Sunday, August 28, 2011

Karen Wiesner Shares Her Writing Process & Writing Tips

Today Karen will share her writing process and some writing tips with us.

Let’s begin with plotting. Take it away, Karen!

Both of my Writer’s Digest books, First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel {A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building} work together perfectly, and those who have read and used both methods say the same. Used together, they really are like a well-oiled machine focused on productivity, high-quality and unending momentum. One thing From First Draft to Finished Novel really targets is the importance of working in stages. I can’t stress how crucial this is for all authors. Let me explain.

In an ideal situation, a writer goes through the following nine stages to get a finished novel:

• Brainstorming

• Researching

• Outlining

• Setting aside the project

• Writing the first draft

• Setting aside the project

• Revising the first draft

• Setting aside the project

• Editing and polishing

A word about why “setting aside the project” so many times is so important: I believe a book is best if you give it time to "breathe" between these stages. Whatever fears you had about whether the story is working will dissolve after you’ve set the project aside for a good amount of time because it’s as if you’re coming into the work brand new. Allowing your projects to sit for a couple of weeks—or even months—will provide you with a fresh perspective. You’ll be able to evaluate if the story is really as solid as you believed it was when you finished it. All writers get too close to their outlines or manuscripts to really see them objectively. Distance gives you that objectivity and the ability to read your own work like you’ve never seen it before, so you can progress further with it.

Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers always reach a point where their motivation runs out, and they may simply want to get away from the story as fast as they can. Who wants to write a book you’ve just spent weeks or even months outlining? Who would want to revise a book you’ve spent weeks or months writing? With every single book, I get to rock bottom and I’m convinced that if I ever see the manuscript again, I’ll tear it to shreds. Setting it aside between the various stages the project goes through really gives me back my motivation for it. I’m always amazed at how much better I can face the project again when I haven’t seen it for a couple weeks or even a month or more. I fall in love with it again. The next stage in the process becomes easier, too, and that helps my writing to be much better.

Also, the more books I have contracted, the more I seem to need these breaks in-between stages. I need breaks even when I feel a project is working beautifully. If I put it on a back burner for an extended period of time (as long as I can possibly allow and still meet my deadlines), amazing things happen over the low flame. By the time I return to it, I find myself bursting with new ways to fix any problems I couldn’t resolve when I was too close to, and sick of, the project, and this also allows me to see more of those connections that make a story infinitely cohesive in terms of knitting your characters seamlessly to the plot and setting.

Another reason for working in stages is that I’m able to start brainstorming on upcoming projects sometimes years in advance. When it’s time to work on that project, I’m just raring to go. I have a ton of ideas and the motivation to get them all down will carry me through the outlining like a breeze. Because I’ve always got multiple books going at one time, each one in a different stage of the process, I’m constantly brainstorming on the projects in the back of my mind, analyzing them for any weaknesses and coming up with ways to improve them. That’s so crucial to the overall strength of your stories.

The most important reason for working in stages is because each of those steps is a layer that is added to the book, a layer that makes it stronger, richer, and—I have to say it—more cohesive.

The only way to stay on track with your writing career is by working in stages and allowing yourself to come into each of them completely fresh and eager to add another layer to the project. On my website, you’ll find a page that includes my annual works in progress and accomplishments:

I encourage listeners to visit this page because you’ll really see how well these methods work.

In an average year, I outline, write and revise about 10 novels and novellas, and I follow the annual goals you’ll see on my Work in Progress page. All of these are done in the stages I mentioned before. Right now, I’m working on eight separate projects, each one in a different stage in the process. Later this year, I’ll be folding five more projects into these current eight, so I’ll be juggling thirteen projects at once (with the greatest of ease!). I love that I’m never doing the same thing in terms of outlining, writing and revising projects. I move from outlining one book, to revising a different one, to writing something altogether, layering and building and developing each book into something wonderful that I could never get if I wasn’t working in stages.

Using my own writing methods, everything in my career is planned well in advance, and I keep tweaking my schedule to make it as productive as it possibly can be. Most people think that I must work 24 hours a day based on my productivity. That's the really amazing part of this whole method. I don't have to. Working in stages, using an outline and goals, I work from eight o’clock to noon on weekdays and I can take off every weekend and most of the summer and yet I’m constantly moving forward. At this time, I’m working about a year ahead of my releases. In other words, I’ve already completed all of my 2011 releases and I’ve already got a good start on my 2012 contracts.

How do you avoid writers block, Karen?

Brainstorming is what turns an average story into an extraordinary one. It’s the magical element every writer marvels about in the process of completing a book. Brainstorm day and night, whatever you do, wherever you are, whenever you possibly can. Something every author covets is the ability to sit down to a blank screen or page and begin to work immediately. The secret to doing that is brainstorming! When you brainstorm constantly and productively during both the outlining and writing processes, you’ll always be fully prepared to begin writing without agonizing over the starting sentences or paragraph.

Notice I specified that you should brainstorm productively if you want the writing process to go smoothly and quickly. That’s where your outline comes in. The brainstorming process will have allowed you to do all the hard work of plotting, characterization, etc. while creating your outline and so you won’t face writer’s block when you sit down to write each day. Once you have an outline, you’ll know every single day what you’ll be writing about in the book. You won’t have to decide where the story is going as you write, because you’ll have done all that in the outlining stage. The day or week before you begin writing a certain scene, start brainstorming on it. Also, working in stages keeps your writing so fresh, you don’t have to worrying about writer’s block or burn-out.

Do you have any other writing tips for aspiring writers?

In January 2011, I began a regular monthly guest column, called “From One Author to Another” on Savvy and the column will run for about a year. Topics will be of interest to writers-published and pre-published—and will vary each month. To check out my introduction and overview of my column and to read my first few articles visit:

Wow!  You truly are amazing, Karen!  Folks, remember to leave a comment/contact info to be entered in Karen's drawing!


Mary said...

Anne, thank you for sharing Karen's story with us. I would love to win a book. I love to read and I love to share. God bless & Write On! :-)