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!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey great post, looking forward to the next one :)

1:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home