Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kate Douglas on Writing

Kate Douglas
Wolf Tales VI
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Pub Date: June 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust




(Click to Buy)


Author Web/Blog links: www.katedouglas.com, www.myspace.com/katedouglas_wolftales, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/KateDouglas/


Why We Do What We Do . . .

About a year ago, I finished a manuscript I’d been working on for about three months. The story, Wolf Tales VI, was just released, but it was due in my editor’s hands on June 1 of 2007. It didn’t get there. For some reason, the story would NOT come together the way I wanted it to, and I struggled for weeks with the first three chapters. I asked my editor for a month’s extension, and she very graciously allowed it, since I was no closer to finishing the book on June 1 than I’d been three months earlier.

Disgusted, I set it aside and took a couple of days off. It had been a hectic year, what with moving and the remodeling we’re doing on the new house, my husband’s retirement, and a little incident that included me almost getting myself killed when a tree came down where I was standing—along with a writing schedule that meant finishing eleven novels and novellas in just twenty short months. And no, I can’t blame Jessica for that one—I said I could do it, and I did, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d thought it would be!

I’d forgotten that life often gets in the way of the best intentions.

Taking a break from my story was the best thing I could have done. Once I stepped back from the project, I was able to see what was wrong. Letting go of my preconceived hero wasn’t easy, but I suddenly realized the problem—I was writing the wrong character’s story. It wasn’t the hero’s story at all—it was the secondary character who needed a voice. I’d been trying to force him into the background, and he was having none of it. Once I gave Oliver the freedom to exist at center stage, my book took off. I completed Wolf Tales VI in about three weeks, and when I went back and reread it before sending it to my editor, I realized I had written a book I could really be proud of. It’s got a great plot, it’s sexy, and it’s not anything anyone will expect.

It made me think about the process of writing, the fact that we go into a story with an idea, but we all reach our goal in a totally unique manner. For writers like me who don’t plot in advance, who don’t outline or even write a detailed synopsis, finding the plot and getting to know my characters can be a serendipitous adventure. It’s a trip I absolutely love. Once I get to know my characters, they literally take over my head, and I’ve had to learn not to fight them. They write their own stories, and I never quite know what’s coming next, but that’s part of the process—my process—that makes writing such a joy for me. It’s the excitement of discovery, the feeling that I will always find a surprise around the next corner.

We all do it differently, but somehow we all manage to find our way through a beginning, to a middle, and on to an end. There are no set rules, but for those of us who write, who absolutely have to write, the journey is as much the joy as is the moment when we hold our completed work in our hands.

Which is, I guess, the point of this post—a reminder to think of the reason why you write, whether it’s for publication or your own personal fulfillment. Don’t ever let go of the joy you find in the words, the thrill of a new character, the utter satisfaction of pulling all the threads of a convoluted plot together and knowing it’s perfect. We’re a very lucky group, those of us who call ourselves writers. We can create new worlds with our words and give life to imaginary characters who wouldn’t otherwise exist without us. It doesn’t get much better than that.

38 comments:

Alexis Fleming said...

Great post, Kate. Particularly for people like me who tend to be mainly pantsers and not plotters. lol
And your comment about the journey being as much the joy as holding the completed work in our hands really struck a chord. I did a workshop this last weekend and asked the participants who was writing just for the joy of it. I kind of felt that everyone there should have had their hands up, because if writing ceases to be a joy, and becomes a chore, then maybe it's time to rethink the whole situation.

Anonymous said...

Eleven novels and novellas in 20 months!

Are you kidding me?

Is there a reason romance writers can write at this type of breakneck speed? Fill me in. And only three weeks to totally revamp the entire book to boot? Egads. I write YA and I'm lucky if I can get a first, crappy draft out of myself in 4 months, and trust me, the rewrite is much worse.

Oy!

Kate, I think the real title of your post should be, "Kate Douglas: Superwoman!" Good for you. I'm a wee bit jealous.

