Friday, December 4, 2009

I Didn’t Mean to Start a New Book… aka No Piece of Writing is Wasted




My guest today, is a favorite Romance writer, Annie West. I'm thrilled to have her visit with us Over Coffee.

  • Annie, as you may or may not know, hails from Australia. Her books are first released in Australia and then North America and England. I love her topic today and I can relate, as I've done the same thing. My mind catches and idea and before you know it, I'm at the computer writing.


When I was an unpublished writer I had all sorts of ideas swirling in my head. I’d grab onto one, wrestle it into some sort of order and start writing. Because I was serious about being published I’d try to finish the whole story but it didn’t matter too much if I didn’t because there was always another brilliant idea around the corner.

Now I write to deadlines, editor’s requirements and reader expectations as well as my own imagination. I have to fit in time for editorial approval of the concept, revisions and checking the proof edits, sometimes while working on a different story altogether. That doesn’t mean there are less stories in my head but it can be harder to pay attention and hook onto that fabulous idea before it disappears into the ether. Getting the inspiration for a whole book is a marvellous, precious thing. I trust myself enough to know that the ideas will keep coming, but it’s not simply a matter of sitting down in front of a blank screen or piece of paper and creating that idea there and then because it’s time to start a new story. Which leads me to the fact that NO PIECE OF WRITING IS WASTED.

Yes, I’ve had to cut words, scenes, pages, even chapters (sigh, I just ripped the whole of chapter two out of my current WIP and it’s better for it). But sometimes I have to write dross before I find gold. Sometimes I have to write around an issue or a character’s motivation before it becomes clear. Plus of course, there’s the school of thought that by writing regularly we exercise our writing ‘muscles’ and it becomes easier to write the next time. Sometimes I have to write things other than the book that my editor is waiting for, but often that process of writing something different and letting your mind stray into other avenues is just what you need to unlock a spark of creativity.

For instance, some time ago I’d promised to write an article for a writers’ magazine here in Australia. I came up with a topic I wanted to explore: how we can use our senses in our writing to make a scene more vivid. I soon discovered the topic was too big for the word count and settled on using the power of scent. (If anyone’s interested that short piece is at the ‘articles and links’ page of my
website).

I looked for an example of a scene where the sense of smell could be used by a romance writer and, not surprisingly, thought of a wedding. So many scents to choose from there and we could learn so much about the bride or groom’s perspective by how they responded to what they smelled. I got quite excited as I began to explore the possibilities. It wasn’t long before I was imagining a scenario where the bride, far from being thrilled by the scent of orange blossom or her fiance’s cologne as she walked down the aisle, was nervous. More than nervous, sick with fear.

Instantly my curiosity was roused. I had to stop work on the article while I pondered why this heroine was so distressed by the idea of her impending marriage. I couldn’t resist the eternal writer’s question of ‘why?’ that goes so well with ‘what if?’. From there it was a simple step to realise this poor woman was entering into marriage, not for love, but to help someone she cares for (her sister, I decided). To make things worse (don’t we writers love to do that?) she has an inbuilt fear of marriage because of something in her past (the abusive grandfather who brought her up and taught her how dangerous a violent, manipulative man could be). Terrific!

I was thrilled to have a character and a strong emotion poised for a scene that promised lots of interest. Poor Alissa (she had a name by this stage – I couldn’t leave her anonymous) was forcing herself to go through with this marriage. She’d convinced herself she could do it and survive. After all, she knew the man she was marrying. She didn’t want to marry him but she felt safe with him. So, naturally, my evil writer’s mind then thought, but what if she gets to the wedding and her groom isn’t there? What if instead she finds the one man who represents everything she fears most? What if she discovers she has to marry him instead or fail in her bid to protect her sister?

It probably won’t surprise you to know that, despite the need to overcome some technical details (like what had happened to the original fiancé, and how much notice people have to give before they can legally marry) I was hooked. I finished my article in a surge of enthusiasm while my mind grappled with all sorts of exciting possibilities.

When I finished the article I wrote a chapter of that story. I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t intended to – I was working on something else at the time, but I wanted to get it down while the idea was so vibrantly alive and alluring. In the end the final version of that first chapter was quite different, but the characters’ emotions were just the same as I’d first imagined them.

The moral of my ramblings? No writing is wasted. Whether it’s searching for the perfect phrase for your manuscript or writing something completely different, like a non-fiction craft piece or a book review. The act of writing exercises your brain. It makes you think about writing and plots and wonderful descriptions and juicy situations. It’s a catalyst for creativity. I have non-author friends who write daily just as a means of ordering their thoughts, clearing their minds and making them feel positive about starting a new day.

How about you?

  • Writers: Have you found unexpected benefits when you put pen to paper?
  • Is it an outlet in times of stress? A way of sparking creativity?
  • Readers: Or if you’re not a writer, what creative outlets have you found?

    To prove your writing isn’t wasted, I’ll give away a copy of one of my backlist books to someone who writes a comment!



Annie’s current North American release is BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE (Harlequin Presents Extra mid December). You guessed it - This is Alissa and Dario’s story, the book she didn’t mean to start but which she couldn’t let slip by. If you want to find out more about it, visit either Harlequin or Annie’s site to read an excerpt. Also out this month and available from Mills and Boon in the UK is FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD.

45 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Annie, welcome again to Over Coffee. Plenty of coffee and tea on the coffee bar, pull up a comfy chair. pssst, there's some special goodies on the bar, aside from the home made scones and cookies.

Do you think it's a good idea to do more with an idea, then just thinking on it? First I think on something that comes to mind. Afterwards, I try to write the idea down. this how books get started.

Annie West said...

Hi Sia,

It's lovely to be back. And as there are home made scones (and is that clotted cream I see?) I'll happily make myself at home! I've brought some Aussie Christmas cake (dark fruit cake) and Tim Tams to share.

Oh, interesting question. I don't know. I suppose it depends on how detailed the notion is. With Dario and Alissa's story it just grabbed me and wouldn't let me go till I sorted out answers to all the questions bombarding me from the scene I'd imagined.

On the other hand I have half an idea for another story MUCH further down the track (other books to write first) which is so basic there's not much point in writing down any more than 'substitute bride' to remind me of my original thought. I suppose I could do a mind map of possibilities and try to progress it that way. However, given I've got other things I need to do first, I'll probably leave it to 'mature' a little. You know - that process where little bits of this and that seem to connect and build in the dark recesses of your brain so next time you haul it out there's a little more to play with.

Certainly when I get an initial idea I like to take a little while to consider it and ask a few questions to see if any answers pop out. Often I find that happens as I write the first scene - I add things and then realise they're important! It sounds disorganised but I think it's my subconscious working. That's my take on it anyway?

Do you have a book or a file for your ideas so you don't lose them?

Anna Campbell said...

Hi Sia! Hi Annie! Annie, what a great piece. I vividly remember that article you're talking about and how dramatic that scene was. In fact, I didn't do it deliberately, but I think I was kinda channelling it in the wedding scene in my latest book, My Reckless Surrender. I know my poor bride was definitely dizzy and sick with all the strong smells in the church and she doesn't want to marry the guy waiting for her at the altar either. Different situation of course!

Actually I've come up with ideas for stories doing writing exercises at workshops. I got the idea for a prize-winning short story from one workshop I did where we had to write a short piece about something we owned and loved - I picked a painting. And then we had to do another short piece about the hero and heroine interacting over the object. Story turned into an uptight female lawyer who falls in love with an artist who wants to release the passionate woman inside (as artists are wont to do in romances!). Congratulations on BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE! It's an amazing story! One of your best - and you made me cry which was very, very mean of you!

By the way, Sia, did you know Annie's THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE was chosen as one of the best books of 2009 on the Barnes and Noble blog? Not at all surprised, Annie's books just get better and better!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I DIDN'T know, Anna. Thanks for mentioning it. Wow, Annie, how cool!

I have to admit, when I first saw the titles to one of your books, I thought, sheesh, those were the themes way back when I first started reading Harlequin. But a few pages in, I'm thinking this is NOT gramma's Harlequins. You have a way of grabbing your reader, Annie West!

Annie West said...

Hi Anna, thanks for dropping by. How interesting that is about thinking along the same lines for your Reckless Surrender scene! I'm already looking forward to that one coming out and CAPTIVE OF SIN is still fresh on the shelves.

I'm intrigued that other writing exercises have been so productive for you. Obviously I need to go to more workshops! Isn't it amazing what will spark an idea?

Anna, I'm glad I made you cry with BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE. I know it was in a good way because you cared about Dario and Alissa. You are a big softie after all. Ooh, thanks for the kind words about my books. Every writer's dream - to know her books are getting better!

Annie West said...

Sia, yes, I'm pretty pleased (huge understaement) about the Barnes and Noble news.

Yes, the Presents titles do focus on themes that have been around for a while, though when I started reading them the titles were a little different and I think you'll notice a few subtle title changes gradually too. However, as you say, the stories are definitely a fresh twist on those popular themes. I love seeing how other writers tackle themes I know and love like marriages of convenience or reunion stories. The current stories are definitely up to date.

