#navbar-iframe { display: none !important;} The Naked Page: November 2006

The Naked Page

Author Jamie Sobrato's Diary


Some Girls Like It Rough

If you ever feel paralyzed by the idea that what you put on a blank page has to be good, then you need to give yourself the freedom to write truly shitty rough drafts.

I can hardly write on airplanes, or if someone is in the same room as me, because I can't stand the thought of anyone reading over my shoulder and seeing how bad my first draft is. I go into an utter panic if someone tries to take a look at my in-progress manuscripts. In a word, they suck.

And yet, somewhere between the rough draft and the final version, some stuff happens that usually makes the story readable--decent enough that I don't feel like dying of embarrassment that thousands of people will read my books.

We all know what that stuff is. It's called "the revision process," and it is without a doubt where most of the action is, much as I hate it. I love the time when I'm free to just write any old crap and move on. I'm a rough draft kind of girl..

If you can find some real joy in writing your first draft, you'll be more likely to put some magic on the page that you'll be able to really do something with during revisions. So go buck wild. Learn to like it rough.

What's your favorite part of the creative process? (Mine, aside from the rough draft stage, is when I write The End.)


The Ubiquitous Let's Be Thankful Discussion

I just read that one of my all-time favorite novels, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges, is one of the latest victims of censorship. Because, you know, high school students are totally unaware of that wicked oral sex stuff, and we must protect them from knowing about such heinous things at all costs. Uh-huh.

I love that book so much that I once sent it to my cousin in prison because I thought it was the kind of story that might have a tiny chance of reaching him, maybe give him a glimpse of something transcendent. That's what good art does, anyway, when we're open to it.

Since we are nearly upon the holiday of turkey massacre, I want to say that I am thankful for books like What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, and I am thankful for authors like Peter Hedges, who write stories about the human condition that make the human condition not suck.

There are about a million other things I'm thankful for too, but I'm not going to get all smarmy and list them here. So what are you thankful for?


Longest. Entry. Ever.

Most writers at some point early on in their creative efforts, spend a lot of time angsting about whether they're writing the "right way." And if you happen to pick up a how-to book about writing, or attend a writing workshop, you will probably have your angst amplified by more experienced writers insisting that this or that is the proper way to write a book. Add to that the fact that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult and organic and confusing process that boggles even the sharpest minds, and you have a recipe for wanting to find the Right Way and cling desperately to it.

So here is the big secret of the writing process: whatever you do that works for you, keep doing it, and whatever doesn't work for you, don't do it.

Whew. There. The secret is out. Aren't you glad I enlightened you? What? You're still confused? (Don't be. It's as simple as it sounds.)

I actually believe there is great value in writers talking to each other about their processes, comparing notes, etc. Listening to how other writers write can give us clues about what we might or might not find useful.

It only becomes a problem when you let it convince you that because one successful writer writes for 8 hours each day, 5 days a week, always creates an extensive outline at the start, and never, ever suffers from writer's block, then you are simply fucked and will never make it as a writer. Or maybe your favorite author writes really fast, like 20 pages a day, and you are slow as molasses, and this leads you to suspect you should go ahead and take that assistant manager job at Walmart.

Everyone's writing process is unique, much like any other personality quirk, but it's not a set of rules for anyone else to follow. Just listen, and consider, and maybe once in a while you'll pick up something that helps you along your own path. Or maybe you'll just get a little sense of confirmation that you're not crazy after all for only being able to write from midnight until dawn, and only while downing espresso with Nirvana music playing in the background.

Also consider that at different learning stages, your process likely will need to evolve a little, and you should let it. The more flexible you can be about your process, the more work you'll probably get done.

My writing process is weird enough that it will probably make you all feel sane and normal, so I will share it. I tend to write in mad bursts, with dormant periods in between during which I like to think my brain is resting and preparing for the next writing frenzy. The closer my deadlines get, the faster I write.

I don't have a favorite time of day or place to write. Usually, "whenever I'm awake" will do, and I like to write in bed but will work anywhere that isn't too noisy. But since I have kids, I usually try to get all my writing done while they are in school. If I need to work more because of a deadline, I will write anywhere and at any time, and I occasionally pull all-nighters if I have to (but I try hard to avoid this, because it sucks).

I write most of my scenes totally out of order, just writing them as they come to me, and then moving on and writing another and another until I have what I can only hope is something resembling a coherent story (but sometimes not). Then once I can't think of any more scenes to write (this usually happens when I'm 50-100 pages short of a complete novel), I stop and put everything in chronological order.