Jessica said...

Hi Kate. So you're a pantser? Would you mind handing out a little more advice?
I've got this planning sheet where I'm supposed to put the goals of the main characters. But for the life of me I just can't figure out what they want, even though I'm three chapters into the book.
Do you have any suggestions? Besides taking time off? :-) I'm not published so my lack of deadlines means I'm always taking time off. lol
Anyhow, thank you for the super helpful post. I've got to agree with anon when he/she says you must be superwoman!

Alli said...

Thanks for this post, Kate. I've put myself on a writing break, due to "life" getting in the way (two kids under two!) but have been seriously thinking about getting back to my passion. I've been trying to work out what my next manuscript will be, and putting it off, too scared to stare at the blank screen. Your post has inspired me to do what I do best - sit down and write and let the characters tell their story - no holds barred.
Thanks for giving me the kick start I needed!

Robena Grant said...

What a great post, thank you Kate. I have several manuscripts that I thoroughly enjoyed writing. The characters and the story pleased me and I loved that sense of self-satisfaction on completion. Friends questioned why I didn't give up my obsession with writing a novel when those manuscripts didn't sell. It's hard to explain a passion.

Suzan Harden said...

Wow! Kate, I'm impressed you can work in the house chaos.

And you're absolutely right about secondary characters taking over. Sometimes the characters themselves are the muses, and a writer just needs to go with the flow.

Looking forward to Wolf Tales VI. And contrary to anything Faye Hughes may have told you, I did NOT steal her wolf puppy at RWA last year. (I only threatened to.)

spyscribbler said...

Ohmigosh, I have SO been there! I have one story that is just itching to be told from the hero's POV, but I swear to God, I really, really, really, really don't want to. I don't want to! It's against everything I wanted for the story!

But it's not going so well. So maybe I should stop being so stubborn.

JES said...

Thanks so much for this post, Kate. The reminder to consider the joys of writing, as well as the, umm, unpleasantnesses -- well, it couldn't have been more timely for me.

Kate Douglas said...

Good morning! I'm late logging on and just sipping my first cup of coffee. The smoke here in northern California from so many fires has my eyes almost swollen shut, but I wanted to answer everyone--Alexis, congrats on the successful workshop, and yes, if the joy is lacking, why write? It will show in every word you put down.

Anonymous 9:29--in retrospect, it sounds like such a tremendous amount of work, but the truth is, I was so caught up in the stories that they literally wrote themselves. I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with the ideas, and in many ways the writing became the therapy I needed to deal with the real life issues around me. My first book (unpublished) took me well over a year, but it taught me how to focus entirely on the story. Once I quit fighting the characters, I discovered that the entire story flowed much faster. Remember, it's real easy to write a story to death. Often that first draft is the freshest, most relevant work you'll do.

Jessica, try tossing the planning sheet and interviewing your main characters. That's about all the prep I do before I begin. Name, age, appearance, birth order (that determines a lot of personality traits) some personal history...if you know your characters and then just turn them loose, they do all the work. Try making a list of questions and giving the first answer you think of to each one, but do it from your characters' point of view. That puts you into their heads better than anything else. Once you know the characters, they start giving up the story! Btw, not superwoman, merely able to respond well to panic!

Alli, two kids under two and you write? Wow! More power to you!! If you're going to do it, just do it! (Kudos to Nike...) Sit down w/o any plan and see what comes. I've had days where I've written pages of gibberish and then found a kernel of story that eventually becomes an entire book. We all have lots of unknowns lurking in those warped minds of ours!

So true, Robena. I know my family thinks I'm totally nuts. For those of you who don't know, it took me twenty years of rejections and revisions before I finally got my NY contract, but I knew I had to write. It was and still is my passion, and I imagine every one of you who read Jessica's blog understand exactly what I'm saying. There really is no logical explanation for it, other than to say it's a big part of who and what we are. Be thankful you at least recognize the power of that need!