SueO said...

Hi Annie! Lovely article. I'm just getting out of that "Tra la! I'm writing for me so whatever comes to me just happens and so what if the WIP is 247K?" I completed my first NaNo this year (Yay, me!) and found ideas exploded through my head as I was trying to justify to my critique partner the name I chose for my main male character. She was 'just okay' with the name Seth Montclair, and it felt right to me. As I was telling her why, all this previously unknown history started spilling out. Most of it made it into the WIP, but some of it will be tucked away for either a sequel or another male lead of that type.

BTW, Sia, Seth Montclair looks almost EXACTLY like the flexing hunk on the left sidebar of your website. Seth is a little older and slightly graying at the temples. Pardon me while I dab a napkin to my lips. :)

I'll be on the lookout for BLACKMAILED BRIDE, Annie!

Annie West said...

Hi Sue,

Congratulations on finishing your first NaNo month! That's brilliant. 247K? Maybe you could write a few shorter ones (G).

Isn't it amazing how explaining details brings all sorts of ideas to the fore? I've had the same thing happen too. But WHY did such and such happen? And suddenly, in responding, so many little details that are vivid and logical, suddenly appear. I love it!

Seth Montclair sounds yum to me. Obviously he is if he bears (or perhaps even bares) a resemblance to one of the heroes on my website. Hm, maybe pass that napkin, Sue. I don't want to dampen my keyboard. What are you going to do now? Let Seth rest for a while and get on with something else, or buff him a little (sounds like fun) so he can visit an editor?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Yay Sue! That is quite an accomplishment, finishing Nano. I'm impressed.

Romance writers have trained me on the appreciation of and the need for eye candy.

I hardly look at them...Uh you finished with that napkin, Annie?

~Sia McKye~ said...

That's an interesting point you made, Annie. You mentioned writing to theme. I never realized how much themes played into stories, really until I started this blog. Boy what an education.

So, are you give some themes the editors' want to see developed?

Annie West said...

Sia, it all depends where the conversation heads as to whether I need that napkin again. Perhaps I'd better get a fresh one in case.

Themes are great fun! You can think of them in terms of fairy tales and fables like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast or the Ugly Duckling. Or go with a more modern sounding lists which could be classed as themes or plot set ups, depending on your point of view like:
Office romance
Reunion (lovers reunited)
Secret baby (what a shock for the hero)
Amnesia
Identity swaps
Marriage of Convenience
Revenge
Blackmail
Virgin and Rake
The Mistress
The Nanny

There are others of course. But these are some of the ones I can think of that have worked well in Harlequin Presents, the line I write for. And though stories have the same theme doesn't mean they're too similar. I love seeing how various writers play with a theme and give it a whole new twist.

Sia, you've never written to a theme? I've only done it a couple of times. Usually the theme evolves after I get the characters!

Marilyn said...

I so envy all of you and your talent. For me, I find sharing what I'm reading in the form of reviews, it's the way I express myself. Sometimes people reading them might not find them professions but honestly, they come from my heart.

Annie, as you well know I absolutely loved Blackmailed Bride, Inexperienced Wife and and I'm so honored that I reviewed your very first book.

Annie West said...

Hi Marilyn! It's great to see you here. How amazing to think we 'met' so long ago when my first book hit the shelves in the US. It almost makes me think I'm an old hand at this writing business. Thanks for the lovely feedback on my stories. Personally, I think reviewing is such a hard job. Good on you for taking it on.

Authorness said...

Hi, Sia and Annie! I hope it's okay if I sip tea here and not coffee...

Annie, wonderful post. You do love to torture your characters! Of course, stories are always more compelling when there are huge hurdles to overcome.

The very first book I wrote was a single title women's fiction book and it was a *disaster*. One good thing did come out of this experiment, though. I had to write a flashback scene in which the heroine was a high school student. It was such a joy to write in the teen mindset and I immediately felt like I'd found my niche. As soon as I completed that book, I jumped into writing a YA novel and haven't looked back. So it's true - no writing effort is wasted.

~ Vanessa

Annie West said...

Hi Vanessa,

If you'd really prefer tea...

How fascinating that you came to writing YA via a failed women's fiction story. And isn't it marvellous when you feel the difference - as if you've finally found your niche. It was that way with me when I finally began writing Presents stories - like coming home. I'll say you haven't looked back with your writing - finalling in the Golden Heart Contest is a huge thing! I hope to see you books on the shelves some time soon.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Annie, that's a wonderful story about the article and the wedding scene. Isn't it amazing what can touch off a whole story?

~Sia McKye~ said...

For those of you who would like to read Marilyn's review of Annie's book:

http://marilyns-romance-reviews.blogspot.com/

or just click on her name above.

VA said...

Sia like you, Annie's title took me way back in time when I borrowed my sister's books. It was a very nice deja vu, especially after reading the excerpt, I was totally hooked.

I have a slew of wips, and each is valuable in what I have gained from it. Whether it was exploring pov, voice, or character development, I grew as a writer. Of course I need to finish my silly Master's degree so I can get back to writing fiction more often. Not enough time.

If there are any scones left, I'll have one.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Scones and fresh clotted cream, Viv. I know it's a favorite of yours.

I thought Annie's explanation on themes was interesting. I know Presents, Supers, and some of the other imprints with Harlequin, do have some themes, but like she said, how each author developes that theme, is what makes it interesting.

Vivian, I'm a bit partial to Rose and also I'm wanting to read your story that uses Great Danes. *tapping my chin with my finger, hmmm I have no idea why I love the idea of Great Danes.

lol!

VA said...

I promise I'll get around to it. Really, the Great Danes are adorable, nearly finished. Rose is more problematic, awfully gritty to marketable.

By the way, I love the new yummy kiltwearer. Can I just have my clotted cream and jam with him. I promised none will go to waste.

Annie West said...

Hi Diane,

Yes, I was pretty amazed that I started writing an article because I'd promised one then ended up with the idea for a story. Of couse it took a little while to sort out all the details, but I just knew I had to write it - it seemed so vivid and intriguing. Plus of course, it seemed I could develop a conflict that would keep both hero and heroine busy for a whole book.

Annie West said...

Sia, thanks for posting that review link. I've been so happy with the reviews for this story and particularly the reader feedback. Everyone seems to comment on Dario. I can't imagine why (G).

Annie West said...

VA, or is it Viv? I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Excerpts are one of my weaknesses - I read a fascinating excerpt and I then have to read the book. Is it any wonder my TBR pile is so big?

It's interesting you talk about your stories teaching you various craft skills. I found the same. The more I wrote the better I became. Sometimes because of craft books I read at the time or feedback from others, but as much from the nuts and bolts process of actually putting a complete story down on the page. It's that 'hands on' approach that's so much for valuable for improving writing skills. Of course it's not all in the past tense, I'm hoping that my writing is getting better now as I write regularly.

Good luck. I hope you find time to devote to your writing again.

SueO said...

Oops, I was unclear. My last novel was originally 247K (then whittled down to 230K), but I'd written it just for me. NaNo is actually struggling to break 70K which isn't a true novel, they say.

I've written a synopsis for it, but I think I'll heed your advice and set it aside for a while.

Maybe I'll go back to whittling the 230K ms.

Cheers! :)
SueO

Annie West said...

Sia, are there still scones? Yum.

You know, if you look at any romance story you'll find themes. I've just listed some of the ones I've seen in my line.

You mentione a story with Great Danes. Sounds like fun! A friend of mine, Kandy Shepherd had her debut book out earlier this year. It's called 'Love is a Four-Legged Word' and it's a fun, feel-good romance that's still beautirully emotional (I read it when I was unwell and it perked me right up!). It's a must for dog lovers. No Great Danes in it but I think she has plans for a rather large dog in one of the follow up stories.

VA said...

It's both Annie. Thanks. I came to the horrid realization that without cloning I can't do everything at once. *sigh

Excerpts are the best marketing, I buy more books that way and recently, almost exclusively. I go to the store with the author and book in mind. If that book isn't in I'll peruse the author's other works.

Many will never be a completed work because they are flawed, but there are elements that I can reuse in a different work. Hopefully, more successfully.

Btw having just trawled your website, very nice, I can say that all of your men are yummy.

Annie West said...

Hi Sue,

There really is a 247K novel? Wow. I thought you were generalising. What a huge effort must have gone into that. As for what comprises a true novel, I think it's all about the content and what you can achieve in those pages.

I'm so impressed you've written your synopsis. They're so hard to do satisfactorily. I still dislike doing them, and I once won a synopsis contest! Setting the book aside is a great idea. And making exploring a brand new idea too. There's nothing like a fresh project to help you see the holes in what you've already written!

Good luck with it all.

Annie West said...

Viv, yes, excerpts give a taste of someone's work, which is great. The other way I buy books a lot is by word of mouth. If friends with similar tastes recommend a writer I'm more likely to give those books a go.

Good luck with the next writing project. Just finishing a story is such an achievement!

Oh, you like my heroes? Fantastic to hear. I'm rather partial to them. I've got a soft spot for each one, even though I delight in giving them a difficult time. But they've got broad shoulders. They can take it!

