Smart Girls Read Romance

Smart Girls Read Romance -- so do the bestselling and award-winning Authors who write this blog. Join them as they dish about Books, Romance, Love, and Life.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

THE SPIN OF THE WHEEL, ROLL OF THE DICE – AND DETOURS OF WRITING A NOVEL

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Writing books seems easy for many published authors, especially those whose fertile imagination and superpower speed result in as many as 3-4 book releases a year. Seriously, how the blankety-blank do they do it?! Much as I’d like to think they drink a secret potion, one must strive to think logically.

Perhaps they have the whole process down to a scientific formula or mathematical equation whereby the square root of ‘x’ (in this case writing) multiplied by fractions of plot and voice, combined with some unknown quotient thence equals a completed novel in so many weeks or months? Well, all I can say is that if math is involved, I might as well give up my writing career right now.

Maybe it’s simpler than math (let’s hope!), and one need only apply imagination and acquired writing technique with focus, self-discipline and time-management skills. Well, I do have imagination and some writing ability, but as for focus, self-discipline and time-management…um…not so much. Essentially, much as I might try to be focused and disciplined, things (some small, most others large) distract me. LIFE especially (much as I love it!) has this rude way of interrupting my solitary writing time with something that must be dealt with immediately – and only by me. Mind you, no one else in my family can do it. Let’s just say, I’m gifted that way. It’s a curse, but I digress…

For years I struggled with the desire to become a more proficient, prolific writer, to test my endurance and push myself to learn the most efficient method to write a book. Well, after extensive research, I’ve come to the conclusion that every writer has their own method for writing a book, and what works for someone else may not work for you.

Some writers employ methodical, detailed plotting before they ever type ‘Chapter One’. Some write a brief outline then type the book’s first draft like a cowboy riding 'hell bent for leather' into town after months on a cattle drive. The idea for them is just to get the story on paper. They then go back and fix grammar, sentence structure, add research or embellish details to form the second draft. This process continues until the final polished draft is completed.

Others storyboard their entire book (like a director does for films) – scene for scene – then go back and add in emotion to tie each scene together. Some are a ‘pantser’ and formulate the basic book premise and characters in their mind for a spell then construct the novel from beginning to end in a linear manner while still allowing themselves to explore different plot avenues or unexpected twists that might spring up. I happen to be a ‘pantser’.

Just as each writer must have their own literary voice, I believe each writer creates to their own internal beat or rhythm. Still, chances are no matter how fast or slow they write, they will each encounter a detour or roadblocks along the way. Important research especially for a historical novel can be a major detour. And detours -- or just taking an impulsive exit to explore a new plot thread -- can cause delays.

For example, a writer might find that halfway through the book, the plot doesn’t work or some secondary character becomes so intriguing, you start giving him more lines. To be honest, I often think of myself as a writer-director and the characters in my books as actors, and some of them can be quite vocal about the size or importance of their role. They whine and complain; the alpha males usually argue. I try to tell them I’ll give them a bigger part next time, but it doesn’t always work. Then there are some who just don’t like the script at all. I actually had a character keep insisting she was a YA heroine just trying to find herself and wasn’t ready for serious lovey-dovey romance. Actually, she was right.

In any event, I thought I knew all about the detours that distract and complicate the writing process for me, but I was wrong. I started out writing historical romance set in Regency England then expanded to the American West. Then, thanks to that pesky teenage heroine, I came to a fork in the road that took me in the direction of YA fiction. Okay, fine, I can deal with this. It’s still historical fiction. Then, lo and behold, whilst writing the second book in my Windswept Texas Romance series set in the American West of the late 19th century, and writing and editing a gothic YA historical series set in Regency England, this sci-fi/fantasy/adventure trilogy that I worked on while a student in the 80s suddenly resurfaced and rather insistently pushed all other projects aside. To be honest, it has been sitting in a box for 30 years.

You may have heard writers say their books are like their children. Well, what I am going through right now is like having several very little children demanding my attention, constantly saying, “No, look at me! Work on me! It’s my turn now!”

Hence, the roulette wheel and roll of the dice analogy to this post. In addition to trying to remain focused and discipline my writing time on a daily basis, which includes but is not limited to avoiding social media sites and any contact with the outside world, I now have to spin a roulette wheel of sorts and pick which genre I am going to work on. Do I focus on just one or try to give them all equal attention and writing time each day? After all, trying to work on all three genres might prove disastrous. The historical paranormal takes place in Texas during the late 19th century, so the dialect of its characters, research and setting is a far cry from the same elements of the gothic YA which takes place in Regency England. As for the sci-fi/fantasy – well, clearly, it’s out of this world.

Trying to immerse myself as a writer into the setting of each book and be consistent with which voice and dialect to use requires lots of caffeine and no small amount of M&Ms.

In any event, that’s where I am today – caught somewhere between having a real life and an imaginary teleport device traveling through various times, locations, assorted characters and plots – none of which are the same.