Thanks, Suzan...and we ALL know how Faye is! Catch me at the next conference and I'll try and hang on to a wolf for you!

Spyscribbler...give up and quit fighting. You're being stubborn... LOL! The character WILL win! I had one that bugged me for years, and until I wrote her story she would NOT shut up. Once the book was done, she finally left me alone...and that's the story that got Jessica to take me on as a client.

Jes, nothing in life is perfect, but if you've got something that satisfies your inner spark, you've got a gift that a lot of people never get to experience. I can't imagine anything I could do in life that would give me more satisfaction than writing...and I know you have that same thing going or you wouldn't have posted. We, all of us, who are driven to put words to paper are truly privileged to not only have the desire, but to be able to act on it.

DJ said...

Kate, great post. You nailed the exact reason that I first became an avid reader, to explore other worlds, and then became a writer--to have all the fun of creating them myself. Like you though, I've found that as a writer, I don't so much create the worlds and characters as let them tell me who they are as I write it down for them, lol! Maybe we are more scribes than writers sometimes?

Anonymous said...

Kate, I'd love to know your writing schedule. Your productivity is incredible! I'm currently on a book-every-three-years schedule. It's depressing and frustrating. (I did get an agent for my last book but it didn't sell, so there goes three years down the drain.)

Kristin Laughtin said...

My first book (unpublished) took me well over a year, but it taught me how to focus entirely on the story. Once I quit fighting the characters, I discovered that the entire story flowed much faster.

Whew. My first MS has taken me less than a year, and was a tremendous learning experience and I'm sure my next few will go faster, but still, my mind boggled at the idea of doing so much in twenty months.

Unlike you, I'm insane with outlining and plotting before I write, but sometimes the story just takes off in a direction you didn't expect. My idea for my next MS has already changed main characters and voice and I haven't written a single word yet! And no matter how much you plan minute details ahead of time, sometimes the story or characters just take off in a different direction, and it's usually for the better.

And I definitely agree that stepping back and taking a break is sometimes the best thing you can do. Now that my friends and colleagues are pushing me to "go get published!", I definitely need to remember that I should be finding joy in my words and write my stories for me. Publication is my ultimate goal, but I need to be happy with my work if it just doesn't happen.

JES said...

To second Kate's response to Jessica: the "character interview" process can be GREAT. Also scary, when you give them a mind of their own and a mouth to express it with!

(Thanks so much for the replies, Kate!)

Kate Douglas said...

dj, I have had people ask me if I write because I'm a control freak and want to be in charge of my own little world--how little they know! I'm never in charge, and yes, "scribe" is a great definition!

anonymous 11:20: I write every day. I start out around seven in the morning with email and such, and then write from about ten on, sometimes until ten or later or night, but on average around six hours a day. Writing is my full-time career, and my husband, now retired, takes care of the housework, the dog, and most of the shopping. I'm very lucky to have the time to devote to my work, unlike so many authors who still have a regular day job and/or small children at home. Don't look at your unsold ms. as time down the drain--think of it for what it is: training for the next book and proof you can write a complete manuscript. So few writers ever actually finish writing a book. The fact you've done that is something to be very proud of.

Kristin--we all approach writing in a different manner. All your plotting and planning accomplishes the same thing my interviewing characters and staring at a blank screen does--it puts us in touch with our muse and opens the pathway to the story. The fact you recognize what works for you puts you far ahead of the many writers still floundering and looking for their path. Don't you just want to throttle those folks who tell you to "go get published?" Like it's EASY? Sheesh...I have "friends" like that too...they were the ones who figured I was wasting my time and would never actually GET published. Ignore them for now and just write...then you can gloat quietly when you sell! (Or loudly...whatever works!)

Thanks for the blog link, Jes. Will look later when I get caught up!

writeidea said...

Wow, Kate. Thanks for this post. I've been struggling with revisions and this was just what I needed to read.

