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GIRL TALK with Jamie Sobrato
Yabberin' About Work Habits - January 2005

     
Jamie Sobrato   Cindy Procter-King  
Jamie Cindy


Cindy: Hey, Jamie, for the inaugural edition of Girl Talk, I've been wondering...how do you write so fast and still have your prose make sense? I'm such a turtle writer!

Jamie: Define 'fast.' Oh, and define 'turtle writer.' Does this mean you're full of nuts and coated with chocolate?

Cindy: LOL, why, yes, at the moment I am full of nuts and my stomach is coated with chocolate, but let's not get into my calorie fetishes. Define "fast"? Someone who can write a book in 2-4 months. Weekly output? Anything above twenty pages. So, if you (or anyone reading this column—please let someone be reading it!) regularly puts out 20+ pages a day, I'd consider you mega-speedy.

As for Turtle Writer? Someone other than moi coined this phrase, but I can't quite remember who.... Let's see, if I put out 5 pages a day of good, solid writing (ie. polished), I'm ecstatic. I'm thrilled! I'm indulging in nuts and chocolate. Hmmm, maybe they're slowing me down.

Jamie: Okay, you mentioned regularly putting out twenty-plus pages a day. I've only ever heard of a few writers who can write that fast, so I'd rank that at the very upper end of speedy. Sure, there are those desperate occasions when I've been known to produce 20-30-plus pages in one day, but there's no way I could write that fast on a regular basis. I shoot for 7-10 pages per day when I'm writing a first draft, but I can produce up to 15 pages per day when I have to without frying my brain. Once I go above that page count, I'm really pushing myself, and only the imminent threat of a deadline will make me do it. For the sake of honesty though, since I write at home with small children, I'm lucky to produce a page or two a day when I've got a comfortable distance from my deadline. I only write fast once I start getting worried. :)

Cindy: Hmmm, so I need to get worried to write faster? However, now that you mention the worry quotient (or deadline quotient, to be more accurate), I do remember you not writing as fast before you sold your first book. So there's hope for me yet, right? Right? Say right, darn you!

Jamie: Right! So now that we have that clarified...dare we enter the age-old debate of writing styles? Okay, okay. Why not.

You mentioned writing fast and still making sense. Who ever said my prose makes sense? On the occasions when it does read coherently, I have to say, it helps that I'm writing faster rather than slower. Writing fast allows me to keep my head in the story, become more immersed in it, than I'm capable of when I'm writing slowly. There are times when I write slower (and for the sake of clarification, slow to me means anywhere from a few paragraphs to five pages), and that writing always comes off to me as a little stale, unexciting, maybe kind of staccato because it didn't come out of me in one clean burst. Does that make any sense?

Cindy: Yes, it makes total sense. I wish it didn't, so I could heckle you, but it does.

Jamie: And while we're on this controversial topic (okay, okay, it's only controversial to us navel-gazing writerly types), I have to ask you, how do you keep your head in any given scene when you're writing it a few pages at a time?

Cindy: That's the only way I can keep my head in a scene. Writing fast, for me, results in such a jumble of right-brain crud I wouldn't want to foist on any unwitting reader or editor—or even on myself! Don't get me wrong. I do write fast. But when I write fast, I write really fast. Like ten pages an hour or less. Except...I don't like to call it "writing." To me, writing fast is more like taking notes from my muse. Sometimes she's brilliant, other times she unloads a huge heap of dung. The whole point is to get something—anything—down on the page. However, writing a whole novel like this would drive me crazy! (No comments about my current state of mind, now!) I like to do it in one-or two-scene chunks (speed-write, that is<G>). Then I revise the scene until it shines before going on to the next one.

Jamie: A-ha! You've been holding out on me. I had no idea you could draft a scene in an hour! Not calling this process writing is like saying someone who's driving over 100 miles per hour isn't actually driving, LOL. You might say, instead, that they're taking lessons from Mario Andretti, but they are still, in fact, driving. So yes, even when you're writing 10 pages in an hour, you're still writing, whether you like it or not. <g>

Cindy: So I am speedy? I'm just speedy in batches? Okay, to take your analogy one step further, I'm driving, I'm driving already! But I'm going so fast, I can't see the scenery—or the speed bumps. My suspension really takes a beating, and by the time I stop my head is spinning so fast I don't know which way is up. So my prose is usually filled with tons of wrong turns and cliches—much like this answer. In fact, a great deal of the time, most of the scene I write in these freewheeling sessions winds up not getting into the final version of the scene. I consider it the flotsam and jetsam of the real scene. The surface junk. I need to get rid of it before I can uncover the True Scene.

Jamie: It sounds like the difference between your methods and mine is that you like to revise as you go, while I like to race through the entire novel before stopping to revise. We're far too civilized a couple of chickies to suggest either method is superior. They're simply different ways of reaching the same destination.

Cindy: Well, maybe you're too civilized, but I beg to differ! Um, actually, I don't. See, that was my flotsam and jetsam answer. I totally agree. Neither method is superior. But I still think of my short bursts of mega-output as "note-taking" rather than, for lack of a better term, "productive writing."

