your writing questions answered (part 4)

If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of Writer’s Week, have at it. And I’ll say it again–the comments are phenomenal. If you’ve strapped for time, read those instead.

I’m excited to answer some of your questions! I won’t elaborate (ramble) as much as usual, in an effort to include as many people as I can.

Christine Lee Smith asks: I was trained as a journalist – writing in as little space as possible. How do I take “pamphlet” mentality to make a book? And – how do you begin? With an outline, introduction…or just a pen and paper?

Actually, Christine (by the way, you are an INCREDIBLE photographer), your journalism background will serve you well as a writer. My first book? Originally 110,000 words. I trimmed it down to 69,000. Fluff, fluff, fluff. Just because you (I) have a propensity for words doesn’t mean readers want to shuffle through the packing peanuts to get to the point of the book. Just the facts, ma’am.

And how do I begin? Never with an outline, never with an introduction. I just dive in with the first thoughts that come to mind. I write all over the place and stitch the pieces together later. (But that’s just me.)

Teresa asks: How do you get all of your notes into something that makes sense?! And do you set aside a certain amount of time each week to write when you are in the middle of a project?

I pray. A lot. And I’m not kidding. When everything is all jumbled up and I’m completely overwhelmed by a million parts, none of which work together, I stop and pray my eyeballs out. God truly helps me focus, gives me words. I could NEVER do this on my own.

And no, I’ve never set aside a certain amount of time each week to write (although that’s a splendid idea). I write whenever I get the chance. And lose sleep if I have to. And I usually have to.

O asks: How do you pick one subject or character when your head is swimming with ideas and “people”? And Gail says: Talk a minute about your process of moving from a thousand ideas to narrowing in on a real, cohesive book topic.

Since I don’t write fiction (although I’d love to someday), I don’t usually have characters swimming in my head. Good thing, because I’m out of space up there. I do have a ton of ideas swirling and whirling. Usually, one will rise to the surface. I’ll start to see it everywhere. I’ll go to sleep at night thinking about it. I won’t be able to shake it, and then I’ll know. Write about this.

After I wrote my first book, the publisher asked me what I wanted to write next. I gave them a list of 5-6 book ideas. They picked this one. Besides the fact that the subject matter was semi-terrifying, they made the choice, and I, Lady Indecisive, was off the hook.

Whimzie (coolest name ever) says: From first idea to printed word, what’s the average length of time it takes to birth a book (or gestation length, if you will, Mrs. 52 Zoos)?

Hmmm… Every project is different. My first book? I technically started writing it on my honeymoon. January 1998. It was on the shelves March 2006. Now, that’s a long time. But I really wrote off and on and spent an inordinate amount of time convincing myself that it would probably never be a real book and I really shouldn’t bother.

Books #2 through #4 came out in February 2007, March 2008 and January 2009 (I think), so those obviously just took a few months to write.

The Zoo Book? The idea came to me in July 2008, and I’m aiming for a December 1, 2009 deadline. This project was obviously different. I was busy doing something for a year and now I’m writing about it.

So, tell me–what are the biggest obstacles you face when it comes to getting serious about writing (or any other dream/calling you might have)?

See you tomorrow for our last day of Writer’s Week! Happy October! (my favorite month of the year)

p.s. The winners of The Husband Project were: Eva, Krista S. and Rachele (I already notified the winners.) Kathi is giving away more copies on her blog, so head on over if you didn’t win!

11 thoughts on “your writing questions answered (part 4)

  1. Pingback: so, you wanna get a book published? | Marla Taviano

  2. Christine Lee Smith

    Thank you so much for answering our questions – I’m just soaking it all in. I’m not really sure what God is doing here, but I’m excited with possibility for what He may choose to do through me and others here on your blog.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Christine Lee Smith

  3. Mandy

    “So, tell me–what are the biggest obstacles you face when it comes to getting serious about writing (or any other dream/calling you might have)?”

    My lack of patience is probably the biggest obstacle. I want to be able to do things right away, but that is not always, or even usually, possible. I think of things to write about all the time, but rarely do I get the chance to go and write down what I’m thinking about. Since I’m so busy with my kids most of the time, I’m trying to learn to just let things go instead of trying to force myself to do too many things at once (this usually backfires and results in needless suffering). I figure that a thought that is really important and that is something that God wants me to share will still be there when I need it. Also, He has a way of giving me the time I need to write when it’s something I actually should be writing. I think God keeps me humble by reminding me that He’s in control of things like that. For instance, I’ll be thinking about something and have some kind of breakthrough and be thinking things like, “I’ve got to share this in a note on facebook or write a message to so-and-so!” but then, the next moment, my baby is up from his nap or my preschooler has a question and the brilliant insight I would have shared out of pride is gone. At other times, I find that God humbles me in the sharing by using my clumsy attempts to communicate something to touch someone’s heart right at their present need. This is truly miraculous. I’m so far from being godly, but I’ve decided to keep racing and seeking and learning to trust God. Those choices to surrender and put God first come so sporadically. I wish I could more consistent. My friend reminded me of the verse: ““But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV). Sometimes it sounds so simple to me. At other times it just boggles my mind.

  4. Crissy

    I did think of a question…How do you write down a thought while your driving?

    God does have a sense of humor giving me brilliant insights as I am speeding down I270. (Did I say speeding, I meant driving safely within the speed limit) 😉

    Anyway, I then answered my own question by remembering a little hand-held recorder that I have. I am going to leave it in my purse, and then I can just whip it out and leave myself a little brilliant message for later gleaning.

    Your blog this week has been so inspiring and helpful. I have bits of writing here and there, and I am trying to piece things together. Your blog has helped me to jump in and wade through the mess of notes. I am starting to see progress. And I am starting to write more and more!

    Love you bunches!!

  5. whimzie

    Oh, wait! I thought of one more question. I like to know who authors like to read. So, who are your favorite authors (fiction and non-fiction, please)?

  6. Elisabeth

    Marla, I am nearly in tears as I read your Writer’s Week. Thank you for praying and hearing from God. Your blog is timely information for me, as I am beginning the process of starting my own blog, as well as being in the midst of writing two books. I really enjoy your blog; you are fun to read and delightful, and manage to feed us wisdom at the same time. I’m excited to read more!

  7. Marla Taviano

    Jonna–there really is nothing new under the sun. But your voice is unique, and it’s up to you to think of a fresh way to say an old thing.

    I quote others in my work when I feel it will add oomph and credibility to what I’m saying. Otherwise, I’ll just paraphrase and glean key points from them (and credit the source).

    Unless you’re writing something very educational/professional, you’ll just want to sprinkle others’ insights amidst your own brilliance. 🙂

  8. Jonna

    Okay Marla, I have something a bit off the publishing topic, however you seem to have it together as far as research is concerned. How does one go about researching a topic and then throwing your own thing into it to make it your own and what sources do you trust?

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