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Apr
25
2012

A writer’s processes – Tansy Rayner Roberts

On Monday, Tansy gave some great advice on approaching writing habits – particularly about not being precious about the time you have. Today, she talks about the processes that have led her to becoming a multi-award winning writer.

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1)     Do you have a different process for writing short stories versus novels?

Mostly I start at the beginning and charge on through, until I get to the end, occasionally skipping bits and coming back to them.  So basically the same.  But with novels I do a lot more of keeping track of what and where and who and THEMES and plot and structure and all of that business so that when I inevitably run aground every 10,000 words or so, I can start getting a sense for what the novel as a whole will do.  Novels are much more complicated but I do love them dearly as a form, because there’s so much more room to move in.  I plan less and less, the older I get, though I do a lot of retroactive planning, which is useful in the editorial process.

But right now I am in love with writing short stories, for the first time in years.  And I feel like I can be a lot more experimental with them, which is a different kind of freedom.

2)     Do you plan out your stories, or do you write organically?

I like loose plans – vague lists of happenings and ideas.  I once wrote a novel really efficiently by writing a list of chapter headings and nothing else.  If I over-plan, I kill the book.  Super planning is not my super power.  But it also depends on the book.  My big thing of recent times is starting the books/story a lot sooner after getting the initial idea, instead of making it wait in a queue for three years first. Amazing how easy it is to be inspired when you’re still on your first love affair with a story, instead of having to revive an older passion.
3)     Do you wait to finish the draft before revising, or do you revise as you go? If when you finish – how do you approach it? If as you go – how do you approach that?
I do both.  Probably a lot more since I started writing in Scrivener, because it’s just so much easier to dodge back and change a thing here and there.  Mostly I try to press on, without changing stuff in the past, and save it for the rewrite.  But often if I’m stuck I find running back to tweak earlier scenes can free up my writing momentum.

I always forget that I hate editing.  I’ve just realised this about myself.  Well, it’s not true, I love the editing process, my problem is that as soon as the wordcount momentum is gone, I struggle to get started, and to see the shape of a novel well enough to edit it.  I flounder, and I seem to be getting worse at this as I get older.  Luckily my first drafts are getting a LOT better than in previous years, but of course that doesn’t compensate for kick arse ninja editing skills.  I need to work more on this.

4)     How many times do you revise before you submit?
Somewhere between one and seven, depending on the book.
5)     How has your process changed over the course of your career?
I write cleaner first drafts, and concentrate more on getting it right the first time so I can hang the rest of the book off on it.  I’m faster, too, which is the best thing I acquired from my two post-PhD years of obsessive RPG gaming online.  I can first draft like the WIND, and get a novel length manuscript completed in a few-to-six months instead of having to take one year per book, which was my old method.
6)     If you’ve mentioned previously (or haven’t but think it’s true) that the process is different for each book, can you give some more details on how this is the case?
Each book has its own needs, and not just writing in different genres or at different lengths.  I recently completed a first person urban fantasy novel which was hugely different to writing my previous multi POV trilogy.  The pace is different, the structure is less unwieldy and less likely to need to be shifted around, but also there’s nowhere to hide, no chance to put a character down and play with someone else while they are cooking nicely.  The shorter a book is, the more likely I am to write it in a linear fashion, though my new barely-underway adult fantasy is written far more piecemeal than I ever have before, which is partly because I started it at Nanowrimo where the goal is to write no matter what, and partly because it’s more experimental and strange than my previous books.

Every child is your favourite, though!  When you’re writing a different book…

7)     What’s the most difficult part of the book for you? Why do you think?
Starting again after setting down a project for even a few weeks.  Waiting for the momentum to build up and the novel to sing.  I have so much less patience these days!  Also, the first revision is incredibly daunting.  For some reason, it’s like an exam for me – I was never bothered about exams in my teen years and gradually got more and more freaked out by them the older I got.

Possibly I over think things.  There’s that.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of the Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts.  Her short story collection, Love and Romanpunk, was released last year from Twelfth Planet Press.  She is one of the voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast.  You can find her at her blog at http://tansyrr.com and on Twitter as @tansyrr.
You can read more writers habits and processes here: http://nicolermurphy.com/writers-habits-and-processes/
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