For all your lovely dear readers out there, who may or may not be curious as to what I am up to – or why it takes me so long to write – there it is – in a nutshell. I write when and where the story takes me, and often how the characters speak to me. The method that works for me is not speedy, and I have to remind myself this is not a race. Still, I do understand that you must strike while the iron is hot, and get those books out there lickety-split to the people, etc. I appreciate that some readers may get bored waiting for a new book, but I believe readers will never tire of reading a good book.

Ultimately my goal is to create something that will be original, meaningful and unforgettable, a book you will want to keep and return to again on some long winter’s night or while catching some rays by the seashore.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress and what’s up with each project, and maybe throw in some giveaways and surprises along the way. To that end, I will draw the name of two (2) lucky winners who will each receive a signed print copy of either THE SENSE OF HONOR (Historical Romance with Mystery and Suspense elements set in Regency England voted one of the 1001 Best Books Ever Written by readers of Romantic Times) or WHISPER IN THE WIND (Time Travel Romance set in the American West of 1885 which made its debut in April as an Amazon best-selling Time Travel Romance). To qualify, simply post a comment to this post and provide your email address so that I can contact you.

Happy Reading, and thanks for stopping by. ~ AKB



31 comments:

  1. I am still laughing . . . and I totally get it. I currently writing a time travel trilogy set in modern day Martha's Vineyard and Boston during the American Revolution. My characters, who have minds of their own, end up doing things I never dreamed of - lol. While writing the second book, a "minor character" became so interesting, he took on a great role. And if time were my own detour, I'd be grateful. It is, as you so aptly wrote, my imagination. I'm behind the computer five days a week working the third book, yet my mind is already far, far away making notes on the next trilogy and stealing my focus. Two weeks ago I spent two entire days researching a new book because the idea wouldn't leave me alone and I couldn't type two sentences in my current project that made a lick of sense until I got up and went off to gain some not-needed-right-now knowledge. Since it's not quite seven and my "workday" is minutes away, I'm off to order your time travel books. :-)

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    1. Hi Lisa - All I can say is YES!! I found another kindred spirit and sister in writing. Wish we could sit down in person and chat. Imagine what a plotting session we would have. I totally get the not being able to write a word on something until you had the research done. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience. As for my books out, Whisper in the Wind is a time travel, the first book in the Windswept Texas Romance Series. The Sense of Honor is a hisorical ronance with mystery and suspense that also won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. Your time travel trilogy sounds wonderful. Keep me posted on the titles and release dates. :)

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  2. When I began writing in 2004, I wrote every day, hours at a time. I couldn't stop if I wanted to. Now that I have a nice number of published stories, I write less and more slowly. This bothers me to some degree--have I run out of characters?
    No, it's because I think and write in my head more than I actually get the words on a page.
    Like you, as I suspect many writers are, I have more than one story going at a time. This is very annoying.
    I, too, am thinking of writing in a different genre, but not just yet.
    Excellent thoughts--I understand everything you say.

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    1. Morning Celia - Totally relate to thinking and writing in your head before getting it on paper. That helps me to consider all the angles to make sure they work (and make sense) so I don't have to backtrack or write into a corner and get writer's block. Plus, I think we are both visual writers and it helps to get that internal imagery just so. Thanks for commenting. ((Hugs))

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  3. Ashley, I agree that each writer has a different path. Each of us must use the gifts given to her in the way that fits her style. I do enjoy writing different genre and may try my Regency someday.

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    1. Caroline - I admire your technique and method for writing. You are such a prolific writer. I look forward to reading that Regency; I know it will be wonderful. ((Hugs))

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  4. Thanks for the chuckle. I'm a pantser, too. I switch between contemporary paranormal and Regency (sometimes paranormal, mostly not). My minor characters walk in and take over, and the story is rarely as I visualized it at the beginning. But I have to admit that I enjoy the chaos and all the surprises. If it means I'm inefficient, oh well!

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  5. Hi Barbara - I often wonder what people think when we talk about these characters telling us what to do. And it's those minor characters most of the time. But it is fun, and exciting to spread your wings and write something different - as long as I can renember what time and setting I'm in at any given time. I LOVE your books, and you reminded me of what fun it is to explore some new path that opens up to add an unexpected twist to the story. Those "pop-up" ideas are awesome, but you have to be open to them -- which is why I love being a pantser. Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a wonderful weekend. ((Hugs))

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  6. I know exactly where you're coming from, Ashley! I've been focusing on Civil War and post Civil War romances, but I've delved into time travel and the paranormal, including a few vampires among my releases. While my upcoming release is a post Civil War romance based on a previously released Civil War romance, I'm trying to start work on a contemporary baseball romance series and I still have a science fiction romance I started on years ago, but never had the chance to get back to. I also write short romance stories for magazines, so I'm really spread out right now.

    I have the autopgraphed copy of "Whipser in the Wind" on the top of my TBR pile. Can't wait to read it!

    Best of luck with all your projects!