After that, I have to fill in all the stuff that's missing, delete the repetitive stuff, connect scenes together and/or set them up, fix the continuity problems created by writing out of order, and format the story in chapters.

Because I'm usually writing books that I've sold on proposal (first three chapters and synopsis), I have the synopsis as a rough guideline of how the story should go. Sometimes I follow it, and sometimes my final story doesn't much resemble the original plan.

One of the first scenes I write after I've finished the three chapters for a proposal, is the final scene of the book. Having that scene gives me a destination, and my final scene usually doesn't change once I've written the rest of the book. I might need to fill in some details, but that's all.

Is this how you should write your book? Probably not. Does it make your approach any less valid? No way. But maybe the valuable thing you can take from hearing my process is to consider how your brain works and tweak your own writing habits accordingly if you're finding yourself frustrated.

I'm not a linear thinker, and I consider my writing process sort of circular. The story usually ends in a similar place as where it started, only the characters have been transformed in some way by their experiences. If you are struggling with getting a book done, it might help to figure out if you are a linear or non-linear thinker. Do you tend to move logically from point A to B to C, or do you jump around a lot and consider point Q before you can understand point D?

Linear thinkers generally need to write their stories on a logical timeline, starting with chapter one and moving along through the story as a reader would read it. Non-linear thinkers sometimes might find more creative synergy in writing whatever scene they feel like working on, regardless of timeline.

So let's compare notes here. What's your process?


That Up and Down Motion Thing

No, not THAT up and down motion. Jeez, you people think about nothing but sex. Oh, wait, that's me. Um, er, anyway...that thing I mentioned a few posts ago is a simple idea my editor mentioned (I'm probably even remembering the term wrong, but "up and down motion" is what stuck in my head) that can help to keep in mind when you're writing scenes.

The idea is that at the start of a scene, if things are going well for your protagonist, then by the end of the scene it all should be going to shit. And then, if you start out the next scene with things going badly, by the end of the scene there should be some sense of improvement, hope, and/or a problem resolved on the way to the overall plot resolution. And so on. This could be either in the internal conflict, or the external, or both.

Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule, and there is no such thing as a hard and fast rule, and sometimes the best stories throw all the rules in the garbage. But it is a good tool to keep in mind if you find your story feeling flat, dull, not going anywhere, or whatever.

And now, since your eyes seem to glaze over when I start talking about anything remotely useful, I will also point out that I dedicated my April 07 book, Sex As a Second Language, to you Naked Page People. In it, the heroine is a blogger, and her blog posts along with comments from the readers of her blog appear at the start of each chapter. So don't say I never gave you anything.

Am I the only person on earth not participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? I even saw a piece (which I now cannot find) about it on the NPR website. I think that officially makes it a very mainstream kinda thing, yes? And am I the only person who thinks "NaNoWriMo" is the most annoying name on earth?


Body Art Gone Bad

So I'm like in revision mode now, which isn't nearly as fun as "I have nothing urgent to do" mode. My editor called me the other day with revisions for the witch book I just finished, and she said that some of my scenes don't have enough "up and down motion." And I'm like, okay, okay, fine, I'll add more sex. Except she wasn't talking about sex. I need to add more of that too, but she was talking about something else--something about needing my characters to actually have goals and do stuff or, you know, not be so boring.

Also, she needed me to find a tattoo image online for the cover of the book, because the heroine has a tattoo on the back of her neck, and that is going to be the cover image. So I spent a couple of days getting all glassy-eyed while staring at photos of people's hairy tattooed shoulders, legs, and various other body parts (ahem), in search of the right image. There are a lot of BAAAAAAD tattoos out there in the world, lemme tell ya.

But this renewed my interest in a tattoo for myself. And then I thought, hey, this is sounding like blog topic material, since my main criteria for blog topics seems to be that the subject be utterly devoid of value or meaning. So now I'm thinking of getting a tattoo on the back of my neck, like my heroine has. But what...I don't know.

Here's the question: what's the worst tattoo you've ever seen?

I had a hair stylist once who had a tattoo of an extremely large-breasted naked woman on his underarm. This disturbed me, and it gets my vote for worst tattoo...though gosh, there are so many to choose from, it's hard to narrow it down.


Brain No Work Now

Me write only cave man talk now. Me tired. Me finish write witch book on Halloween. Me need sleep. Me need new brain, not have so much miles on it. Me go eat Halloween chocolate, make feel better.