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Jul
11
2012

A writer’s processes – Trudi Canavan

After her words of wisdom on Monday, Trudi now talks about the processes that have enabled her to become one of the most successful fantasy writers in Australia.

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

Yes, for short stories it tends to be a matter of catching the inclination to write one while it’s there, so I may end up writing on weekends or times of day I don’t usually write, and there may be a big gap between starting and finishing one. I still find that outlining means I’m more likely to get it mostly right first time around.

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

I’m a planner. If anything, I have to stop myself planning down to the tiniest detail and just get on and write the thing. And though I don’t often stray from the outline, I do allow myself a little room to work some things out as I go.

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’d prefer to revise after the first draft is done, but that never happens. Revising is a great way to get back up to speed when I’ve had a break from writing – and since a first draft takes up to a year to write and it’s likely I’m going to catch a cold, have publicity to do for the last book, go to a convention, have a Christmas and New Year crazy season to deal with, and go on a much-needed holiday in that time, there will always be breaks. How far back I go for the revision depends on how far into the book I am, how long the break was for, and how much time I have left. Of course, when the first draft is done I go through the whole book again anyway, no matter how much revising I did before.

4) How many times do you revise before you submit?

Ideally, one thorough polish from start to finish, then a light one following beta reader feedback. My new editor at Orbit tends to send me pre-copy edit feedback and it’s much more efficient to incorporate this at the same time as beta reader feedback, so now I’m submitting earlier. If I rewrite more than half a page I’ll revise that whole scene or chapter again.

5) How has your process changed over the course of your career?

Before I was published and didn’t have deadlines I had more time to rewrite and yet my writing doesn’t need as much reworking now. When world building I don’t spend as much time fleshing things out only to find I don’t need that detail. Different editors have had different approaches for me to adapt to, as well.

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?

The main way my process can be different between books is that the last book of a series often requires checking previous books to ensure consistency and no unintentional loose ends. I have to admit, having written seven books set in one world, the idea of having to do this consistency check again is a big disincentive to write more stories set in that world!

7) What’s the most difficult part of the book for you? Why do you think?

That depends what you mean by ‘difficult’. The most challenging kind of writing is high action scenes – battle scenes in particular. You have to describe what goes where in a way that readers can picture and is physically possible, keeping to rules of battle that make the combatants closely enough matched that there is tension while ensuring the right person wins, without the prose being a dry list of where arms and legs move to. Not unlike writing explicit sex scenes, I imagine!

The most harrowing scene to write is one where really nasty things happen to a character. I’ve found these ones don’t tend to need as much reworking as others, as if subconsciously I want to ensure I don’t have to dwell there again. Whereas exciting or romantic scenes tend to need a lot more reworking.

The most problematic part tends to be the first few chapters, where you have to introduce ideas and characters without boring readers with slabs of dry description, or recap events from previous books. Most reworking happens here, for me.

The part I like least of the whole book creating process is the first pages proof, where all you are doing is checking the corrections. You’re already read the book several times and just want it gone, yet you also know this is your last chance to fix anything, yet you can’t make big changes.

Aside from that last one, these difficulties are part of the challenge that makes writing a fun and satisfying craft. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than achieving something you had to really stretch yourself to do.

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Trudi Canavan lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has been making up stories about people and places that don’t exist for as long as she can remember. Her first short story, “Whispers of the Mist Children”, received an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 1999. Soon after, her bestselling Black Magician Trilogy was published, and in 2010 was named an ‘Evergreen’ by The Bookseller. The Age of the Five trilogy followed, then a prequel and sequel to Black Magician Trilogy. The prequel, The Magician’s Apprentice won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2009.

You can read more habits and processes here: http://nicolermurphy.com/writers-habits-and-processes/

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