and aspirations of the person who wrote it.


Language is the common property of society, and writers are the guardians of language.
…Octavio Paz

A reader once said that she had to read my books with a dictionary on the table beside her. She thought it was funny; I thought it was sad. We are told that the average reader, whoever that might be, reads at the fifth grade level. And why not, if we all write to that level? I don’t want to have to think about the length or complexity of the words I use. I have stories to tell and words to put on paper that will tell them exactly as they are in my mind. That’s all.

Let us hope fascination for the story will encourage readers to pay attention to the dance of the words in their heads and so understand their meaning as naturally as they understand the rhythm and beauty of music.


Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.
…Carol Burnett

What makes a book immortal, a classic? Someone once argued that literary masterpieces can be written deliberately. She maintained that she could create a minutely realized examination of human misery that would live forever – if only she wasn’t forced to write for money. I say true classics are accidents, stories that snag the imaginations of readers by some inadvertent yet perfect combination of character, setting, plot and theme. Their appeal is to the heart rather than the mind. Using this logic, a book of any genre may suddenly spring full-blown into greatness. Sometimes, a single character can do it. Like a wizard…

The motive for writing should always be simple. It must be for the joy of doing—otherwise, it’s too much slogging labor!


If you’ve ever written notes on toilet paper in a public restroom, then you may be a driven writer. If you’ve found them days later and been unable to remember what the heck they mean, then you know it.
…Jennifer Blake