My Writing Process

Thank you so much to Margaret Locke for inviting me to participate in the My Writing Process blog tour!

1)     What am I working on?

At present, I’m finishing a contemporary novella, a romance between a good girl staffer and a bad boy rocker. It grows out of my series, The Easy Part, but it’s uncontracted so I need to get back to my other work in progress: the third, untitled book for that series. I don’t want to say too much about that project, other than it’s set on the campaign trail, the hero is a Democrat, and the heroine is a Republican. It should be out next year.

Oh, and I have a book coming out in April (Special Interests) and I cannot wait  for you all to read it. (Cannot wait! But also feel a little sick about it going out into the world. Now I need some chocolate.) And I’m on the cusp of edits for my second Easy Part novel, Private Politics, which will be out in September.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most of what I’m writing now is explicitly political. The characters fight about policy and their pillow talk is about fundraising. Other romance writers have considered ambitious, professional women in love (see James, Julie) and there certainly have been political romances (Unfinished Business, The American President, Strange Bedpersons, Fatal Affair)–but in general romance writers have been told to avoid such potentially controversial matters.

Beyond my sort-of-kind-of-different subject matter, what I have to offer is voice: fresh, smart, and witty.

I mean I hope. Jeez, I’m bad at self-promotion.

Continue reading “My Writing Process”

True Favorite Words

The EndSo I lied when I listed my favorite words. You’re shocked, I know. But I left two off. My two favorite words are “the end.” Only when used together of course. They don’t much for me separately. But as a pair they are magic.

I spent NaNoWriMo last year writing a book that I’ve been calling The Easy Part (the title is going to change; stay tuned). Then I sold that book to Carina. I realize you’re probably not supposed to say this but it was a fairly straightforward book to write. I understood Millie and Parker so well. I understood the conflict between them. I understood so many of the major scenes. The book feels like a movie in my head, one that I needed to figure out how to pour onto the page.

That isn’t to say I always achieved what I wanted to in terms of the writing. Oh no. It fails in ways too various and sundry to list here. And revising that book was difficult and circular and I’m not half-certain I did it well. But my main concern in writing the first draft was always, “Am I achieving my vision?” Not “what happens next?” or “is that what he would do?” The problem, in other words, was one of translation.

This spring, I started the sequel to The Easy Part, which features two minor characters from it. I felt strongly that they should be together. But when I told anyone about it, the response was always, “Really?” Adamant, I strode out…only to get stuck in the mire.

This was not an easy book to write. Writing on a deadline was scary. Writing with a more limited sense of audience was scarier. Writing and revising at the same time was the scariest. But yesterday, I typed “the end.” Today I skimmed through it and finally felt the words. And at some point next year (or whenever it releases), you’ll be able to read through the crazy, scandalous, opposites-attract story. Please come back then and let me know how I did.

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

So I ended NaNoWriMo with 34,685 words. While I didn’t win, I did do better than last year. And I know that’s a lot more words than I would have written on my own without the NaNoWriMo gimmick. Yes, I wanted to have my manuscript finished and it’s not, but I made significant progress and had a lot of fun.

Here’s what I’ve learned from two attempts at NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write every day. Even if it’s only a few hundred words. Even if it’s just a few dozen words. Write something every single day.
  2. Don’t let a bad day get you down. I missed my goals for several days around the election. I pressed on, however, and got myself back on track. If I had done as well the last third of the month as the first two-thirds, I would have won.
  3. Ignore the rules. While the idea is to start a novel from scratch on day 1, if it doesn’t fit with your process/progress, it doesn’t mean that NaNoWriMo is a bad idea. Try to write 50,000 words on an existing manuscript. Or come up with an outline and do some research and start drafting on November 1. Make the concept work for you, however you work and wherever you’re at in your writing.
  4. No matter how you do, it’s probably better than you would have done without it, so celebrate however many words you write and hope to do better next year.

Now here’s to hoping I can finish The Easy Part before the end of the year.

The Stages of Hating Your Manuscript

I finished a radical revision of Together is Enough this week and I’m so very close to finishing Brave in Heart. So incredibly close. As a reward, I made the catastrophic mistake of picking up a book that shares both a genre and a setting with the former. It was a lovely book. Character-driven, tense but believable, politically progressive, compelling, and concise. Just terrific. After I finished, I said, “Damn it! I’ll never write anything as good as that!”

Those different processes — writing, editing, reading — are part of our lives as aspiring novelists. But they bring with them almost predictable attitudes towards our works in progress. I think it plays out something like this…

When you start drafting, you’re enthusiastic about your project. Out of all the ideas you have, this is one you’re writing now. So you naturally think it’s going to be awesome.

Then, you start writing and you hit the first plateau. It suddenly doesn’t seem so awesome anymore. If you’re like me, this happens at about 20,000 words.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, you push through and finish the manuscript. As you type those words, those lovely “the end” words, it is so gratifying. “Gosh darn, this project is awesome,” you think.

