To Everything Turn Turn Turn

*Being me I completely forgot about this:  Dyce makes a guest blog appearance.*

This is very important.  Lean closely darling.  Let me whisper in your conch like ear.


No, seriously.  Anyone who tells you there is only one way to do it is selling you something, and the least pernicious thing they could be selling you is their method for doing it.  Usually they are selling you their moral superiority, which is worse.

What am I talking about?  Do I mean that every book is perfect, just as written ™?  No.  While Ric Locke maintained that all but the least comprehensible of efforts  would find buyers in this brave new world, in my case I believe there are good books and bad books.  Well, at least there are books I want to read and books you couldn’t pay me enough to.

But there is no right process and wrong process.  The process is not the result.

I can’t – though Amanda probably can – remember who in one of the first talks I gave at the Bedford Library Meet the authors night described this romance writer’s process which involved “I get up early in the morning.  I do my yoga.  I dress in my sexy robe.  I light my scented candles.  Then I sit in my desk at an east-facing window, and as the sun comes up, I let inspiration fill me, and—“  Whoever this gal was, her process was like mine “I visualize a writer like that and beating the living cr*p out of her, and then I’m inspired.”

Does that mean that romance writer’s process is wrong?  No.  It just means it makes me want to gag then beat my head against the desk because it feels so good when I stop.

I’m not a joiner, and I’m notoriously suspicious of this sort of airy fairy thing.  I don’t do yoga, I iron clothes.  (It induces the same sort of blank mind state, after a while.)  I don’t light scented candles because they make me sneeze.  And writing is my job, not my slightly porno-y obsession, so a sexy nighty is right out.  In fact, if I tried to do any of this I’d probably be grumpier than a bear with two heads.

But then I bet you what I write is not what that romance writer writes.  NOT EVEN if we were both given the same general story.

Your personality determines what works for you in terms of writing process and – here’s the thing – you need to be ready to change.

But Sarah, you say, why do I need to be ready to change when a process is working for me?

Because writing is this confluence of you as you are at that moment and the book you’re trying to write RIGHT THEN.
What does this mean?  It means that sometimes the book you’re trying to write won’t work with the process the last eight books worked with.  (And sometimes it will have to be shelved because it won’t work with who you are at the moment.  One of the reasons I HATE working from outline sold years ago, is that I’m not that gal anymore.  Fortunately that seems to be a thing of the past for me.)

For years my writing process involved an outline so detailed that you could have added dialogue and description and have had a novel.  Nowadays…  well, #1 son shocked me by saying I was a consummate pantser, and he was sure I knew my plotting very well, since I still have plots.

Am I a consummate pantser?  I don’t know.  The last two books I wrote only let me see about a chapter ahead, and yet they seem to have worked pretty well plotwise.  On the other hand, the current book I’m plotting five scenes ahead at a time, or I can’t write.  This is possibly because this is a rewrite, my having finished Noah’s Boy a month ago and realized it wasn’t functional.  (And that was a first for me too.  I’ve discarded/added as much as 1/3 of a book, but never have had to break it apart completely and insert a plot and withdraw one, and change tow main characters completely and… You get my point.  I guess it’s reassuring to be able to see ahead in this case?)

What I do know is that my process has changed completely several times, from careful plotting to almost-pantsing.  And at this point I wouldn’t tell anyone that one way is right and one is wrong, because I’ve written books in practically every possible way: character out; plot in; setting out; problem…

So the only thing I can tell you is that whatever you think you know about writing will change.  And change again.  And the best thing for a long career is to hang loose and go with the flow.

The art might be immutable, but you and the book aren’t.  You’re both organic, growing entities.  Writing a book is more like parenting a child than a 9-5 job.  (Yes, I’m gagging, and yes, I still try to work 9-5.)  Grow with it.

111 thoughts on “To Everything Turn Turn Turn

  1. “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.” Rudyard Kipling “In the Neolithic Age”.

    “One true wayism” is hardly a new problem.

