Describe Your Writing Process…
TERRY: My process has changed slightly over time, and also changes depending on what I’m writing. Even though I typically work on novels and short stories in the morning and poetry in the evening, I may switch it up if the spirit moves me. I do have a general process though, one I’ve had for over 30 years. I write first thing in the morning.
For novel length projects specifically, I get up anywhere from 4:30 to about 6:00 in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and often head to my office to write. I write for the first—fresh—few hours of the day. I used to do this 365 days a year, but these days I skip a day once in a while. I don’t like to skip a day, but I don’t worry about it if I do.
It used to be that I’d write longhand, editing lightly the work done on the previous day, then moving on to fresh work. Now I write directly on the computer, and reread several days worth of work, touching things up as I go along, before adding new work to the novel. I’ve gotten to be a better editor and a better writer by doing it this way.
While I used to write longhand, then type, then edit or revise, and then edit or revise again and again until I felt the work was the best I could write, now I’ve seen each page dozens of times as I move through the novel. This helps me keep the storyline in mind, but also allows me the ability to have a cleaner final copy. I do edit and revise after finishing the novel, but not so deeply as I once did. I’ve hammered through the work plenty by the time that last day of writing occurs.
Poetry is a bit different for me. Since I might write a poem or two one evening and not reread them for a month. I still write poems longhand first. When I finally choose to go through my notebook and type poems up, I make additional changes. Poems may stick around for several months, getting poked at and prodded until I sense that it’s ready to be mailed out.
Writing even 1000 words a day produces a tremendous number of words in a year’s time—365,000 to be exact. That’s a lot of raw material to work with, or in my case these days, it can be several novels a year.
NICOLE: If you’re interested in how I go about writing day to day, it goes something like this: wake up early, snooze the alarm five or six times, roll out of bed, use the bathroom, drag my half-asleep self and still-warm comforter into my desk chair, open my computer, squint at the brightness of the screen, open my latest word document, re-read the previous day’s work, edit it lightly or delete half of it (depending), and continue the story…
If you’re interested in how I write—as in, how my brain works—it’s a little more complicated. I typically start a story with an idea, but even that general statement would be somewhat of a lie, since I’ve started stories from all kinds of things. Dead of Knight, my latest novel, for instance, came from a lyric in a song and me daringly declaring: “I could write a book about that.” My latest story yearning to be written first came to me as the simple image of apple blossoms falling and a sort of melancholy calm-before-the-storm feeling paired with it. So, who’s to say?
Regardless, whatever story seems most prominent in my mind is what I tend to write next (and by “next” I mean after whatever I’m currently working on, because I’m always working on something). In the business, there are known “outliners” who outline all their work, and “pantsers” who write by the seat of their pants. I’m absolutely a pantser. I typically know how a book starts, what happens during the climax, who my characters are, and a few glimmers of in-between scenes not yet placed. Then I simply sit down and go. It’s funny—I’m an extremely organized person, yet outlining feels too constricted for me. I like my stories to be as organic and character-run as possible, which means I can’t really map out my stories by plot points, I need to just see where they go on their own.
This doesn’t mean that I’m not weirdly organized, though. I buy a corkboard and a stack of 3×5 cards every time I start a new book. At the top of the board, I pin up the new novel’s working title. I also pin up a map of the setting. Then I start the book, and as I go, I take notes: things to fix in draft #2, character details I need to keep straight, where so-and-so is headed next, etc. to help me keep track of things. I’m sort of an as-I-go outliner, where I don’t map everything out at once, but rather a few chapters ahead of my actual writing. If that makes any sense.
(Totally, love the corkboard idea, I think I’ll steal that. I use cards, but they are taped to the wall… (Elena’s note))
After that, I make my sole task to finish the damn thing. First drafts are always ugly, whether they take you no time at all or years of careful writing. I save the editing for draft two, three, four, five…and leave draft one for just getting it all down.
Describe your road to publication…
NICOLE: I received my first publication contract when I was sixteen, for my young adult fantasy novel A Kingdom’s Possession. It took me two years to write, and another one and a half to tear it apart, re-write it, edit it, and have my father edit it. A lot of people assume that, because my father is a writer, I had some leverage over the book business, and that’s why I got published so early. Not the case, for this reason: it’s a business. If the characters aren’t strong, if the plot is saggy in the middle, if the prose is inconsistent and unedited, it won’t sell. And if the book is poorly put together and unsellable, no publisher or agent will want it.
Even so, my father isn’t the kind of person who would try to pull strings to get my books out there, anyway. However, he is the kind of person to open doors. And that’s what really helped my career. In short, after receiving lots and lots of rejections from agents—all saying the same thing: my novel wasn’t “mainstream” enough to sell to a big publisher—Dad suggested I try some smaller publishers. He’d only recently heard about Booktrope when he suggested I send them my manuscript. I didn’t hear back for a while, and then suddenly I did. They were interested. I signed my contract a few weeks before graduating high school.
