Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Interview Begins: Question 1

We meet somewhere fun and quiet, like a museum, or a coffee shop, or perhaps a lounge. I’m the interviewer. You’re the hot up-and-coming author who’s book was acquired six months ago in a three way auction, and I’m super-duper excited to interview you because you’re book is supposed to be the next Twilight/Davinci Code/Eat Pray Love.

So anyway, we find some big comfy chairs (or benches, if we’re in the museum) and we sit down. So far you’re feeling incredibly confident and excited. You haven’t done anything stupid. I even laughed at your jokes. Yay! But then, as you cock your head and try to look all-knowing, I pull out this notepad and click on a handheld recorder.

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s begin. Soon-Famous-Author-X, tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you outline, or wing it?" (I wave my hand vaguely.) "Do you write daily, or in snatches?”

There are a few ways you could answer this. Typically, this question will either get you to theorize about an aspect of the writing life—the difficulty of outlining, the importance of writing daily—or it will either get a very basic, honest outline of what your typical writing day/style is like. (Think “Well, normally I use a rough outline to begin with. I try to write about 2,000 words every day except for the weekends. If I didn’t meet my daily quota, then I’ll spend Saturday making it up.”)

Neither response is bad. The first response may be a little better because it gets you sharing why you outline or write daily, or whatever. The second response is “meh.” I’m not thrilled to have learned you write 2,000 words daily. It’s interesting—but not that interesting.

So how would you respond to this question in an interesting, memorable way? What’s really being asked here?

When I (an industry insider) ask this question, I’m thinking two things: How is this person different from me, and, how does this person compare to me. Perhaps your answer can give me insight to my own writing process. Perhaps your answer will get me excited about the way I write.

A reader may be wondering what it took to write the book that love. What actually went into it? How does the mystical process of writing books happen? Most readers have very little clue what goes on in the crafting of a book. Learning about it can be fascinating.

Also, this question is an opportunity for you to connect with readers in a real, concrete way. You may not think that your daily writing habit is interesting. And your habit itself probably isn’t that exciting. However, why this process works for you IS interesting. It’s food for thought. It’s a “huh” moment on our part. Outlining isn’t new; pantsing it isn’t new. But if you outline because the story takes on a three-dimensional shape to you, that is definitely new.

As I said in my post about why we like interviews, the two keys here are that you share, and that you tell us the story behind the story.

When I interviewed Mandy Hubbard, this was her response to the question:

Me: Tell us a little about yourself as a writer. Do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?

Mandy H.: I wish I was one of those writers with detailed outlines or stacks of notecards or at least a bunch of post-it notes and highlighters. Sadly, I just wing it, and when I’m done, I have what I call the “Word Vomit Draft”. From there I go back through it 2-3 times, adding scenes, deleting infodumps, etc, until it’s reasonably readable. Then I send it to a critique partner or two, and then I revise again, then I send it to my agent. That usually triggers another revision.

You can see why it takes me multiple drafts. But it works for me, and I don’t really like knowing where I’m going before I get there. What’s the fun in that?

I write basically whenever I can, but mostly that means 20-30 minute increments on the train or a lunch break. I promise—you really can write a whole novel without every sitting down for more than thirty minutes.

Also, I usually don’t touch my writing on the weekends.

This is one of my favorite answers to question #1. But what makes this answer so great?

A) Personality. She’s not just answering a question; she engages you, the reader. “Word Vomit Draft” is not something you hear a lot – it’s totally Mandy Hubbard.

B) The story. She doesn’t just say that she writes a bad first draft, edits, sends to agents, and edits again. She walks you through it and highlights the points that are personal to her. That way everything else gains more meaning. When she says she wings it, we know it’s because she’s not a post-it kind of girl.

C) Connecting. This answer connects with me. I have reasons why/why not Mandy does what she does. Now I can compare it against my own writing style and say, “Hmm, I like to know where I’m going before I write, but I’m not a detailed outliner, either. Interesting.”

So let’s get back to the scenario on the comfy chairs. The tape on the recorder is spinning. My question – “Tell us a little about yourself as a writer” – hangs for a moment in the air.

What’s your answer?

The comments section is waiting. :)

-Creative A


Zahir Blue said...

Honestly, I write in snatches, but what is even more important how I motivate those snatches. The hunger to write, to actually create those words in a specific order, that is something I have to nurture. A hundred tricks go into it, including listening to music or avoiding certain t.v. shows. Part of it is devoting a lot of time to getting the details of the background down pat, and imagining certain scenes. I try to fall in love with certain scenes, and to put them as near the end as possible. Since I write beginning-to-end, this forces me to write the chapters leading up to that moment/scene/event I want to create/experience so much.

Creative A said...

That sounds a lot like my process. I guess I said this before in my post, but I do really find it interesting to compare my process with others. I'm curious how you keep yourself interested in those at-the-end scenes. I don't think I could do it! Once I get excited about a scene, I imagine it so much, that it gets stale in a week.

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