      1. Kipling was speaking about poetic forms and poetic content to people obsessed with poetical correctness, not the actual work of making the poetry. But yes, it still applies.

  2. Absolutely. Undoubtedly, some genres of writing are ameliorated by stuff like outlines, story arc definition etc (suspense is a good example of this), and some writers could benefit from doing that (as evidenced by the untidy plots and non-sequiturs). It really does depend on the writer and the genre.

    I find that when I write historical fiction, the research actually drives the plot and builds the characters (oooh, let me set this in 1908 instead of 1890 so that I can take advantage of event X).

    With my modern fiction, I seldom need to outline the thing ahead of time because I want the plot and characters to develop the same way life develops: a series of episodes and circumstances which cause change.

    As for the chick who needs scented candles and sexy nighties to give her inspiration (and I know some writers who subscribe to this kind of environmental bollocks). allow me to quote from the excellent movie Music and Lyrics:

    “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

    1. Heck, with HF, all you have to do is map out the sequence of historical events and figure out a way to weave your main character in and out of them.

    2. I dunno. I think inspiration is for everyone.

      Flopping about whining about a lack of inspiration, instead of even trying to jumpstart it, is for amateurs. And me when I have no brain, and know perfectly well why, and frankly, when I’m this short on sleep, staggering around like a zombie and moaning “Braaaaaains” is about the most imagination I have. (It’s not precisely a life roll, but it’s a kissin’ cousin to one.)

      Though I’m less moaning about lack of inspiration — I actually know what I’m gonna do next, roughly, on lots of stuff I’ve got part-done — and more moaning about lack of ability to string words together coherently. He talked real good and she liked it lots and yay rinbows does not really make anyone want to find out what happened before or after… >_>

      1. A professional writer writes, and having writ, moves on. Inspiration is great, but the pantry can’t wait on inspiration, nor can the utilities.

        A professional writer understands that either inspiration is your b*tch or you are hers.

          1. If you are suggesting I was giving writers who await “inspiration” the moving finger, I only wish I thought that far ahead.

            I’m gonna grab a book of poetry, a loaf of pumpernickel, some jug wine and hit the wilderness for a little bad singing.

  3. “It just means it makes me want to gag then beat my head against the desk because it feels so good when I stop.”

    Hey, quit channeling me!

      1. Twaddle, young lady. Some of us start crabber than you’re ever likely to get, and mellow as hope of the Human Race ever demonstrating group intelligence gradually fades.

          1. There are few people I love and even fewer of whom I think well — Jane Austen.

            I’m handicapped with GENUINELY liking people (even without salt.) The ones who are beyond hope are still amusing, unless they mess with me. BUT liking people doesn’t preclude my wanting to administer the back-of-the-head slap to half of them. I administer it to my kids, and heaven knows I love them. (I haven’t killed them yet.)

  4. Process : bullet point outline, that makes no sense and is only vaguely adhered to, then, 2+ hours every day, 7 days a week, headphones on, drinks and snacks on desk, solitaire for when somethings going slow, (more than two hours put in on those days).

    For ‘inspiration’ live life by family value of never completely growing up, and personal belief that to have faith like a child means to question everything and be open to possibilities.

    Lesson learned, ‘if you read writing blogs, remember that those which write from the all or nothing point of view, can only write by those rules, don’t live by rules, live by parameters.’

  5. I’m a pantser who writes outlines. I just head down into what Terry Pratchett called the Valley Full of Clouds with the intention to blaze the path, rather than build the stairs and cut the trees over the path just yet.

    To be sure, sometimes I miss that the path needs to go elsewhere here, the footing isn’t stable enough, and that there’s a gorgeous glade over there that really ought to make the cut, but — first, I wing the outline. 0:)

  6. Sarah, spew warning PLEASE! I just sprayed coffee all over my laptop reading your reaction to the romance writer. Mind you, it’s exactly what I would think about doing. In fact, I think we discussed doing just that when we first heard the description. But still…I like my laptop and must have all the caffeine possible in the mornings. You threatened both ;-p

    1. Amanda, yes! If the romance author lights candles and puts on her sexy robe to get ready for the work of writing, what does she do when she wants ‘to set the mood’? It is too early in my day and I have only had half a giant mug of coffee. I don’t like where this is going.

