When I first started writing, I had about a bazillion questions that I would’ve loved to ask a working writer. But since I didn’t grow up in the age of Facebook and Twitter and Writer’s Digest magazine, I was forced to, well, figure out it by old-fashioned trial and error.
But now that we’re living in such a connected world, I thought it would be helpful to have some of your writer-y FAQs answered by someone who’s been there. If you have more that I haven’t addressed here, feel free to e-mail me.
Tell me a little about your writing process. I put “my process” in quotes because the thought of describing it that way just makes me laugh. It’s like an actor talking about “getting into character.” It sounds goofy and pretentious, yet all creative types need some sort of method to the madness. I mean it’s romantic to think you’re only going to be writing gobs and gobs of profound musings when you’re feeling particularly inspired. You know, like they do in the movies.
But truth be told, writing is hard work. Thanks to deadlines and a creative person’s sheer need to get his/her thoughts down, you’ll end up writing when you’d rather be doing well, anything else. In fact, I believe the best writers spend a little time working on something every day, whether it’s a blog entry, an e-mail, a Facebook status update or a few thoughts on the character that’s in your head at the moment. If it’s a really, really good day, maybe it’ll be a couple of new chapters for that magnum opus you’re working on.
Since I’m a full-time freelancer, I really don’t get much of a choice in the matter. Simply put, if I don’t write and meet my deadlines, I can kiss my clients, contacts and paychecks goodbye. So I write almost every day, and for the most part, I love every moment of it. From time to time, I think me and my MacBook should take a quick break from each other, and I make sure to do this for my own sanity. But most days, we’re joined at the hip, whether I’m writing a movie review, a magazine article or working on a new scene for a novel.
Do you have any writing rituals, and do you outline your novels before writing them? When it comes to writing, I’m pretty free form. While I have strange little quirks like my desk must be free of dust and in perfect order (and my bed must also be made before writing—totally weird, I know), I can’t just sit down and work from a tightly constructed outline. For a proposal’s sake, I know where my story is headed—roughly, that is. But as I write a scene, my characters’ behavior often dictates what happens plot-wise. Basically if a scenario I’m dreaming up feels true to that person, that’s what stays. If you’re confined to an outline, as good as that outline may be, something may not feel as authentic in a scene, depending on how your character has grown, etc. along the way. So I’m always open to possibilities when I’m writing fiction…
Any helpful hints on writing routines? Above all, the most important thing is to stick with whatever is working with you (and adjust when necessary). Sometimes writing first thing in the morning works better for me. Other times, it’s late into the night that’s most inspiring. But whenever it is, and caffeine is always involved, it’s important for me to chain myself to a desk (with some great music playing in the background) or a table at a coffee shop and just go for it. You’ll always have time to edit later if you’re not digging what you wrote a couple of days later. But the important thing is getting it all down. Procrastination is so incredibly easy, but making great progress on whatever you’re writing always feels much better later on, trust me.
What books/resources would you recommend for writers? A good dictionary, a recent copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, an AP Stylebook if you’re a journalist, Stephen King’s On Writing, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Renni Brown and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and James Scott Bell’s Writing Fiction For All You’re Worth.
For marketing/branding yourself as a writer and demystifying social media, I’d recommend Dave Kerpen’s Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and Other Social Networks) and Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks.