The event was a panel discussion where the authors answered prepared questions which focused on their writing journey from novel inception to publication, as well as their personal writing process. Those in attendance included:
- Gennifer Albin (Crewel)
- Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone)
- Jessica Brody (52 Reasons to Hate My Father)
- Anne Aguirre (Enclave)
Question 1: How long does it typically take you to write the first draft?
Answers of course varied by author but typically a first draft was written between six weeks and four months with another two to six months of revision before ready for submission.
Two of the authors said that they typically write 50,000 words a month - every month - not just for a special project like NaNoWriMo. In other words… writers write!
They also commented on the importance of completing a work. Many of them had quit projects after just one or two chapters. "A messy first draft is far better than several perfect first chapters"
In addition, many of them truly enjoy world building, or character development (or in my case… historical research). But they all cautioned that a writer cannot allow these useful tools to become distractions to writing the draft.
In addition, they all said that they are usually working on at least two different projects at one time: writing a draft of one and completing revisions on another.
Question 2: Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Again, the answer varied by author but in essence they all said … ideas are everywhere - from overhearing casual conversations at the coffee shop, to watching the evening news, to just people watching at the mall or park. Jessica Brody volunteered that the idea for 52 Reasons came when she was parked outside a building and watched the meter maid make the rounds. She wondered what it might be like to be a meter maid … just for a week. And that led her to wonder what other jobs she might like to try for a week.
She shared that "what if" is a powerful tool. Her tip of the day was to take any non-fiction story - and ask what if … find a way to make it "cooler"
Question 3: How do you structure your novel? What is the process?
Again, the answers varied. Some authors had a general idea of the characters, the fictional world in which they lived, and a basic story line, but the process was organic. They allowed the story to go where it desired.
Others were more structured, like Jessica Brody, who utilizes the Save the Cat method. In essence this screen play structure of 15 beats can also be applied to novel writing. (as a side note, I have this book reserved at my local library)
One author had always been a linear writer until one day she was stuck. So instead of fretting on what came next, she decided to write a scene she wanted. In the end, she found this method quite liberating and now rarely writes in linear fashion. Often she will start with the end, then write the beginning, then ping pong back and forth until she concludes in the middle.
Final question: How long did it take from finished draft to publication?
A loaded question, to say the least. While some of them shared a Cinderella story, that is, the first agent signed them within a week and had the manuscript sold within days…. they were also quick to note that there was a lot of behind the scenes writing before that magical moment.
I particularly enjoyed Anne Aguirre's candid response. She wrote her first novel at the age of fifteen and received her first rejection a year later. This did not deter her, however, In fact, over the course of twenty years she wrote numerous novels, all them rejected. She realized she was writing to the market rather than her passion, and so finally sat down and wrote the novel of her dreams. Her agent tried to convince her to tweak it, but she held firm. In the end, she left that agent, found another, and Enclave became a bestseller. Quite the inspiring story!
The panel discussion was only an hour… but there was a lot of useful conversation. I am most definitely glad that I attended, and I am looking forward to next Wednesday when Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, will be presenting the history and future of this November writing event.