Reading about writing, writing about reading

I subscribe to two writers’ magazines. This may seem like one too many writers’ magazines, but I can’t bring myself to ditch one or the other of them (Writer’s Digest and The Writer). Even in my busy life, I try to read both of them cover to cover, just because I love to learn about writing. But I especially love to hear how other authors approach their craft–it’s kind of like reality t.v. for writers, a bit of literary voyeurism–peeking in the window or hovering over a shoulder to see how a writer writes. In the most recent Writer’s Digest magazine (January 2012), there is an interview with one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon (she is also on the cover.) She is the author of the genre-defying Outlander series-I am currently reading the fifth installment, and I’ve got to say that after all this time (her books are long and I read other, smaller books in between them), the characters seem like friends of mine, their lives seem familiar and real to me. I always wonder how Gabaldon–a writer with no special creative writing training–works her magic.

Now that I’m a writer, I can’t read a book without sort of analyzing the author’s process as I go along. It’s a bit distracting, unfortunately, and I’ve had a harder time losing myself in fiction the last few years. But when the story is really good, I don’t stop to analyze anything until it’s all over, and then sometimes I’ll go back and delve into the story in more writerly detail. But Gabaldon’s books are so complex, I can’t divine how she put the whole thing together without losing her mind. It was fascinating to read the interview that explained her process, which is not chronological. According to the article, she writes sections based around concrete images and dialogue, but doesn’t know quite where they will go in her story at first. I, on the other hand, feel that I must write chronologically, for the most part, so that I can better keep track of my characters’ mind sets and plot development. My life is so chaotic, I don’t want my writing to reflect it!

But Gabaldon, like me, has three children,and already had multiple careers by the time she turned her hand to ficiton. I truly suspect she’s a genius, and therefore all of her advice wouldn’t apply to me! But I really enjoy hearing about other mom writers and how they managed to get anything written when their children were  young. In the article, she says, “You know, everybody wants a piece of you if you’re Mommy. And they want it all the time–everybody wants all of you all the time. And therefore to see you doing something like [writing], I can say they feel threatened–they don’t like it, and they will let you know in no uncertain terms. And so you are constantly having not only to fight off your family, but also your own feelings and guilt.” She was also asked how she achieves balance nowadays, and she responded, “My kids grew up.” Amen to that, sister! Us writer mommies are all in the same boat, squeezing writing into the little time that we have, because we can’t not write. 

I write when my baby naps (less and less these days) because it’s the only time I can focus. And I feel like I’m getting absolutely nothing done! Even as I write this post, I have been interrupted twice by my oldest child–looking for paper, then showing me a word search that he made. Could that not have waited until I was done??

But Gabaldon thinks that being super busy with multiple writing projects helps her to get more done–apply butt to chair and all that–the more you do, the more you get done. But it’s hard for my butt to stay in the chair when my baby is crawling and exploring, when food needs to get shopped for and cooked, when kids need to get picked up and driven about. And I am nobody’s genius. But I do try to find time in the day to either read about writing, or write about reading, or just plain write. When I first started out, a writer friend Dean King told me to strive for an hour a day. And I thought, of course I can do that! That is how The Outer Banks House got written, I swear, with maybe a few longer stints on the weekends, when  my husband took the kids out. And that is how the sequel will get written as well, bit by bit by bit, the way that children grow when you aren’t looking.


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