Reader question about writing process

On my Facebook Wall, Robert W. from Michigan asked a great question: …But, especially with you working on your next novel, how is it you approach each book? What is your general approach to writing a book? Your novels always seem SO carefully pieced together, and I’ve never read endings better than the ones to your works, and I’m just curious what your process is for that.

First, thank you for the kind words about the structure of my books and their endings.I don’t know how my fellow authors do it, but I work long and hard on each novel.

I take one of two paths when I am working on a book; I either enter the story through character or I enter it through plot. When I start with character, I tend to meander around and write a lot of scenes that are eventually cut, but that help me understand the background and motivations of the people in the story. If I start with plot, the scenes are developed in a much more systematic fashion, but I keep a separate journal in which I develop my characters.

If you saw any of my first drafts, you would die laughing. They are truly pathetic. (For the record I would like to note that nobody ever gets to see my first drafts. It is the only way I can hang on to my dignity.) I don’t know that I am a good writer. I do believe I am a better than average reviser.

When I start a book, I usually have a sense of the character and at least one or two scenes have popped in my head. Examples: Speak – rape survivor who hasn’t told about the attack trying to get through her freshman year in high school. Twisted – average teen guy driven to the brink of suicide. Prom – working class girl figures out that the world is filled with possibilities. Catalyst – Brilliant, perfect girl finds out that straight As mean nothing in real life.

No book ever drops fully-formed into my head. It always takes months and months of writing, questioning, back-tracking, pondering, applying the principals of logic and human behavior and checking for spelling mistakes. And that is what I am going to go do right now – work on my new story. (Sorry I can’t be more specific about what I’m writing right now. The Muse would be horrified if I spilled the beans this early. Ask me again in six months.)

Happy Free Hugs Day!!

18 Replies to “Reader question about writing process”

  1. books to read at football games

    I was at the Bills-Denver game yesterday and the young woman in front of me was intently reading a book during the entire game. She shut it briefly during a short lived shower. At that point, I leaned over and asked her what she was reading – she pulled back and showed me “Speak”. I got all excited and told her what a wonderful book it was and she told me how much she liked it. I told her I had met you (last summer, at Cornell) and how wonderful you were as well and that you had a new book out called “Twisted” and that she should look for it. After I pulled back and went back to watching the game, I saw her lean over to her aunt and explain our conversation – and she was smiling!

  2. Re: books to read at football games

    That is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it here!!!

    (I was watching that game on TV… and someone at the game was reading my book…. this is kind of making my head swim a little.)

  3. Hi Laurie! I’ve noticed that you answer a lot of reader’s questions here on your blog, and you’ve also mentioned that you answer snail mail from your fans. What is the email address and the snail mail address I can send things to?

  4. Once upon a time i found this book in my school library that was, i think, a bunch of early drafts Billy Faulkner had written of his books. I kinda tried to start reading the draft of The Sound and the Fury…until i realized that the book’s early draft…er…kinda sucked.

    I cant figure out how to make this comment into a coherent story, but it was a real eye-opener for me to realize that even Nobel Prize winners have to struggle their way through the revision process.

  5. Snail mail address: PO Box 906, Mexico, NY 13114. Warning: I am months behind on answering the mail.

    I don’t answer email from readers. Opening that door once led to a tsunami of correspondance and made it impossible to find the time to write. So I ask readers to post their questions to this blog or the version of it that appears on my MySpace (and now Facebook). I can then answer them in a public forum so that everyone can read the answers.

    I am in the process of going back through the last two years of blog entries and taggiing them so it will be easier to search for info on what interests you.

  6. I find myself in strange territory with my own writing style. I’m in the early stages of my first YA novel and I find myself using a process that I don’t hear many people saying they use…it kind of scares me a bit. I tend to work in layers. I have a lot of trouble just putting down a first draft in a rapid fire flow. I just keep slowly building and rebuiding as I go along. Am I a premature revisor who is shooting herself in the foot or do I move to the beat of my own drum? Any way of recognizing what is inexperience and what is style and personality?