      1. That one probably starts with the mood set (in her mind, anyway), and then adds a little bit of story until she can insert the scene she has been “inspired” to write.

        1. The first thing I thought of when I read that was Diane Tregarde (who might have looked good in leather and a collar) describing romance writers. Eeewww! Brian floss, please!

          1. Well, according to one short story, D. Tregarde looked very good in a leather “Mrs. Emma Peel” costume. Which would not be true for 100% of the romance writers I’ve met (granted not a large sampling of the total romance writer population).

          2. Oh now you have done it. I am now envisioning the inimitable Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel being presented to the modern day Hellfire Club in A Touch of Brimstone episode of The Avengers (S4Ep21).

  7. There is an obvious fix to this chaos of both method and style. Da gubbamint should license writing. Do we allow architects and doctors to practice without standards? And consider the thousands needlessly killed by dirty combs before barbers were regulated. This will free teachers from explaining why the books children like are trash. The teachers can in fact supervise the apprenticeship of potential writers and eliminate any showing disrespect for their authority and the state, emotion or divergence from reality. This will eliminate pornography and set strict standards for grammar and spelling. Do it for the children.

      1. There also needs to be an OSHA regimen prescribing appropriate working conditions for writing of books, lest writers develop occupational injuries requiring treatment under the new Obamacare laws, placing an unfair burden on the non-writing public.

        1. Yes, certainly. Must work at a clean desk, in an appropriately-lighted room, with glare-reducing screen in place. No food or drink on the same desk as the keyboard and monitor, 15 minute breaks every two hours, and healthy food for lunch. Chair must be ergonomic, with lumbar support, and ergonomic keyboard and mouse with a gel wrist rest as well.

          Sorry, romance writer, no candles for you, that’s a fire hazard. And facing the sun when comes up is right out, because of the possible damage to your retinas.

          1. Gene Wolfe observed that one advantage of having a full-time job while writing is that your writing time is scare and precious, and you don’t dare waste it by being persnickety about your writing environment.

            1. Which works great until you have time and find yourself filling it up with everything but writing so that you can steal time from something else in order to write.

              Subconsciouses are persnickety, contrary things. Just saying.

                  1. The cat will inform you that he doesn’t need vacuuming, you strange and silly servant, he needs pattongs, and a new toy to chase (especially bottlecaps on tile, kids toys painful to the human foot, wads of paper, laser pointers, etc. Please, nothing labeled cat toy.)

                    And gooshyfood, must we mention the painful starvation of not enough gooshyfood? And the depression of inadequate number of boxes to hide and attack from?

                    1. Two of our cats had entirely different ways of joining their humans in bed. Imp, a very large and fluffy cat who looked just like a Maine Coon, would gently ride the covers as you moved through the night. Mittens the Gray Cat, Overhead and Underfoot, Purr bucket, Lead Bottom, formerly named Jake, on the other hand, had a magnetic connection to the center of the earth. If he curled up to sleep with you when you were in bed you could not move him. Hence the title Lead Bottom.

                    2. Presumably the same way my Jack Russell Terrier(ist) Punky does it. Not that that helps to understand.

                    3. Cats do not occupy the conventional four-dimensional reality we humans employ. Have you not read Space-Time for Springers?

                    4. Always willing to help a fellow cat– (Until I started to smell like chemo, cats thought I was just a Big Cat and would come from far away to greet me.) 😉

                    5. Euclid – must know some mathematical (geometrical or some type of arithmetic) formula that has not been discovered by humans. (maybe dimensional?)

                    6. Her Catness, the quasi-Maine Coon, eight pounds, takes her half of the bed diagonally while increasing her mass such that her human back-rest is unable to move until Her Catness deems herself sufficiently rested.