Lucinda Betts said...

Great post, Kate! Congrats on your fantastic series!

Treva said...

Kate, congrats! I remember back in the day when we critiqued and neither of us could stop writing. And we neither killed nor exhausted each other. I've slowed down some but until the characters tell me what's up, it's very hard to get moving. I must be getting a bit deaf to them lately and they have to yell more loudly. Apparently you can still hear yours.

Kate Douglas said...

writeidea, so glad to be of help!

And thank you, Lucinda. (Lucinda is a fellow Aphrodisia author who writes VERY HOT STUFF!)

Ah, Treva...the good old days, right? LOL! Treva and Shelby Morgen were my critique partners when we were all struggling ebook authors a few years ago--now both of them are owners of very successful "small press" publishing houses themselves: Loose-Id LLC and Changeling Press. What's really amazing is that they are both still writing, which tells me that, no matter what path we might choose, the writing path chooses us.

Allison Brennan said...

Fantastic post, Kate. We actually write in very similar ways. I always get stuck (about page 150--the beginning of the second act for those who like that stuff) and it's almost always because I've tried to force my characters into the role I see, as opposed to the role they actually have. Once I give them the lead, everything else comes together. Congrats on your success!

Faye Hughes said...

Okay, to set the story straight, I walked into my hotel room with the wolf puppy , heard a noise that sounded an awful lot like Suzan Harden saying, "Mine!!" and then somebody beaned me over the head with an empty wine bottle. When I came to, the wolf was gone.

So was Suzan.

Draw your own conclusions, people.

Kate Douglas said...

Thanks, Allison, and congratulations to you, too! Allison, by the way, writes with small children--and still manages to be a NY Times Bestselling author!!! I've never figured out how ANYONE can write with little ones underfoot. I used to try, but you'll notice I wasn't published until my children were grown with children of their own!

Kate Douglas said...

Sure thing, Faye. Conclusions drawn. (snort)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

As a fellow pantser I kept saying ME TOO while reading your blog! Well, except for the ballistic schedule--I'm a one novel every 6 months type of writer. :)

I wanted to ask if you've ever had a villain become a hero; like you redeem him in his own novel.

Kate Douglas said...

Anita: I HAVE had a villain become a hero, and I was SO not planning on it! Baylor Quinn in Wolf Tales III was one of the bad guys out to kill Chanku shapeshifters--he ended up as the hero with his own story in Wolf Tales VI, but he was totally redeemed by the end of WTIII, and he's one of my favorites! (Btw, I may not have mentioned the fact that my characters are WAY too real to me!)

Devyn Quinn said...

Great post, Kate. Like you, I am a panster and pretty much let the characters have their way. Sometimes the wrong ones take the stage, LOL. I am so glad Oliver found his voice in the series. I liked the little guy from the beginning!

Gina Robinson said...

Great post, Kate! And so true. Eleven novellas/novels in twenty months--wow! Wish I could write that fast, but unfortunately, I'm one of the slow ones.

Christie Craig said...

Hi Kate,

Thanks for the wonderful post.

You are so right, the journey of writing, of getting to know our characters is a true adventure and the reason most of us write.

As for the issue of the missing wolf, yes, I may have been a witness, but I'm keeping my mouth closed. Hey, Suzan is a lawyer, and Faye has access to my passwords on my website. Keeping the mouth shut is my only option.

Thanks again,

CC

Merry Monteleone said...

Kate,

Thank you for this post - it came on the perfect day for me... I'm a pantser as well, and trying to plot more thoroughly in advance is not working for me... I think I'd rather just write it out than force myself to write in a set way.

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...what Devyn DIDN'T say is that her characters take her down devious, demented, nightmarish paths that give me chills! Love her books!

And thanks, Gina, but remember, it's not the speed with which you write, it's the enjoyment you find in the process and the time it takes your story to develop. We're all different that way.