  7. I hate to say this, but the only way for you to figure out your process is to work through a couple of books. There is no one correct way to write a book; nor is there one way to paint a picture or craft a song.

    Be patient with yourself.

  8. How did I know you were going to say that…Yeah that whole perfectionist thing gets in the way sometimes.

    If you haven’t read it, I think you might enjoy…

    Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.

    It’s one of those books that recharges batteries that you didn’t know you had in the first place.


  9. What about bribes?

    I’ll feed you dinner when you are in Michigan. I’ll film (with sound and picture!!!) your answer. Does persistence count?

  10. How are you Laurie? We spoke awhile back through Myspace, when I told you a bit of the story of my rape. Since then, I’ve been thinking about you almost constantly, because even though it may have seemed like a simple email, it was something that was so huge for me. Telling you what happened was the first time I spoke, and I’m finding that there are so many emotions attached to that. I’m now in the process of reporting what happened, because there is another girl who was attacked in the same park and I believe there is a connection. I don’t know how far it will go, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would say to Him if I had the chance, and I’d like to share it with you, because a lot of my strength has come from you. Here it is:

    It seems strange that I now have the opportunity to stand in front of you and say whatever I’d like, when that day I tried so hard and couldn’t say anything at all. What do you need to know about me? Early morning is my favorite time of the day, and I love to watch the sunrise while everyone else is still sleeping. I’m captain of my swim team, and my favorite smell is fresh linen. I love spinach and I bake brownies when I’m stressed. I won the county spelling bee six years in a row. I think some of the best conversations happen in silence. I really love pizza. None of this mattered to you, though, because you didn’t see me as a person that day. And as much as it angers me, it saddens me more. Maybe the universe would have brought us together in a different way – a smile exchanged on the street or a conversation in Starbucks. Maybe we could have gotten along, if only you saw me as Danielle, and not as your victim. For all of the things I just told you about me, I know that you have a list just as long. Do you love your mom’s cooking? What was your favorite cartoon as a little kid? How did you feel the day that your daughter was born? I know you’re a person too; if I take your identity away, I’m hurting you just as you hurt me. And this is why I forgive you. Before you raped me in the park, I was an outgoing, social and trusting person. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost that, but I know it’s still here, and even though you’ve taken some things from me, I won’t let you keep my heart, my spirit and my love for life. You may have had control over me that day, but from this moment on, the control is in my hands. I’m no longer angry with you, I’m ready to begin moving on with the help of people who care about me. My hope for you is that you can one day accept my forgiveness with a genuine and heartfelt apology filled with the honest intention to turn your life around. Nothing is holding you back now; you have my forgiveness and my prayers.

    You don’t have to unscreen this comment, but it would mean a lot to me if you could somehow let me know you got it. I understand that you get a lot of emails, and I’m really not looking for any kind of analysis of what I wrote or anything like that. I guess I’m just looking for someone who understands – I still haven’t found anyone else who has. You and your writing were so much a part of my journey and something has just been pulling at my heart to reach out to you. My email is I’d really like to let you know what happens following the report.. after all, the report wouldn’t be happening at all if it wasn’t for Speak. Thank you for taking the time to listen, and I’m thinking good thoughts for you always… Danielle

  11. Hey, thanks for answering my question! I really appreciate it 🙂 It’s always nice to get in the head a bit, so to speak, of such a good author — I’m sorry; such a good reviser.


  12. Thanks for giving us your incite. I’m taking a creative writing class this semester and everything is new to me. I mean I know how to write good essays and I’m an English Language Arts Education major who loves literature. However, I never got to take creative writing in high school so I’m really nervous about this class. I’m supposed to be wrapping up a short story in a few days and I didn’t know where to start. Reading your process gives me hope I can find somewhere to begin. Thanks so much!

  13. Please do!

    I am going through and tagging all of my old journal entries so by the end of the week when you hit the “writing process” tag, you should find a wealth of entries.

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