It was a weird road to publication, for sure. I had an advantage, because I had a mentor who could point me in the right direction when I felt lost. But the rest was up to me, just like any other writer. You write stuff, send it out, get rejected, and repeat the process until you strike gold.
TERRY: The Long and Hard Road to Publication
This could take some time, so I’ll try to be short: Poetry—years and years of reading poetry (at least 15 years) before starting to write my first poem. Then years of writing and study (at college and through books), before starting the road to rejection. Since I’ve always been fairly prolific, rejections came often—daily, in fact. It wasn’t until somewhere in 1978 that my first poem was accepted in some very small, saddle stitched, little known magazine—and I was euphoric. A few more years of hard work and continual mailings and I was getting published by what were assumed to be better magazines, like Kansas Quarterly, Widener Review, Wisconsin Review, Yarrow, as well as many other university and independent journals.
Short story publication came around the same time as poetry publication. I was attending writing classes (poetry and fiction) at the University of Delaware, and writing a lot. Since I’d already learned about submitting my work, I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed to send my latest pieces out to small magazines. My first story showed up in Oracle, then a few stories in Starsong magazine, Late knocking, and others. I never even submitted to the bigger, better known magazines like Analog or Fantasy and Science Fiction—many of these early stories were science fiction and fantasy in nature. I also write mainstream and/or literary stories, which appeared in university and small press magazines, but I had my eye on writing novels, and soon started one or two (I actually write a few short stories and began my first novel while in fifth and sixth grade, but I’m starting later with this post, at a time I became more serious). Anyhow, I had a few unfinished novels lying around before I read an article in The Writer magazine about writing 1000 words a day and in 60 days you’d have a 60,000 word first draft—that I could do! Well, not exactly. But I could write around 500 words a day, so in six months I finished my first full length (80,000 word) novel—never to be published—but now I knew I could. And that’s where my writing schedule began.
My first novel (after many, many rejections for it and several other novels I’d written) was published ten years after I wrote it—through a small, independent press. Implosion Press.
Let me back track just enough to say that a New York agent called me at my home about that book. She told me how much she enjoyed it, and how well I wrote, but explained how the storyline was not a mass market idea, and that agencies, like hers, had to consider the market. She suggested I work with small presses until I either earned an audience for my books or wrote a more commercial novel. And that’s why I searched, mailed out to, and found a small publisher for my first novel.
When that novel didn’t sell well, I started to study the publishing business on a much deeper and more broad level, encompassing everything I could imagine. I knew the poetry and short story markets and had published widely at that time, including having several poetry chapbooks out. Now, I needed to better understand how novels got into the world. The small press that published my first novel, The Witness Tree, had no distribution network besides her own mailing list.
Onto the next novel. I wrote several more novels, actually. When it came to submitting my work, I tried everything. I went to trade shows (an excellent choice), contacted small presses, send manuscripts to college presses, and kept manuscripts moving around. When my novel, Wolf’s Rite, was selected to be published by Syracuse University Press, I was ecstatic. Riding high on the news, I went to BookExpo America, happy to tell people about what had happened, and to pitch yet another novel. When I returned home, though, I got a call that the press had hired a new director and that my editor (the one who accepted my work) was let go and that my book would no longer be published by them. A big blow, for sure, but I got back to mailing and a year or so later found another publisher, Russell Dean and Company, who put out a beautiful book. They were only in business another few years, and the book was no longer available except through copies I bought directly from the press.
But my woes weren’t over yet. My next novel got accepted by a small publisher, who then went bankrupt and let all their authors and books go. I also found a second publisher for that book, Giver of Gifts, which stayed in business for about three years. There was also a scam I got caught up in during that time. So, beware of who you trust.
My fourth novel, The Resurrection of Billy Maynard, was published by a reputable, and long established press. Even though I asked for my rights back after a few years of poor sales, that press is, at least, still publishing.
During this time, I also published two collections of poems, Barn Tarot and Every Leaf,with very strong publishers at the time. Both of those publishers have folded since that time, but more because of workload than a lack of sales. Nonetheless, I’ve got my rights back and have self-published those books so that they’re still available to my readers.
With the changes in publishing—ebooks, print on demand, thousands of small presses starting up—getting published is a lot easier, and safer in many ways. My latest publisher offered me a deal for my historical fiction, Sweet Song, but we negotiated for them to handle all my out of print books as well. It was a wonderful opportunity, and they wanted to redo the covers, lay the books out using their own designs, and incorporate any editing I wanted to do. Perfect. This was the type of publisher I could work with. And Booktrope has proven to be worth the time, as well. They are flexible. They care about the author. And they put you with a team. Of all the traditional publishing avenues available, their business model or sharing in royalties tends to work well. Everyone is invested.
Only recently have I begun to play with the indie author market by self-publishing several of my more literary or more out-therebooks. It helps me understand marketing better when I have direct contact with those books and what type of marketing shows spikes in sales. The combination of working with a small press and being an indie author is working for me at the moment. I’d like to get the chance to work with a larger, New York publisher someday, just to see the differences, but that day hasn’t come yet.
Check Back Sept 15 for Part II