Thank you, Christie. I don't blame you for keeping your mouth shut. You're definitely caught between a rock and a hard place!

Kate Douglas said...

Jessica--or anyone else, one thing I forgot to mention when you asked about writing as a panster--please feel free to email me off the blog if you have any questions or just need a kick in the butt for inspiration! :-) I can be reached at kate@katedouglas.com

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Hey Kate, great post! My first two series--the mysteries--I had to plot them out in advance, but the OW series is 98% follow-the-trail-of-breadcrumbs. I just hope I don't end up eating the gingerbread house! (Hey, wait, I *am* the witch! LOL).

Anyway, the journey is fraught with a lot of red herrings and blocked paths, at times, but it's never a boring one.

Yasmine

Casie Ryan said...

Hi Kate! Great post, and great discussion from everyone :)

I'm a pantser/brainstomer, so it looks like I'm in great company here :)

I railed against Triangle of Seduction's (my current WIP) characters for an entire month before I gave in and let them win. Now my fingers are flying and I just got home from my favorite Starbucks and a very successful four hours of writing.

Gotta love it! A great writing sessions is a lot like great...well..sex - can anyone tell what I was writing today?!?

I totally second your advice to everyone. Do what works for you, write every day and don't be afraid of making a POS copy (if you don't know what that stands for, email me offline...lol) Once it's down on paper, you can always edit it and fix it!

We write because it brings us joy!

My .02.

Cassie

Michele Bardsley said...

Hey, Kate! I so feel you about the writing process. It's crazy and never follows a pattern for me, either. Taking breaks and clearing my mind help me, too. GREAT blog! And I am so happy and thrilled for your success!

Kate Douglas said...

Ah, so it's breadcrumbs I should be scattering...Yasmine's Otherworld series is one of my favorites. Obviously the crumb theory works for her!

And Cassie, congratulations on finally conceding defeat, giving in to the characters and having such a great writing day! I need one of those--the next book is due July 15 and I'm just 20,000 words into it!

Thanks, Michele, and the same to you! Michele Bardsley and I were both newbies publishing with one of the first epubs, Hard Shell Word Factory, in, what...1998 or so? Eek...TEN years ago? We can't possibly be that old!

Mospearet said...

Kate, I understand where you are coming from on your writing. When I write it is because an idea, a question, or wanting to express my viewpoint on something needs to be written. The words just come out and when I read them back, sometimes I am amazed that those words and the same way it was worded came out of my head and through my fingers.
I'm not a great story teller and I so admire those of you that are but I get just as caught up in your characters as you do cause you make it easy and interesting for me. Thanks and keep it up. You have a fan for life. Mo

Jessica said...

Thanks Kate, for offering your e-mail up! :-)
I appreciate it. I do have a character interview sheet that someone gave to me but I've never used it. And thanks to Jes for her input. The thought of doing it gives me chills, though.
I just thought maybe I should try to figure out my character's goals early on. This is my third story and I wanted to start it out right, but I don't think it's going to happen, lol.
I'm definitely a sit-down-and-the characters-will-speak kind of girl.
So I guess I just need to finish and then I'll be able to look back and see what the goals were.
:-) Thanks for answering all of our questions. You're too cool.

Kate Douglas said...

Thank you Mo, and that's exactly what happens for me. I start writing and get caught up in the story and have no idea where it's coming from. When I go back and reread what I've written, it often feels as if it's been written by someone else. I often write up to 8-10,000 words a day and think of it as a "writer's high" when I get going like that. It's sort of like getting an endorphin rush, similar to what a runner gets when it all comes together. I love it!

Kate Douglas said...

Thanks, Jessica, and feel free to write if you have any questions. The same goes for anyone on here. I'm a firm believer in "paying it forward," and all the tricks I learned came from someone willing to help me out when I was just starting. Another thing, purely selfish, of course, is that I learn more about my own craft when I answer specific questions for other writers, so please feel free to ask.