When I wrote and edited non-fiction, writing romantic fiction in my spare time was a release. My stories were made-up and barely plausible, and I loved them. My reading tastes were similar—the grander and more far-fetched the better (as long as the stories were set in present times and had a happy ending). My writing and my reading were an extension of my imagination—convoluted and lofty. *grins*

But then I quit my non-fiction job and started writing fiction fulltime. And the longer I wrote fiction and learned about the publishing industry, the more my writing “calmed down.” I strove for stories that would resonate with readers, paint a truer picture of interpersonal relationships, not alienate with too much wealth, power or beauty, and seem plausible. And damn, I struggled, because my brain doesn’t naturally work like that. Crazy things happen in there. 🙂

I’m reading a book right now that I suspect a few people will brush off because it’s a real stretch in the plausibility department. There’s no major angst and little heavy backstory and emotional scars. What’s there is handled without melodrama. And while there’s sexual tension, so far, deep into the 80,000-word book, there is no rush to hit the sheets. It’s a funny, flirty, far-fetched love story, and I ADORE it. I’ve missed books like this. Why aren’t we writing fiction anymore? (I say that tongue-in-cheek of course.) Why is everyone so broken and realistic?

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like a good meaty read with darker characters. I do from time to time. I understand the arguments for realism in fiction, but I happen to be one of those people who prefers to read about the impossible happening. (Maybe that’s because I don’t believe anything is impossible—but I’ll save that for another post.) And I don’t know…maybe this isn’t an issue in other genres. The bottom line is I worry the pressure on writers, especially new writers, to follow the trends and write to specific publishers and even people (editors, agents, other writers, friends) will sanitize the fiction pot. It sure as heck takes the joy out of writing for me.

It comes down to personal preference. It ALWAYS does. That’s why they say write the book you want to read. You won’t please everyone with it, but when it hits the hands of a likeminded person, you’ll make their day.

Elley

My first novel took ten years to write. (If you’ve been around this blog long enough, you’ve “heard” me say that a thousand times.) Recently, I wrote my favorite manuscript (thus far) in two months—from October to December. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing with the first manuscript, AND it was ninety-thousand words. This last manuscript logged in at fifty-thousand words. But if you do the math, you’ll see I would’ve reached the ninety-thousand-word mark well before ten years with this one. (I’d hope so, right?)

My point is, writing does get easier with time. My question is, just how much easier?

How many quality manuscripts can I put out each year? The key word is quality. I know I can write, and I can write fast, but I also know if I’m not careful a story can fall apart in the middle. It’s not okay with me to have a strong start, a strong end and a crappy in-between. For me, keeping the middle humming is a chore. I suspect a lot of writers are like this. Critique partners, beta readers and editors help, but it’d save me so much time if I could get it right the first time through. And that takes time.

While I’m perfectly capable of writing a category-length manuscript in two months, that’s not a given, and it doesn’t mean I can write six manuscripts a year, especially if my manuscripts are selling. They don’t stay as-is for long after signing the contract. I have to factor in edits for contracted manuscripts while I’m writing the next book in a series, while I’m plotting my next brand new idea, while I’m waiting to hear back on submissions I sent out into the scary publishing world. It’s…chaotic.

Of course, it’s great fun, too.

Writing is a learning process, not just craft but also execution. More often than not, there is no answer to the burning questions, like how long does it take to write a book and how many books can be written in one year? We just have to jump in, give it a go, see what happens, and try to keep our heart rates normal while we’re panicking. 🙂

Elley

As a non-fiction writer, I spent a decade keeping my audience in mind and writing concise copy in a conversational tone. Nobody said a thing about “my voice” unless they wanted me to speak up—or shut up—during a conference call.

After two years of devoting more time to fiction writing than to non-fiction writing, I’m struggling with the concept of voice. Although I don’t think I realized the magnitude of the struggle until I read my first Victoria Dahl contemporary romance. I thought, “Damn! That’s one heck of a voice.” Strong, clear, funny, and even a bit awkward (typed with total admiration), Victoria Dahl’s authentic writing voice inspires me to find my own. What I admire most is that she doesn’t try to copy someone else, and she certainly doesn’t engage in self-censorship.

When I mention censorship, I’m not really talking about strong language and explicit scenes. What I’m referring to is the habit some writers (me, me, me) have of carefully writing almost every word rather than letting the story pour from the deepest parts of them. These writers (read: me) write with the proverbial “they” on their shoulders. The writers (ME) question sentence structure, alter words, change the plot and in general trash their own voices. In fact, it’s impossible to hear the writer’s voice with so much static in the head caused by well-meaning advice from email loops, Twitter, rejection letters, workshops, conferences, Web sites and writing pals.

I’m not saying advice is bad. On the contrary, few writers will achieve publication in a bubble. Over the years, my manuscripts have benefited from advice, especially in terms of story structure and general industry likes and dislikes. But my manuscripts have suffered from advice too. Each time I sit down to write, my story shares headspace with advice like this:

Watch the backstory—not too much. Pump up the dialogue. White space is good (which goes along with more dialogue). Rape and adultery are bad. Show, don’t tell. Adverbs cheapen descriptions. Wandering body parts should be caged. Heroines can’t be too needy. Heroes shouldn’t be too alpha. Small town romances are trendy. Vampire romances are dead. Too many POVs in one chapter confuse the reader. Switch POVs in the same chapter only at scene breaks. Get your H&H together in Chapter One. Focus on sexual tension. Avoid gratuitous sex. Practice safe sex. Say no to prologues. Reward readers with epilogues. And on and on and on…

To be honest, I waste a lot of time sanitizing what I write, and I’m pretty sure I’m killing any fiction voice I’ve managed to develop over the last two years. So I’m detoxing. I’m purging all the dos and don’ts. The only advice I’m going to follow while I’m recovering is:

Write like hell.

My voice is in there someplace, and damn it…I’m going to find it.

Like most writers, I read the types of books I write. I’m a sucker for a contemporary romance with a big strong hero and a heroine who seems all wrong for him (but who ends up his perfect match). When I’m not reading or writing books like this, I’m reading books about Tudor history.

I devour Tudor non-fiction, anything analyzing the life and behavior of King Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn (The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir), etc. I’m not an expert, but I’m a voracious fan of this dramatic time period.

I’ve thought about using all this extraneous knowledge to write a Tudor-era romance. Honestly, I think my research/reading has convinced me that romance was dead during the Tudor dynasty. (I’m sure that’s not an accurate statement. Romance is never dead.) Even if I could convince myself otherwise and think up a character or two, I resist the idea of writing fiction based on Tudor fact. Why? Because as long as I don’t write Tudor-focused subject matter I’m left with something special…a place to read where I’m not reading like a writer, a subject to devour as only a fan and reader can.

On the days when I’ve had enough of alpha heroes and quirky heroines living contemporary lives, I escape with the history of the real world, a dark and deep past that is even more dramatic than fiction.

How about you? What do you typically read and write? Do you have a genre that you escape to, a genre that you wouldn’t dream of writing but enjoy reading?

The last few months have been amazing for me. I’m getting control of my life, gaining confidence…living my dream.

I’m writing fiction.

As I’ve said, I love writing non-fiction, researching something I’m interested in, interviewing people for articles, crafting what I learn into a tight piece that hopefully both informs and entertains. I’m not a journalist. I’d classify my articles and columns as “creative non-fiction.” As I attend writing workshops, read blogs by editors, agents and writers and more importantly write, I’m seeing that there are a lot of things that I’ve done as a non-fiction writer that transfer to fiction writing, such as cutting, editing, looking for flow and knowing your audience.

There are obvious differences. For the magazine articles, newspaper columns, press releases and advertising work that I did, I couldn’t just make things up. I couldn’t write whatever I wanted to say. It had to be true, real. Writing fiction is exactly the opposite. The story is my own. The reader picks up a novel to forget about their own world and escape to someone else’s. They may want it to be believable, but they know the story isn’t true. As a writer this gives you incredible freedom and creates challenges of its own.

The format is entirely different…and yet similar. When I write an article, I have an opening hook, a topic statement and a statement defining the main points of my article. Then there are the main points, and each of them has an opening hook and a transition to the next main point. I follow that by summarizing my main points, restating my topic and finally a closing hook. Hopefully this isn’t something the reader is blatantly aware of. It’s just an organized piece of work that flows well. Some people think that having a format or formula for your work is stifling, but for me knowing where I’m going and how I’m going to get there gives me the freedom to be creative without getting lost.

I was stumbling with format as I began to write my novel. In fact (or more accurately, in fiction) flailing. I tried writing an outline as I do for my non-fiction and that didn’t quite work. I finally allowed the character’s to tell their story and what I found was that if I let it happen, there was a natural flow to the story. Possibly from years of writing with a format, possibly from a lifetime of reading, but the story naturally has an opening hook and closing hook for each paragraph and chapter and details that emerge as the “main points” (plot) of the story. Of course I have to go back and rewrite and craft. But as I write, the years of experience that I have writing “creative non-fiction” are relevant to the fiction I’m writing now.

There are new challenges. Main points and plots aren’t interchangeable. The old advertising advice, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them,” which works so well in non-fiction writing, doesn’t transfer equally to writing fiction. Just because you can write an informative and entertaining magazine article doesn’t mean you can create a story that can keep a reader’s attention for 60,000 words. (And by you I mean me.)

So as I begin to believe I can do this—write fiction—I wonder how many writers have started by writing fiction and moved in the other direction to non-fiction? Is it as challenging to work in reverse (well, reverse of the way I’m doing it anyway). When you move from plots to main points, from fiction to fact what are the challenges…is it easier? Writers, editors, readers, what are your thoughts on going from fiction to fact?