Q: Where do you do your best pre-writing or book planning or plotting?
A: For me, a book usually starts off as a single idea. That idea might be anything from “A person who makes up prophecies needs to make one of them come true” to “there’s this giant windmill…”. When I get one of those ideas, I write it on whatever scrap of papers is closest at hand, and stuff it in my pocket or my purse. Then I go on about my life, until another idea hits. I write that down, etc. My husband brings me sad little wads of paper that have been laundered because I left them in my jeans. I start to not be able to find my keys amid the sea of paper in my purse.
Eventually, I realize that some of the ideas fit together. Then I collect all the non-laundered bits of paper and type everything into a brainstorming document on my computer. A lot of times, that makes me think of even more tidbits, and suddenly I have the skeleton of a story. I continue to scribble on odd bits of paper when I think of new ideas. Sometimes I just re-write everything to see if I can jar any new ideas loose.
After enough of that, my brainstorming document has turned into a plot outline and character notes. I’m still not ready to start the real writing yet. This is the most dangerous time for me, because I have a habit of trying to start writing before the character notes have turned into real people. The process by which that happens is the most mysterious of all to me, and it is the thing I find myself least able to control. I drift around, doing my daily tasks, with the back part of my brain churning away, trying to find the characters who will live in my book. I drink a lot of tea, babble a lot to my husband, and take a lot of hot baths. If I am lucky, one day my main character walks on stage as if she or he has always been there, and says “So, aren’t you going to start?”
Once that happens, I can begin the actual writing.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: After the “pre-writing” I describe above is done, I can usually write about 1000 to 2000 words a day on the actual book. For a 60,000 word book, that’s about two months. I wrote the first draft of Fortune’s Folly in 36 days. Of course that’s just a first draft. After that, I usually take a few weeks (or more) off to get some distance from it. Then I do a revision (or two), sprucing it up so it is ready for other folks to read.
Depending on my timeline, it may go to some of my critique partners, or to my agent. After I hear back from them, I revise again. And sometimes again. That whole process can take a year or more, depending on how many other things I am doing. Each revision, however, probably takes me about a month, working a few hours most days. Eventually, a draft will go to my editor, and get revised some more.
To sum that all up: writing a single draft usually takes me about 2 months of steady work. All the rest of it takes a lot longer. It’s also important to remember that every writer works differently. I have friends who take longer to produce their rough drafts, but they often don’t need to do as much revision as I do. It’s also important to remember that every book is different.
Q: What were some of your favorite books, growing up?
A: I particularly loved (and still love!) L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, the Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald, the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sidney Taylor, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffery, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, C.S.Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Dogsbody and Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones, So You Want to be a Wizard? and Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane, and The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce.