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From A to that elusive and magical Z

Just today at the ASK THE AUTHOR message boards, Naomi asked about my writing process from idea to publication. My response was this:

It depends on the book, though usually it begins with a really good first sentence/paragraph -- one that sets up the entire story inside my head. Or at least, a first sentence/paragraph that gets my creative juices going, which is an individual process and different for everyone.

For example:

TIGER EYE: Dela had mysterious dreams the night before she bought the riddle box. A portent, maybe. She did not think much of it. She was used to strange dreams, only a few of which had ever come true.

SHADOW TOUCH: Shortly before being shot in the back with a tranquilizer dart and dumped half-dazed on a stretcher, right before being stolen from the hospital by silent men in white coats, Elena Baxter stood at the end of a dying child’s bed, her hand on a small bare foot, and attempted to perform a miracle.

X-MEN (DARK MIRROR): In her first moment of consciousness, before opening her eyes to the world and discovering such things as floors and walls and straightjackets, Jean Grey imagined she had died and that for all she had suffered in her life, all her terrible sacrifices, the final end would offer nothing but an eternity of suffocation, an unending crushing darkness spent in utter isolation.

For me, a good first sentence sets up the character and the problem. Or at least, that's what I try to do, and when I get it right (and I know if I don't), the rest of the story generally flows out from that. I almost never outline, though I have started writing brief descriptions of the stories I'm working on, basically to keep me focused as I plod along.

You can read the rest of my response here, though one thing that I forgot to add is that sometimes (actually, all the time) the only thing that gets me from start to finish is pure unrelenting stubborness (a common theme that you will hear again and again, especially if you hang out at this blog). Writing is fun, but hard work -- the mental version of digging ditches, though those ditches are in magical lands filled with knights and princesses, shape-shifters, and dragons.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this! On forum thread, you said you retype it all in after you revise on the hard copy.

Do you mean the whole thing, or just the changes?

*writes fast first drafts, but tends to run into kinks when trying to get the expected mass revision done and can't seem to write slower, "better" drafts...*
Oct. 27th, 2006 01:21 am (UTC)
Depends. If I have time, I'll retype the whole book. Helps me revise and see the story from a fresh POV. Otherwise, I'll take problem areas (such as changes) and retype them, hoping for the same.
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC)
it was lovely to read your chat and interview at the rt. although i am not a writer myself i am an artist and i live with a writer so i always like to hear about other peoples' artistic process. also i just had to comment because you mentioned rumi and he is one of my favorite poets. right now i'm kind of obsessed with his poem the guesthouse. its really speaking to me about some things in my life. have you read any hafez?
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
I have not read any Hafez, but as for Rumi, this is the poem I'm obsessed with:

"The Circle Around the Zero"

A lover doesn't figure the odds.

He figures he came clean from God
as a gift without a reason,
so he gives without cause or calculation or limit.

A conventionally religious person
behaves a certain way to achieve salvation.

A lover gambles everything,
the self, the circle around the zero!
He or she cuts and throws it all away.

This is beyond any religion.

Lovers do not require from God any proof,
or any text, nor do they knock on a door
to make sure this is the right street.

They run,
and they run.

~ Rumi, transliteration by Coleman Barks
from "Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion"
Oct. 27th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC)
that is a beautiful poem. rumi always seems to capture the intensity of love so well.

hafiz (or hafez) is a sufi poet from the same time period and mystical tradition as rumi. hafez tends to write abstractly about divine love, wine shops and other metaphors, and there is a lot of controversy about the validity of various english translations of his poems. regardless of the arguments though, i think his still is touching and amusing.

Good poetry
Makes a beautiful naked woman
Materialize from

Who then says,
With a sword precariously waving
In her hands,

"If you look at my loins
I will cut off your head,

And reach down and grab your spirit
By its private parts,

And carry you off to heaven
Squealing in joy."

Hafiz says,
"That sounds wonderful, just

Someone please - start writing
Some great

~from The subject tonight is love - Hafiz versions by Daniel Ladinsky
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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