I like to write in coffee shops, but when I really get into the scene I’m writing, the environment around me slips away and it’s like there’s no background chatter, no smell of baked goods, and no rapidly cooling mug of hazelnut decaf on my table. I sometimes make a “book soundtrack” on iTunes, but I won’t even hear it when I’m in the zone. That’s how I know I’m doing well.
Before writing anything new, I always go over the old stuff to get my mind back into the story. Some people write an entire draft before they start revising, but I need to revise as I go. For me, the revising process starts when the first paragraph is typed and never, ever ends.
I needed an outline for The Penguins of Doom because it wasn’t written chronologically and I was trying to juggle a dozen different things at once. But most of the time I like to start with a book opening, a few key scenes, and an intended ending. The challenge is to create a story that seems as if it was planned in advance, even if it wasn’t.
Yes. I am extremely lucky to live in the Boston area, where there’s a high concentration of authors and author groups. My critique group meets monthly, and we help each other polish up the rough edges in our writing. The Penguins of Doom and The Challengers are both much stronger books because of them.
I think an effective critique group should have the following:
- A person who can cut unnecessary words, transform awkward phrases, and turn weak sentences into strong ones.
- A person with a sense of emotional resonance, who can tell you if a character’s motivations seem real or fake.
- A person with who can keep track of continuity issues, like when your character had blue eyes in Chapter 2 but seems to have green eyes in Chapter 12.
- A person who knows the market and can let you know if a similar book has been recently published or if your book is unlikely to appeal to editors and/or readers.
- A person with a sense for dramatic structure and pacing, who can tell you if your second chapter should actually be your first chapter and whether or not the middle of the book drags too much.
There’s no writer alive who wouldn’t benefit in at least one of these areas. Of course, a critique group is only be effective if you’re able to listen to them, learn from them, and apply their comments.
I love the feeling of making a manuscript better, stronger, or more complete. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle where you’re making your own pieces as you go!
Every place that stocks my book becomes my new favorite bookstore, but I especially love stores with a cozy atmosphere and friendly staff members who are knowledgeable and passionate about books. It’s hard to visit a bookstore like that and not leave with a book you’ve wanted for a long time, another you’ve been hearing about from friends, and a third that just looked cool on the shelf.
How can I add my own question to this page?
On the right side of this site is an “Ask the Author” box where you can direct your questions to me, or you can go directly to my page on Formspring. The best questions will be added to my website.