                    7. Why yes, I have had the utter and enduring pleasure of meeting THAT cat. Or is that the utter and enduring cat fur woven into the molecular structure of the microfleece I was wearing, competing for a monument to Cats I Have Met with Gremlin, Pixy, and other such graces upon the world?

                      I still couldn’t tell, up close and being purred on, if Havelock is evil. He’s very good at leaving a poor soul confused on that point. Is he evil playing good, good playing evil, or just utterly alien?

                    8. He’s very good at leaving a poor soul confused on that point. Is he evil playing good, good playing evil, or just utterly alien?

                      Or, in other words, a cat.

                  2. No, the syllogism goes
                    1. All writers, even those who don’t have cats, need to vacuum their cats.
                    2. You are a writer.
                    3. You need to vacuum your cat.

  8. Someone else already quoted Kipling, so there’s no point me doing it. LOL.

    I’d say the only *right* way to write a book is to actually put in the hard work to finish it. (Says the person with at least half a dozen started but unfinished novels floating around in note-books, not counting the ones I’ve forgotten about.)

      1. FINISH THEM. Look, every novel dies in the middle. EVERY novel. I have a post about it somewhere. If you push past that, you’ll be fine.

        So, what you’re saying, in effect, is that every single novel ever published is a zombie? Urgh…

      2. That’s why I started to outline. I didn’t trust the stories to let me push them through unless they had coughed up their endings.

      3. Oh, I’m working on one. At the moment they’re all sitting around the table talking, and not doing anything, which is annoying. The only reason I brought them all together in the first place was so that the Wise Old Sage would notice something about one of the characters, which he hasn’t yet.

        If he doesn’t soon, I’ll have to come up with another reason to bring them all in the same room again.

        They are all having a huge shouting match at the moment, which is fun.

        And I’m rather proud of my self for *finally* getting one file in my Neo completely filled up. It calls that 25 pages, but I think it’d probably be at least 50 pages double spaced, etc.

    1. Yes – I am trying to finish the novels (plus the new novels in my head) since I started this madness. It can be done. Nanowrimo helped me to push through the middle. Plus Heinlein said to finish every novel– no excuses (or something like that) 😉

  9. Fiction, I’m a pantser UNLESS part of the plot tries to hide. Then I’ll sketch what I’m thinking so far and that usually flushes the needed bit from cover. The novel got a rough outline and a very long character guide and tech bible. And then one character announced that he was not going to be killed of, and another insisted that HE was not going to be the villain and, well y’all know.

    Nonfiction requires an outline, with varying degrees of detail. Otherwise my prose reads like every kitten in Texas got locked up in one yarn shop overnight. *shrug* Who am I to fight the Muse (or mews)?

    1. You and your big ole Texas imagination. You do realize I now have to write “The Night the Kittens Snarled Texas”, right? I ALREADY HAVE TWO PROJECTS TO FINISH, damn your hide.


    Well, I’m going to kind of disagree. Any method that eventuates in a completed book is the “Right way for that writer.”

    How about saying:


    Though now I look at that, it looks clumsy. Oh well….


  11. When I first tried to write a novel, I wasn’t even ready to write. So I put it away and got on to the business of living (and having my own adventures). I did write poetry, but for some reason they are like pesky flies. I have to write them down or they will bother me for days.

    The next time I tried to write a novel I didn’t have the time. I was working on my degree. Then sickness hit. Then I realized I didn’t have much time left. I finished my first novel in Nanowrimo. It was really Nanowrimo panster approach that made me right. I get so bored with outlining that I never actually finish the book. I can’t find plot in outlines–sorry guys–it just never worked for me.

    I have to keep character names on a page. And then, if there is something memorable that I find while writing, I’ll write it down on a list so that I can wind up ends. Many times I’ll get the next scene in my dreams.

