Nora Roberts’ Prolific Writing Method

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Nora Roberts has written over 200 romance novels, averaging over six books a year. Her novels have spent more than 800 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, including over 150 weeks at number one. She’s prolific and a hit.

Talent

We want to know how she got be prolific, but some insight into her talent would also be nice. Being a hit depends on what you write. A lot of that depends on reading lots of books to know what sells. Roberts has been a life-long reader and comes from a family of readers, so she knows what a good book looks like. But, she didn’t start in childhood like some of the other prolific writers I’ve profiled. (See Isaac Asimov’s Prolific Writing Method and John Creasey’s Prolific Writing Method.)

She didn’t start writing novels until a blizzard snowed her in with her two sons. There was nothing else to do, so she began working on the idea for a novel and found that she loved the writing process. She’d spent lots of time making up stories before, but this was the start of turning her stories into novels.

Productivity

Prolific and proficient writing seemed to come together for Roberts. The blizzard was in 1979 and she got her first novel acceptance in 1981. That’s a fast start. Her open secret is that she writes for eight hours a day, every day. One source claimed she wrote six manuscripts before getting her first acceptance. That would get her past the million word count that’s been estimated as the milestone for proficiency – if she uses multiple drafts. She does.

The usual multiple draft process is to write an outline, work it into a long enough story for a novel, and then write the novel in three drafts. Roberts skips the outline, writes a short first draft with everything she wants in the story, then adds details and characterization in the second draft to make it a full novel. She uses the final draft to polish.

Lessons Learned

What have we learned here? I think there are a few good pointers.

Read a lot to get good examples of how to write.

Write a lot so that you improve fast.

Put lots of time into your writing. Eight hours a day might not be possible if you have a full time job, but how about four hours a day? Keep it up long enough and you may not need the day job.

These seem to be recurring pointers in the “Prolific Writing Method” articles. The only one missing this time is starting to write when you’re young. Nora Roberts has shown that’s not necessary when you’re a reading addict. This is good news for most of us.

Article by Ivan Izo.

Imagination Comes from Within

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Every writer knows they need life experiences to write their stories. You never write a story completely from imagination. For example, consider the story of a squirrel who has an adventure in an abandoned building. You know what a squirrel looks like and have probably watched one or more at some time. You know what an abandoned building looks like because you’ve been in buildings. The story will be a combination of life experience and imagination.

Everything we write is based on life experience plus imagination. Even non-fiction works this way. We learned the subject before writing about it and we make what we write our own through our experiences with it and our imaginations. We write fiction based on our relationships, our work, our education, and our adventures.

We don’t need to have had every experience we put into our fiction. If we’ve worked in one trade, we know how all the trades work. If we can cook our own breakfast, we can write from the perspective of a cook. If we mowed lawns one summer, we understand what a person in a lawn care job does. Education is similar. Get a degree in one liberal art and you understand all liberal arts. Get a degree in one science and you understand all the sciences. Have enough relationships and you can understand what others are talking about when their relationship are going well or bad or weird. That goes into your fiction too. Where am I going with this?

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Write Faster by Telling Me a Story

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I once read a book that said we should write like we talk. It was such a quick easy read that I don’t remember much about it except the main idea and that it was a fast read. It’s point was the idea that you can write faster when you write like you talk.

Since writing like you talk produces a fast forgettable read, there are advantages and disadvantages.

Anything that can be read fast can be written fast. You will never write as fast as you read, but you can write pretty damn fast when you’re writing like you talk. You don’t need to make the conversion from speech to literature. And, yes, I’m including all genres as “literature” here, not just the literature genre. One of the advantages of this method is its use for things that you want to write fast and don’t care what anyone thinks. I mean more than just writing you get sucked into doing for someone else and want to get done fast, but it works for that too.

First Drafts

You don’t care what others think of your first drafts. They’ll never see them. One of the fastest ways to write first drafts is to intentionally make them terrible. Make them terrible by writing like you speak. As each idea comes up, write it like you were telling the idea to a friend. Your going to re-write everything anyway.

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Ursula Bloom’s Prolific Writing Method

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Ursula Bloom wrote 560 books, the first when she was seven years old. We can see already that she had one of the traits of many prolific authors – starting early.

A family friend, who was a well-known author, encouraged her to write more.

For someone who made the Guinness book of world records for her writing output, there’s not a lot of information about her writing method. Maybe that’s because her romantic novels were based on her own life and we can read about her there.

We would not be reading autobiographical material. Instead, we would discover the life she wished she was living. She was disappointed with her social status and fantasized about a more interesting life in a higher station. At least, her novels are about a more interesting life in a higher station. And that seems to be one of the “secrets” to her prolific writing – her imagination. She enjoyed writing about an imaginary life and when you enjoy what you are doing it goes much easier.

Many authors write about an imaginary life that has more excitement than their real world. It’s much safer to write about the life of a detective, street racer, bank robber, or lion hunter than to actually do it. You don’t need to be rich to write about jetting around the world or creating businesses. The space program doesn’t need to take off for you to take off to distant worlds. You don’t need to wait for the future before writing about it. You don’t need to time travel into the past to write historical fantasy. Vampires and Gods don’t need to exist for you to make up stories about them.

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Prolific Writing Starts with Prolific Idea Generation

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I’ve always assumed the only thing standing in the way of most writers becoming prolific was getting their butt into the chair and writing. I was wrong. Many writers have trouble generating ideas. I can think of only one reason not to have new ideas for articles; a belief that you must write about ideas that have never been written about before.

You can spend hours working through different ideas in your head until you find something you don’t believe you’ve seen before, write it up, and publish. This is the long way to write an article. Ideas that come as inspiration will go much faster. But, either method will have the same result. Now that you’ve written the idea, you’ll notice it appear in someone else’s writing. That’s why people sometimes think their idea was plagiarized, sue, and find out the defendant wrote their article, book, or story first. There is nothing new beyond scientific discovery.

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Speedy Writing Using Your Writing Amuse

Speedy Writing Using Your Writing Amuse

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If your muse is the spirit that gives you a perfect story to write, what is it that let’s you crank out a rough first draft quickly?

Is it a pulp fiction muse? No. Pulp fiction stops at the first draft. The rest of us turn our fast, unedited, mixed-quality first drafts into good material by revising.

Your amuse? Maybe.

Asocial is a lack of interest in being social.

Atheist is a lack of interest in theism. (Or at least it should be.)

Amuse is a lack of interest in your muse.

Are you trying to write and your muse isn’t helping? Better get help from your amuse. Your amuse doesn’t care about a perfect story. If it doesn’t know what happens next, it might write “something magical happens” and move on. When your amuse sees too many directions for the story, it may write a paragraph on several of those directions and then keep writing the story that follows. Your amuse doesn’t care how much mess is left behind for the second draft.

The amuse finds it funny to make a mess of things. It would rather make a mess than not move forward. The amuse is amusing.

Of course, the amuse is nothing new. I’m just putting a name on writing with your editor turned off. I once heard a story about a high school English teacher who rarely had a student that was able to finish writing a novel as their term paper. Forgive me if you’ve heard the original and I’ve changed it. It was a long time ago. What I remember well about the story was her experiment to get those term papers done. She changed the assignment. They no longer needed to write a novel. They needed to write a bad novel. The competition was to write the worst novel ever written.

Every student wrote a novel that year. They probably were some of the worst novels ever written, but they gotten written.
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On the Nine Self-Publishing Skillsets

Homicidal-Tendencies

 

I’ve learned a few things about self-publishing while writing Homicidal Tendencies, my first published book. I had to wear many hats to complete the process. Except for writing and editing, many writers recommend hiring other people for each task. I couldn’t afford that. I needed to learn it all myself. This slowed down the work on my first book. Now that I have those skills, I should be able to increase my writing speed for the entire process when I write the next one. I thought I’d share an overview of the process. Deeper articles on some of these steps will follow here later.

It took about three years to write and edit the book. I was studying more about writing and editing while I wrote it. I would learn something new and need to use that in the next revision. There are normally three revisions when writing a book. I had four because I did a developmental edit after the second revision.

If you’re open to learning new things, you can develop any skill. Most of those listed below are related to writing so you already have some skill in those. Formatting and publishing both have low learning curves if you’re good at researching. The only two that may present a big challenge are cover design and marketing. I’ll talk briefly about each of the nine skills.

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Crime Writing in America – Legal Issues

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Earlier, I posted the article Crime Writing in Canada with plans to quickly follow it with “Crime Writing in America”. Sorry for the hold up. I haven’t had good luck finding special legal issues for crime writing published in America.

America has more freedom than Canada because of the first amendment right to freedom of speech. I could find no laws against publishing “crime comics”, stories where the theme is crime, or the suggestion that all criminals be either dead or in prison by the end of the story. That makes stories published in America more realistic.

Publish in America and your main character can be a successful criminal in a story centered around crime with the main characters still alive and free at the end. Sure. You’re free to have all that in your novel, but would you want to? Would you buy a second novel from an author who wrote something like that?

Common sense is as good a censor as the law. We all like to see characters suffer for bad behavior and prosper for doing good. But enough about how lawless of a story you might want to write. What about the laws that apply everywhere, even with freedom of speech?

Hate Literature

Laws against hate literature are nearly universal. I think this is mainly a non-fiction issue. Nobody wants to waste their money on hate literature.

You may have a group in a work of fiction that hates another group because of race, gender, religion, or some other politically incorrect category. As long as they’re the antagonists and are going to get what’s coming to them in the end, that shouldn’t be a problem. If they’re the heroes of the story, you’re heading into trouble and your problems go deeper than just your story.

The remaining issues apply to every kind of writing. They’re all to do with people and corporations protecting their intellectual property and their image.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work word for word without giving them credit. It depends a lot on how much you copy. If every sentence was subject to copyright, you couldn’t say “It was a hot summer’s day” because somebody has written that in a story already. Probably hundreds of someones.

Plagiarism applies if you copy an entire article or story or substantial parts of one. But what if you wanted to use “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen” as the first line in a chapter as a way to suggest you’re writing about a dystopia like George Orwell’s “1984”? It’s not a substantial portion of the novel, but the line is so distinctive it may qualify as a trademark of sorts. That’s the next issue.

Trademark Infringement

If you decide to put a Starbucks Auto Repair in your novel, you’ll be committing trademark infringement. The name “Starbucks” is an established trademark and, if your book is successful enough for them to notice, you can be sued. But maybe your book will be a flop and everything will be okay.

Trademark Dilution

If your characters like to meet at a Starbucks instead of a Starbucks coffee house, you’ll be committing trademark dilution. I see this in a lot of published novels, so I’m guessing companies aren’t too worried about this issue. The reason trademark dilution is a problem is that the Starbucks corporation wouldn’t want Starbucks to become the generic name for all coffee houses. It doesn’t seem like that could happen, but Kleenex facial tissues would disagree.

When you have a runny nose, you need a facial tissue. Kleenex is one brand among many. At one time “Kleenex” was used in place of “facial tissue” no matter what the brand of facial tissue. That was brand dilution and Kleenex facial tissue had to sue writers who used their brand name as the generic name. Now nobody in a novel uses a Kleenex unless it’s a Kleenex facial tissue.

How do you decide what to use? You don’t want to always need to say “Starbucks coffee house” and “Kleenex facial tissue”. That can be clunky looking. You could make up your own brands or just use the generic names. There’s nothing wrong with characters stopping at a coffee house or wiping their eyes with a tissue. You can also get permission to use company names. I suspect that’s why we see characters stopping at Starbucks and other trademarked companies without the generic name following. Some trademarks are distinctive enough to be safe from dilution.

Libel

Anything negative you say about a product, company, or person can be libelous. This is a problem in non-fiction because the book is your opinion.

In fiction, it’s not a problem that a character says libelous things. It’s the opinion of a fictional character. It may be a problem if the narrator says libelous things, but the narrator isn’t necessarily the author. Narrators can be fictitious too.

Is that every American law on writing and publishing?

It might be. If it isn’t, at least it’s a start on things to look out for in your writing. I think most of us writing novels have little to worry about, but there are those few look-outs.

Article by Ivan Izo.

Don’t Forget the Subplots

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I tried to make a list of all the books I’d read once. It was over 2000 titles long when I realized there was a problem. There were some authors where I’d read dozens of their books and didn’t recognize a single summary when I looked them up. For other authors, I remembered every single book. What’s the difference between the two? That’s hard to say given I don’t remember one type, but I’ll make a guess.

There are some authors whose books you can read very fast because the story is simple. We follow one character or group pursuing a single goal. All the story complications have to do with that single goal. You can zip through the story quickly and forget it just as quick. Nothing wrong with that. Some authors build successful careers on that writing style. I’m not even suggesting you shouldn’t use that style.

There are other authors whose books you can’t read fast. The people in their stories have their own motivations and don’t cooperate with the central story. In other words, the novels have subplots. These are the 2000 plus books I remembered well. Sub-plots make a story unique and more realistic.

Nobody has a favorite book that has no sub-plots unless it’s a favorite book from childhood. Adult novels that are simple quick reads are too much like other books in their genre. They are forgettable.

As an example, I’d like to talk about the plots of a few favorite books. Recent research has found that knowing the plot of a story doesn’t ruin a story. Even knowing the ending won’t stop you from enjoying a book. Still, I will hold back the endings.

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Managing Action in Your Fiction

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When you deal with the big problems successfully, you have the resources you need to deal with the small problems. It works like this in both real life and fiction. The resolution of the main story problem, the engine of the story, should also wipe out the smaller problems.

How do you make sure the smaller problems are tied in to the bigger ones? You write the big problems first. The multiple draft process follows below. If you’re a seat-of-your-pants writer, you can write the prep docs in your imagination.

Synopsis

The synopsis starts with your big story problem, the idea you want to turn into a story. What starts the problem? How are you going to open the novel with action? Who are the important characters? What attempts will they make to solve the problem without success? How do they change at the halfway point from investigating the problem to being on top of it and actively working for a solution? How will you create major changes in the story at the one third and two third points? How do they resolve the problem at the end?
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