by Elena Santangelo
After "Where do you get your ideas?" the most-asked question of
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
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.
see "HOW I BEGIN",
repeat for each chapter.
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.
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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