    I find it interesting that I could tell stories to my siblings and to others. Later in life, my hubby and I liked to tell stories in the bar over a rum and coke. Sailors can tell some good stories. It has only been recently since I can’t go around too many people that I have started to “write” stories. It is a different process.

    BTW that romance writer? GAWD the RWA have been recommending that type of inspiration for years (at least since I met my friend who writes romance in 1995). Since I am more suspense/horror/supernatural writer, it didn’t work for me. A lot of the modern Romance is now Erotica imho. 😉

          1. Oh, G-d. I’m getting to the point I get this sort of thing. Not drug gangsters, but we’ll be out say at a construction materials thrift shop and they’ll see my name and go “You’re not–?” Depending on the mood, I’ve been known to lie. “Me? No. I’m a realtor. The other Sarah A. Hoyt in the springs is the writer.” 😛

            1. From A Hard Day’s Night

              Millie: Oh, wait a minute, don’t tell me who you are.
              John: No, I’m not.
              Millie: Oh, you are.
              John: I’m not.
              Millie: Oh, you are, I know you are.
              John: I’m not, no.
              Millie: You look just like him.
              John: Do I? You’re the first one that’s said that ever.
              Millie: [motions to the mirror] Yes, you do. Look.
              John: No, my eyes are lighter. The nose.
              Millie: Oh, your nose is very.
              John: Is it?
              Millie: I would have said so.
              John: Oh, you know him better, though.
              Millie: I do not! He’s only a casual acquaintance.
              John: That’s what you say.
              Millie: What have you heard?
              John: [leans in, lowers his voice] It’s all over the place.
              Millie: Is it? Is it really?
              John: Mmm, but I wouldn’t have it. I stuck up for you.
              Millie: I knew I could rely on you.
              John: Thanks.
              Millie: [puts on her glasses] You don’t look like him at all.
              [John walks away, pouting]
              John: [to himself] She looks more like him than I do.

    1. It’s not my fault that many e-bookstores class erotica under Romance. I have to put it where people will find it. If I get nasty reviews/emails from people saying my books aren’t romance, I will give them Kobo’s general customer service email address and tell them they need to take it up with Kobo.

      Some of them are actually pretty romantic, in my opinion. Some of them… aren’t. But they’re all definitely erotica.

    2. Ah, but think of the scope of costume and settings available for those who write in the suspense/horror/supernatural. A nice little garret room with insufficient heat, a mounted raven and Victorian slippers? A dark dank cellar with chains on the wall and goth regalia? A whole house made up of bits and pieces — or should it be a hotel with redrum painted on a wall somewhere? Everyday could be Halloween!

          1. I can write horror — short stories (I don’t think I’ve published any indie, but I was in one of the Books of All flesh and… such) — I just can’t read it.

            1. I can read a few of Dean Koontz and one or two of Stephen King– None of Clive– I can read Dean because he adds hope to his writing even though terrible things happen. Watcher (his first published book) is his best. I used to read his newsletter until I became ill. (I was on his mailing list)

              1. Clive IS definitely different, though. You could try Weaveworld, which is more modern suspense fantasy than horror.

            2. Sometimes I get complaints from my on-line writers’ group that a story should have been classified as horror, not fantasy.

              Invariably it’s a rewritten fairy tale.

              1. I have a thing against rewritten fairy tales. Ugh– can’t they even hide it better? Yea, fairy tales if written like the originals (Grimm, etc) should be horror imho.

          2. While I love Halloween decorations and Haunted Houses, I also seriously dislike Slasher movies.

        1. Well if you insist, as the mind is most powerful.

          I was just thinking down the eccentric fun one could have. There are times where I would love the excuse to have Morticia Addams’ greenhouse and peacock chair.

      1. You know, I’d consider wearing a lacy nightie to set the mood for a horror story. If you get the outfit and set the lighting right, you’ll feel exposed and vulnerable – possibly a little irritated/uncomfortable depending on the fabric and… uhm. cut. And, of course, chilled if you have the temperature right.