Continue reading “The Stages of Hating Your Manuscript”

Plot vs. Story

My day job is as a graduate student. In that life, I’m writing a dissertation on nineteenth-century popular American literature. The creative writing is an outlet for things that won’t fit in my dissertation and a solution for occasional bouts of paralyzing writer’s block. But beyond that, writing novels has taught me things about fiction that reading it — professionally, obsessively — for years hasn’t.

One of those lessons is that plot and story, which I had thought were interchangeable terms for the same thing, are very different creatures. Story is what happens between a set of characters in a discrete period of time. Plot is always, by definition, an artificial framework that you tap the story into. It’s a frame for a novel’s who, why, what, and how.

I am almost, ALMOST, done with the first draft a novella that I’ve been writing since late June, the project I’ve been calling Brave in Heart. I decided to write  a novella because my first full length novel, Together is Enough, had (and has) a lot of plotting problems that I wasn’t sure how to fix. I needed to play more with writing fiction and attempting something shorter (32,000 words versus 70,000+ words) seemed like a good way to do it. I made a bad call, however, because the shorter length requires an even more perfect plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I had to make story tweaks too. For example, does a novel opening in the right place? Are the characters making the most interesting choices given how I’ve defined them?

Mostly, however, what my writing needed was plot fixes. Where, if anywhere, should the backstory go? Do we need to see more or less between major scenes?

Writing a novella did not turn out to be either easier or faster than writing a novel. (Though in my defense, another novel got in the way and ate up half my writing time.) It did give me a different perspective on the puzzle-box that is plotting.


The novella has a title now: Brave in Heart. It’s a phrase from the poem “From Newport to Rome,” which first appeared in Julia Ward Howe’s collection Passion-flowers (1854). I need one more good week of writing to get it done. With dissertation demands, and a number of contest announcements approaching, I’m jittery and distracted and not at all productive. Nailing down a title felt good, however, so here’s hoping that the third act follows soon.

Gone Feral

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about the inner voices that plague her as she works on first drafts:

What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?” And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. And there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained. (26)

Right now, I’m struggling with two works-in-progress that have gone feral. I haven’t written in a serious or sustain way in nearly two weeks and the dogs have escaped.

One draft — the historical novella — is a mess. I’m working on the third act. The end is in sight. But I have plotting problems. Somehow, the opening is both too fast and too slow and at the end, I’m having trouble giving the resolution time to breathe because I’m really not good at writing subplots, which is what I need to fix my problems.

The other manuscript — a contemporary single title — is progressing nicely but I’m afraid of screwing it up. There are no major plotting problems. The male protagonist has a nice, complicated backstory. (If anything, the heroine is too perfect.) They don’t get together too quickly. And as I move into the second act, I’m afraid I’m going to destroy everything I like about the manuscript so far.

So I’m procrastinating by blogging, which is logical and reasonable, right?

Mood Music, Part 2

This is for the Washington contemporary which is at 25,000 words and now has a complete outline. A victory plan if you will.

I have realized that I have a tendency to write complex heroines and too perfect heroes. I’m annoyed that my heroines always have these “issues” that need to be fixed and that the conflict in the hero’s trajectory is always external. I need to fix that.

Continue reading “Mood Music, Part 2”

Show Business

For the past two weeks, I have found myself writing the first drafts of scenes entirely in dialogue without any narrative, exposition, description, or even tags to indicate who is speaking. Then I go back and fill in the details in a second pass through the scene.

I think I developed this habit because I was trying to do a better job of show don’t tell, but it’s helped me learn about how I imagine scenes in my head. First, I hear them and then I see them. While it takes several passes, I feel like I get to layer this way, like adding more and more paint to the canvas. It’s made me feel that perhaps the dialogue is the key element for me as a writer. But know that I need to get over my fear of writing narrative and description, because they can be part of active, show-y writing as much as dialogue.

Do you write scenes start to finish in one pass or do you write them over several sittings, focusing on different elements each time?

How Historical?

I read a lot of historical romance. Much more than I read contemporary.

In part, I think this is a hold-over from my childhood, when I rarely read anything written (or set) after 1920. In part, it’s the fantasy: the dances, the beautiful clothes, and the exoticism of the past. In part, I found a group of really wonderful writers who I like to read and that’s what they write. But I struggle as a reader, and now as a writer, with trying to understand whether historical novels are merely set in the past or whether they take something else — narrative structure, style, tone, etc. — from their setting.

Nineteenth-century novels differ from twentieth-century ones in many ways, including their use of description, dialogue, and exposition. If you’re writing a novel that you want to feel as if it could have been written in 1820, the plotting is likely to be slow, it’s going to be long, and there will be a lot less dialogue and a lot more description, all by contemporary standards, of course. I’m also not sure that anyone will like it.

Continue reading “How Historical?”