In which we’re talking about Principles of Writing

So, reader Nancy asked if I would write a post about my principles of writing. And just putting it down in black and white makes it seem like I should call it PRINCIPLES OF WRITING which is scary and formal and way too serious.

We should probably just call it Stuff I Think About Writing. Now, these things should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. Why? Because creativity is alchemy and your process may differ. And that’s cool. What’s not cool is looking at my process and thinking that means you MUST do it my way. Really, really not. That means feel free to read these and discard what doesn’t work, embrace anything that does.

1. Don’t get too attached to process. It changes. The way I write now is completely different from what I used to do. I used to do ALL the research ahead of time and try to write a perfect first draft. Now I know that way madness lies, and I research on the fly and write without looking back.

2. Except when I need to rewrite the opening. Conventional writing wisdom says that you must write the first draft moving ever-forward without revisiting anything you’ve already put down. Piffle. If I don’t have the opening nailed, the rest of the book fights back. So I will occasionally start, start again, restart, and then, oh yes, START AGAIN until I know who these people are. Then I can power through.

3. Write what you know is stupid advice. I hate it. People take it SO literally and that’s absurd. Most of us haven’t actually poisoned people or sailed on Victorian steamers or tried on Worth gowns. We are writer and we can fake it. It’s called IMAGINATION.

4. Travel for research if you can; don’t sweat it if you can’t. I thought it mattered if I could travel for inspiration, and I’m not going to lie–IT HELPS. But the two most exotic books I wrote–DARK ROAD TO DARJEELING and A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS–have both earned me letters from people who lived in those areas who can’t believe I didn’t go. Again, if you have imagination, you can conjure the setting from your research sources.

5. Writing will sometimes suck. It will suck so hard you will wish you were doing anything else. But even when it sucks, it’s better than anything else you will do.

I think that’s enough to start with, but this is definitely a topic I want to come back to. Thanks, Nancy!


3 thoughts on “In which we’re talking about Principles of Writing”

  1. Sara says:

    Why are the Lady Julia novels only ebooks?? What’s wrong with ‘real’ books.
    Very disappointed.

    1. Afraid I’m not certain what you mean? All the Lady Julia novels have been released in print.

  2. Betty Strohecker says:

    Thanks for the writing tips. As someone engaged in teaching 5th graders to write, who is not a writer herself (aside from a few poems), I am always looking for ideas to inspire my “little chicks”. I can see that imagination is the key, even though I have always heard the”write what you know” advice. Young ones seldom have enough experiences to draw on, but if I can get their imaginations engaged along with a love of vocabulary, I can often see results. However, I think a natural talent is involved to be able to create wonderful imagery and voice. I loved the exoticness of Dark Road to Darjeeling and Spear of Summer Grass. Even though you never traveled there, you were definitely able to take me there! Which is why I LOVE historical/romance fiction. I get to go so many places. Thanks!!

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