        1. According to the (admittedly few) horror movies I have seen, the sexy nightie is the garment of choice for victims who wear garments, so it is sure to enhance that vulnerable feeling.

  12. The right way to write a book? With words. I would have said comprehensible words, but James Joyce seems to have refuted that.

    1. LOL. You. Are. A. Bad Woman!

      I’ve told you about Marshall’s revelation, right, that I wrote books with words in them. It’s the most charming way of describing what I do!

  13. “Whoever this gal was, her process was like mine “I visualize a writer like that and beating the living cr*p out of her, and then I’m inspired.””
    Bwahahaha….. I totally get that. What that woman was doiong was mood writing. LIke sex, you can only do it when you are in the mood. Snork . . . (combination of snort and snicker).

    Writers who write because it is their living, or their calling in real life, write even when they don’t want to write. Sometimes they are writing several things at once, just to give their brains a workout. Kinda like weight lifting, only more complex and the results isn’t some freaky looking thing, but words on a page.

    1. Basically what you are saying is that professional writers are hookers. Which is not a bad metaphor, especially if you look at most trad publishers as their pimps. Which of course means that indie writers tend to hit the two extremes, either independents working the corner a few evenings and weekends to help pay bills, or high-priced courtesans who know they are sought after enough that they will be turning clients away, instead of needing a pimp to help set them up with enough clients to make ends meet.

  14. I don’t know how much of the romance writer’s method I can do…

    I get up early in the morning.
    Nope. Veto. The only time I keep normal human hours is on vacation where I have to pretend to be normal in order to spend time with friends and/or family when they’re awake. Even then, the “early” part is usually problematic.

    I do my yoga.
    This, I can do. I like yoga. Of course, I do yoga by playing on my Wii and when I use Wii Fit, it yells at me and I don’t like that. That would not put me in a romantic mood to have the Wii go, “Oh~!” in that tone it has when I step on the balance board… ::sulk:: Plus, there’s the sweat you get to wash up because of.

    I dress in my sexy robe.
    Hey – why not? I have a few kimono. A few authentic kimono too, not just those rayon loungey things. The real ones aren’t too sexy though. I’d probably get cold, too. Sexy things are rarely fluffy and warm. Can we talk this part over?

    I light my scented candles.
    What? In the morning? Candles? Really? My roomie in college liked lighting scented candles during the daytime. Because she liked vanilla, it has an association of “homey” to me, not “sexy”. Plus certain scents can give me headaches and/or sneezes. Maybe incense. Can I do incense? I have a box of white plum stick incense I got in Japan and a tiny little ceramic cat I can stick it in. Of course, it’s really cute, so that’s not really “sexy” either. Neither is the smell of matches. This scenario isn’t very sexy yet.

    Then I sit in my desk at an east-facing window,
    No no! The SUN comes from that direction, lady! THE SUN!!!!

    and as the sun comes up,

    I let inspiration fill me
    Inspiration?!? Is that what you call that burning sensation? That blinding of the eyes and the way it makes your eyeballs buckle and the piercing headache that it’ll give you anon?

    And with the evil sun blazing in your eyes as it rises in the east, while you’re tired from waking up before anyone ought to if they can reasonably avoid it, then sap away more of your energy by working out, and then throw in scents that might give you headaches and/or sneezes, and further leave yourself vulnerable by putting on something sexy that will leave you cold…… you write romance?

    I think I’ll pass on that routine. It seems dangerous.

    1. I’m with C.R., although early morning works. But no yoga – I might get stuck in that position. I’ll take a brisk walk instead before the sun rises. “Sexy robe?” Um, the closest I have is a dirndl sans blouse, so scratch that. “Scented candles?” Fire! Fire is fun, but not in my office. “East-facing window?” Oh h-ll no, the glare, eye pain, sunlight on my face, forget that.

      Which probably explains why all my romance scenes take place in gardens in the evening, in European castles and hunting lodges, the La Fonda hotel and Bandalier National Monument, and a cottage on the Isle of Skye, with nary a trace of lace to be found.

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