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    1. Hi Susan - Thank so much for stopping by and posting about your approach to writing. When does your new Civil War romance come out? Sounds like you have a lot of projects in the fire. So much to do; so little time, right? Keep me posted on your different works in progress. Can't wait to hear what you think of Whisper in the Wind, too. :)))

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    2. Don't have a release date yet, but this one's post Civil War. The hero was a physician in the war, now settling down to life as a small town/rural doctor.

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    3. Title??? I really want to read this, Susan. Keep me posted! ((Hugs))

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  7. This sounds just like me! I feel like I have some sort of ADHD type issue. I generaly have several stories going at once as well as many "ideas" floating around in my head. Very hard focus. Oh, did I mention that I'm also very easily distracted? SQUIRREL!

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    1. Definitely got the SQUIRREL reference. My kids are always using that reference about me. haha I think there is such a thing as Writers Attention Deficit Disorder. If there isn't, there should be. I know a lot of creative people -- especially writers with overactive imaginations (like us) who definitely qualify. Thanks for stopping by. ((hugs))

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  8. If you discover the secret for writing 3-4 books a year, PLEASE share it! Thank you for the insightful post. I came from the YARWA loop and am glad I found this blog :)

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    1. Will do, Meg. So glad you came by to visit the Smart Girls Read Romance blog. I do love that it is multi-genre group of writers -- something for everyone...and then some. I'll also look for you on the YARWA loop. :)))

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  9. Ashley, I'm a brew and stew writer. Or basically the type you referred to as a panster that thinks thinks out before hand then takes off in a linear fashion. I have a friend who writes scenes as they come to her then pieces them together like a puzzle. That would drive me insane! LOL

    Once I became serious about being published I made it known to my family-all in middle school or higher that part of day was mine to write. So they learned to be self-sufficient. That's not to say I wrote and didn't go to their functions. I was their 4-H leader, part of PTA, and went to ALL their school functions and carpooled to all the vollyball club. basketball club, Air Cadets, and Cub scout events. But I made sure when they were in school, I spent half the day writing. Once they were all out, I told my husband, dinners would not be so elaborate and the house may not be cleaned for a week.

    It's all about making writing a priority and letting others know it is your 8-5 job if you aren't already working an 8-5 and if you are it is your part time job that requires 3-4 hours a night. Once you treat writing like a job, you make the time.

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Paty. Great advice to put into action every day. Enjoy your weekend. :))

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  10. I really enjoyed reading your post, Ashley, and I could relate to so much of it. I'm a slow writer...two books is my usual in a year's time. But I don't think it's all about the number of books you get out there as it is the quality. I'm one of those story board plotters you mentioned, but sometimes I divert from my original path, too. I don't think you can help doing that. It's good to be flexible. I admire your devotion to writing 3-4 hours a day. Some days I feel like I can write all day and others it just ain't happening.
    I wish you the very best.

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    1. Thanks so much, Sarah. Writing is certainly a journey and we each find the path that works best for us. The key is to (I think) stop comparing ourselves to others and write the best story we can for the readers. Happy Writing! :)

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  11. Nice post

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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  12. Ashley, I too have more than one story running around in my head. One is a half completed novel set 1798 Ireland during the "Year of Liberty." This story finaled in the 2008 Orange Rose contest, so you'd think I would want to finish it. Well, I do but I also have a dozen or more characters demanding my attention in a new set of novellas I'm planning. This is an outgrowth (not exactly a spinoff) from my award winning Texas Devlins trilogy, and I feel like I need to get the first installments out there soon. If life would only cooperate!

    Anyway, I understand what you're going through and commend you for saying how difficult it can be to corral our wandering ideas.

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    1. Thank you, Lyn. Well, on the "up" side, at least we have lots of story ideas to keep us occupied. We will get them all done, in time. ;)

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  13. Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. Y'all are awesome! I will be posting the names of the two lucky winners at 11:30 pm CST. My youngest son has volunteered to draw the names out of the hat (or bowl in this case). Be sure to check back and see if you won a signed book. ;))

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  14. Congratulations to MEG KASSEL and SARAH J. MC NEAL. I will be contacting you about which book you would like sent to you and the mailing address. - Ashley

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  15. Ashley, ditto what everyone else said. You and I talked about this on Saturday and we are of similar character. Keep up what seems to be working for you. You're a good writer and I enjoy your stories!

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    1. Thank you, Carra. Appreciate the positive vibes and support. ((Hugs))

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  16. This is a great post, Ashley. I tried to write too many novellas too fast, and it just wasn't good for me, or for those around me. I'm not taking a break or anything, but maybe just one book a year from now on.

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    1. Thanks, Tanya. With all the research I do for my books, I think one book a year is a do-able goal. :))

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  17. Ashley, I think the successful writer must find what works for her and stick to it. Make peace with it and don't constantly try to force yourself into the writing pattern of other writers. It's like the Arnold Palmer golf commercial where he says: "Play your game. Hit your swing -- not anyone else's."

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