I recently attended my very first book signing. It was at a small, local library, and it was a pretty small event, but hey–it was still an awesome experience. I’ve never attended a book signing before, and it was awesome to get to show off my writing and talk about my books.
The book signing opened with a Q&A panel where the librarians and the attendees asked me and the other authors about our books, our process, and our inspiration. The questions ranged from our favorite books to our dream-team book club, but I thought–this being a blog about writing–it’d be fun for me to share some of the answers I gave to the questions most related to writing.
So let’s kick back, relax, and enjoy a nice, chill post on this blog for a change. Here’s some of the questions I answered about my writing!
What’s the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Editing. Editing is the hardest part of the creative process. That’s hard for me to admit, actually, because I’m actually a professional editor. That’s what I get paid to do. Admittedly, I don’t edit novels for a living, but I do edit–and I’m generally pretty good at it. I know how to break a big edit into smaller pieces, and I know when to use different levels of edits, but it’s still the worst part of writing.
The problem isn’t the editing, but the mindset. I write my first drafts fast. And when I’m writing a first draft, anything goes. I wrote something? Yay! The scenes go in order? Awesome! It’s a cohesive story? Woo! It doesn’t have to be a good story at that point, and that means I can be excited just to sit down and do anything.
But when it’s time to edit, that doesn’t apply anymore. Now the story is garbage until I can make it better, and that might take months of work. And because editing can take so long, and the story improves by such small amounts at a time, I have relatively few opportunities to feel good about what I’m doing. So writing ends up being this all-accepting firehose of creativity, while editing is an organized dissecting of my flaws. The latter is a lot less fun.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I wrote stories all through high school and college. In those eight years of writing, I came close to finishing one novel, and it took me more than four years to write. I started tons of other projects, but I never got more than a few chapters into any of them before I got bored. That’s becasue I only wrote when I was inspired to write, and I usually wasn’t–so I’d roleplay or play videogames or dream up languages for my stories, but I’d very rarely write.
When I was in my mid-20s, I decided to commit to writing something every week. Not 1,000 words a day, just anything, every week. I started out with a 2,000 to 3,000 word chapter every week, which I usually did in a handful of hours in a couple of days. That’s it. And yet it was magic: I immediately cranked out a full-length MG story in a year.
So I did it again. And again. I got in the habit of writing a novel every year. It changed everything. I finally learned to write a middle of a story (because I finally reached the middle of a story.) I learned how to write an ending. I learned how to edit. And the only thing I did was commit to a schedule.
Just imagine what would have happened if I had just started doing that sooner. I could have been a much better writer much earlier in my life!
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
As someone who writes secondary-world fantasy, I don’t actually do much technical research. I do read a lot of non-fiction–I’ve read a ton of really awesome Victorian non-fiction, for example–and that gets sprinkled into my novels here and there. But I don’t really do research.
What I do do is a lot of worldbuilding. I write massive character background sheets, write up overviews of the major locations, and sketch in elements like culture, language, history, politics, and religion. I don’t get all of it down–I use the first draft to find a lot of small, organic details–but I usually still have several thousand words of raw worldbuilding before I start. I especially try to get the magic systems down, because it’s super annoying to change the fundamental underpinning of your world once you’re in there (although I’ve done that, too.)
That’s on top of my character sheets, character arcs, and outlines. It’s a lot.
In terms of actual real-world research, though, I do that, too. It just tends to be very spur of the moment. I’ll get ready to write a scene, hash out the details, then go, “…wait. Would getting stabbed there kill this person?” And then I end up reading a lot about knife fighting and stab wounds until I figure out what the scene has to look like. But it’s very impromptu.
How do you create your worlds?
My process is kind of weird. I like writing small, character-driven stories. My stories usually have big, scary stakes, but they’re told in the frame of a single person, or a friendship, or something else that’s small and personal. I’ve definitely never written one of those sweeping, world-wide fantasies with massive casts and global politics. So it’s weird, at least to me, that I always start my novels with the magic system. Because that has almost nothing to do with the people, right?
But Justice Unending literally started with a “What if?” of a question: what if there was a world full of what were essentially immortal spirits with special powers, and they possessed people? And those people had symbols on their body to show who possessed them?
That’s barely anything to start a story with, but it was fun enough to keep me busy on a five-hour flight. I went from the concept to trying to imagine what a country might be like if they were ruled by these sorts of beings. Then I came up with Aris, the main antagonist/occasional protagonist of Justice, as essentially the opposite of a “normal” immortal. And then I decided on a character whose life I could ruin, and that’s when I finally hit on the thing I wanted to write about: Faye and Aris at each other’s throats and fighting over who got to use their body.
In the end, the magic, the politics, and the worldbuilding are all fun, but they’re all profoundly secondary to the character drama I actually want to play with. But it’s funny that step #1 is to create an entire universe, because otherwise there’s nothing interesting to build the character drama around.