Today, the wonderful Sarah Ockler is stopping by for a “How I Write” feature! Many thanks to Sarah for participating, and offering a signed paperback copy of BITTERSWEET (releases 12/4/12, Simon Pulse) to one of my lucky readers!
Are you a planner (outline, etc.) or do you “pants” it?
I started out as a pantser, mostly because I didn’t know any other way. I just wrote as the story came to me. Four books later, I’m a strict plotter. I do extensive pre-writing with character bios, a detailed scene spreadsheet, and lots of planning tools. Character and plot are so intertwined, and for me, the only way to ensure they’re working together and progressing organically is to know roughly where I want to end up. BUT, I always keep an open mind during the writing process, so even though I have a strict outline in place, if my characters start wandering in new directions, I go with the flow and see where it takes me. I guess that’s a long way of saying I plot first, pants later!
Do you write daily or sporadically when you’re inspired?
I write almost daily. If I waited for inspiration, I would never finish anything. Whether you’re writing as a career or a hobby, if you don’t make time for it regularly, if you don’t make it a priority in your life, it simply won’t happen. So even on days when I’d rather do anything else, I find a way to do at least some writing. Sometimes we have to make our own inspiration!
What tool(s) do you use to write? Microsoft Word, Pages, Scrivener, typewriter, pen and paper, and/or napkins/toilet paper?
I do a lot of early brainstorming, prewriting, and freewriting in unlined Moleskine notebooks. There’s something cool about the physical act of dragging the pen across the page. Individual notebooks are also easier to tote along if I’m writing on the go and don’t want to lug the laptop. Once I’m ready to start writing full scenes, however, I use Scrivener exclusively. I’ve written my last 3 books (and counting!) with that tool and I can’t imagine going back to Word.
What resources do you recommend for new writers?
The first and most important resource I can recommend is other published books. You can learn so much about writing by reading and analyzing the works of others within and outside of your genre. While you’re reading, pay attention to what turns you on, what turns you off, and look behind the words to see how the author might’ve achieved that effect. Writers write, but we also read. A TON of stuff. Beyond that, some of my favorite craft books are: THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler, and THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass. There’s also a great video series on plot development on YouTube via Martha Alderson (AKA The Plot Whisperer) here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6ADBB3EA8142A6BE
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received for writing?
Don’t give up, no matter what. Writing is HARD, it’s emotional, it’s lots of ups and downs and rejections and bad news at ever stage, but if you have a story in your heart, you HAVE to find a way to get it on the page. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. And a few other gems to keep in mind: 1) Stop comparing yourselves to others, whether it be their writing style, advance amounts, book reviews, marketing support, progress (or lack thereof) on the writing journey, support (or lack thereof) from friends and family, or anything. The best thing you can and must do is write, write for yourself and keep writing. 2) Most of writing is actually revising, so don’t be afraid to write a crappy first draft. 3) If you feel like your idea isn’t original, remember, there are very few *truly* original story ideas. The originality comes with the execution. As a unique individual, you’re bringing your own experiences and worldview to the page — how could it not be original? Even if you and I were given the same plot outline, we’d still come up with highly different stories. Don’t let that fear stand in your way. Just… write! 4) Don’t worry about writing what you know. Write what you CARE about. Write what keeps you up at night. If you don’t know something, you can research it, but you can’t fake enthusiasm and authenticity!
Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Or, what types of writing events have you participated in? What was your favorite?
I’ve started NaNo three times, and each time, inevitably, some other deadline appears and I have to abandon my efforts! But I think NaNo is awesome — there’s something inspiring about knowing that we’re all in this together, so to speak. Something about the communal creative energy. So if you need some discipline and a boost in your writing, or if you’ve been talking about writing a novel but haven’t taken that first step, I highly recommend giving it a try!