Jamie: My rough drafts are extremely messy and full of...well, crap. I like to think of revising as the time when I mold and shape the crap into a... Eew. Um, maybe I need a better metaphor here. Anyway, let's just say I fix the mess and cut the crap (I hope!), but I still count the original mess as productive writing, because I'd get too depressed by my slow progress in the early stages if I didn't.

Cindy: Yes, I can see your point. My "slowness" depresses me sometimes. Until I try first-drafting a whole novel—then I really get depressed. To me, the "real" writing is the re-writing. Sometimes I wonder if I prefer the revise-as-you-go method because my right brain is a heckuva lot more disorganized than the brains of writers who can first-draft and make sense. Or maybe I'm just a stick in the mud. The only thing I know is that the "slow-writing" is when my characters and story comes alive for me. That's when I feel immersed.

Jamie: I agree that revisions are when the story really comes alive, although it's not always the most enjoyable part of the process for me.

Cindy: Ah, see this is where we really differ. How did we get to be friends and critique partners? I love revisions. Well, maybe "love" is too strong a word. But I do enjoy the revising-the-scene part, because I know it's gonna get me closer to where I want to go—the end of the book (which I do love writing, because then I'm done!)

Jamie: I prefer the first stage when everything's gushing out onto the page. I tend to write a skeleton of a novel—skinny, lacking features, details, and depth—then I have to go back and layer all that stuff in. Sometimes it's enjoyable, and sometimes it sucks the big one.

Cindy: Okay, so we don't really differ. Could I please make up my mind? I gush in scenes, you gush a whole manuscript. My scenes are similar to what you describe for a full book. I write skeletons of scenes. But the reason I can't (or prefer not to...or, in fact, never have) write a whole manuscript this way before going back and layering is because, plain and simple, it would be too much work and I'm lazy. The entire first draft would be a Skim Write, like skimming reading a book but in reverse. Because my scenes grow organically one from the other, I feel a compulsive need to write them in order, to get the first one straight before proceeding to the next. Otherwise, the resulting "plant" looks like something from Little Shop of Horrors.

Jamie: While I, on the other hand, write everything all out of order. I embrace my Little Book of Horrors. I leave out important stuff, write notes to myself in the middle of the manuscript, highlight things that suck to remind myself to fix it later. I've always been messy during the creative process.

Cindy: You're messy in masses; I'm messy in bits. We're quite a pair! However, I must admit, I do harbor yearnings to speed up the slow-writing while still retaining my basic creative process. Do you have any tips for writing faster? Or should I just embrace my process and stop worrying about how I'm "supposed" to write? (You know, one of those writerly "rules" that first-drafting a whole novel is the only way to go....)

Jamie: The only thing that makes me write fast is a deadline, I'm sad to say. I definitely think anyone who claims the "right" way to write a novel is to draft the whole book before revising is full of it, so yeah, embrace your process. Give it a big, sweaty hug.

Cindy: Hmph. First I'm full of nuts and chocolate, and now I'm sweaty!

Jamie: We writers aren't always known for our great personal hygiene.

Cindy: Great visual for our readers there, Jamie. :) Honestly, we do both shower.

Jamie: Anyway, I don't see anything wrong with pushing yourself to write faster, so long as it doesn't create too much stress for you, but then, I'm a deadline addict, as you know all too well. There are plenty of writers who work methodically and steadily and never find themselves backed up to a deadline, and you are probably one of those writers. Editors will adore you, and likely your life will always be sane and caffeine-free.

Cindy: I'm not too sure about that "editors will adore me" part. Let's just say I'm still working on it. The sanity? Yes, I'll admit I have no desire to write a book in a mad rush. It's just not me. I am working on getting progressively faster. I'm not quite there yet, but once I can put out twenty pages a week of revised writing while still allowing days for "business of writing," I'll know I've found my groove. And I do think connecting with the right editor is all part of finding one's writing groove, but that's a topic for another column.

Jamie: I suppose I should work on embracing my insane, caffeinated writing process, but I have to admit, I really envy the methodical, slow and steady style. <Sigh> I'd better shut up now, since this column is getting way long.

Thanks for chatting with me, Cindy!

Cindy: Thank you, Jamie! And, yes, embrace your process. I think every writer should. We should stop comparing ourselves to other writers and envying others' processes, and instead do what works for us, each individual writer. After this little chat, I feel much better about my own writing process. In fact, I feel so good, I think I'll go find some nuts and chocolate....

©2005 Cindy Procter-King & Jamie Sobrato

~*~

Jamie writes steamy romances for Harlequin Blaze, loves to waste time on the internet, and kind of wishes she had her nose pierced...or not. Her favorite guilty pleasure is watching bad Sex and the City reruns (though she’ll never admit it—oops, she just did), and she's been known to frequently laugh until she cries. You can visit her website at www.jamiesobrato.com.

Cindy writes romantic comedy for anyone willing to read it, loves to waste time updating websites, and desperately wishes Jamie would pierce her nose so she could tug her around by it. Cindy's favorite guilty pleasure involves back massagers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and bathtubs (no, she won't get more specific).

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