Marilyn said...

Thanks Sia, the book was nothing like I expected after reading some of Annie's blog posts and then when I read it, I was breathless.

Annie West said...

Marilyn, were my blogs confusing? I wonder if it's writer's perspective as opposed to reader's? I'm really glad that I know you enjoyed it. Otherwise I'd worry about you getting breathless (G)!

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Annie, and so nice to meet you! I love how your idea for an article grew into a book, and it sounds wonderful! And scent is so important to me when I write--every character has to have their own fragrance, and I sometimes think of them by that scent.

I'm still an aspiring writer, but I don't throw anything away. And I recently learned the term "plot bunny", which is that little idea-creature that comes hopping into your mind, generally right when you're in the middle of something else entirely. They should be captured and cared for and fed, but don't let the tricksy little things distract you from finishing whatever else you're working on!

I keep an "idea file", and jot down character names, a couple of lines of plot, maybe even a whole scene that pops into my head. Then, when something like NaNoWriMo comes up (I just finished it, too), I pull out the file, grab one of those "plot bunnies" and see what happens!

Annie West said...

Hi Kat, it's lovely to meet you too. Being a writer is hard work and it's great to meet other people who understand what you're talking about.

Hey, I'd never heard of 'plot bunnies' before! I love it. I can can see why you'd want to keep them. I think I'll be referring to them myself in future. Or maybe in my case it should be plot roos since kangaroos are a national symbol and rabbits are a declared pest in Australia because of the damage they do here.

Good on you for keeping your idea file. How brilliant. I do something similar and it's been so good. As you say those bunnies can distract you from what you're doing if you're not careful and it's so important to make the effort to finish a project. Getting though a whole ms is such an excellent way of improving your writing.

Hm, I'm wondering if I should think carroty thoughts to encourage those plot bunnies.

aries18 said...

Hi Annie,

Nice to meet someone from Oz. I visited your part of the world in 1998 (gosh, has it been that long ago? I was able to stay for 3 months! It was so wonderful.)

I believe no piece of writing is a waste. For all the reasons you listed and more. You never know what you might write that one thing... that gem you've been aiming at. It's lovely to have you remind me of that. Thank you.

Thanks to you Sia for bringing us so many new voices.

Have a terrific weekend ladies.

Kat Sheridan said...

Annie, this is my favorite link for a discussion of plot bunnies (although I do love the idea of "plot roos"!

http://paul.caffeinatedbliss.com/archives/2008/07/plot-bunnies/

Conda V. Douglas said...

Was it Yeats who first said "No work is ever wasted?" I love that--and I've cannibalized (and then sold) previous works to prove the truth of that statement!

Annie West said...

Hi Aries,

How nice that you managed to visit Australia for 3 months. It's great to have time to explore when you're visiting somewhere new.

Glad to hear my blog struck a chord with you. Good luck with your writing!

Annie West said...

Oh, Kat, thanks for that link. What a beauty! And I loved the pics too, especially the very first one. Thanks for sharing.

Annie West said...

Hi Conda, Hm, I'll have to look that up. I'm not sure if it was Yeats. Whoever it was they were write! Good on you cannibalising previous stories. There's always something you can get out of them, even if it's mainly finding out how NOT to do something!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, of course it has the word Caffeinated in it. How appropriate for Over Coffee. I often think of my blog and my guests in the terms of Caffeinated Bliss...

Love my blog much? Me? What was your first clue?

~Sia McKye~ said...

FROM ANNIE WEST:

Well I've left it late in the day to choose a winner, possibly because I've been having such a great time! But now I'll bite the bullet and announce a WINNER for my book.

Drum roll please.... CONGRATULATIONS KAT!
If you contact me at annie@annie-west.com with your postal address and the name of the book you'd like from my backlist, I'll pop it into the mail for you - just in time for Christmas.

Thanks everyone for your warm, friendly welcome. I've enjoyed our discussion. And, again, thank you, Sia. You're always a wonderful hostess - especially with those scones...

Happy Christmas everyone!
Annie

~Sia McKye~ said...

Annie, it was a joy to have you. We always have such fun discussions when you're around.

Wishing you a great holiday season!

I was gonna send you snow, but I knew it would melt...

~Sia McKye~ said...

CONGRATULATIONS KAT!

Kat Sheridan said...

OH YAY!! How exciting!! Thank you, thank you! Off to happily check out the backlist. Decisions, decisions...

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia,

Loved the post...you always have such wonderful chats. ((hugs))

Oh BTW, drop by my place I have a KICK ASS AWARD for you!

Hawk

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