by Elena Santangelo

After "Where do you get your ideas?" the most-asked question of successful writers is "How do you write?" I stress "successful" because I've only been asked this question once. Still, I've heard that other writers have been asked so often, their responses have become downright snide. "With a pen," they'll quip, and go hide under their PC table, not caring if you're so insulted, you won't buy another book.

However, as I said, I've only been asked once. Fortunately, I wrote down my answer, so whenever success comes my way, I can simply set my printer for multiple copies.

In case you've been dying to ask, but too shy, here's a copy for you:

HOW I BEGIN: I sit in front of a blank PC screen, fingers poised over the keys, waiting for divine inspiration, and I type the first word that comes into my head, almost always "chocolate." If the divine is really inspiring me, I sometimes type "dark chocolate" or "Reese's Cups" or "Wilbur Buds." This, of course, is no way to begin a book, so I'll erase the screen and start over, until whatever I've typed LOOKS like the way a novel should begin.

THE MIDDLE: see "HOW I BEGIN", repeat for each chapter.

THE END: A chapter from the end I realize nothing makes sense. Panic ensues. I go back and add five characters, four of whom are extra victims. The book still doesn't make sense, but with all the added carnage, I convince myself no one will notice. I steal a last chapter from a Robin Hathaway book and send the completed opus to my editor.

THE REVISIONS: I love revisions. Especially if I'm reading someone else's book. I sit there for hours, saying things like, "What a dope! She should have made Stanley a cross-dresser and given Gwynned a limp." The part of revisions I hate is when my editor sends back my manuscript, telling me to eliminate five characters, tie up all the loose ends, and rewrite the last chapter so at least the names match.

MY FINAL ANSWER: There can be no one way to write a book. The creative process is absolutely unique in each individual and, I'm finding, to each project. How much structure is necessary depends on a writer's personality. Since the main kick I get from writing involves creating order from chaos (see THE END above), too much structure up front (outlining) would spoil the epiphany I experience near the end ("So that's who did it! Elena, you're brilliant!").

People decorate rooms in different ways: some make diagrams, some just shove furniture around until it looks right, some care about matching colors, some purposefully use contrasts, some only want a place to show off Aunt Hecuba's plastic Santa collection. What matters isn't the process of how a room is redone, but whether anyone will want to spend time there when it's finished.

Copyright 2006, Elena Santangelo

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