Saturday, June 14, 2008

How I Write, by Lori Borrill

This June marks the 4th anniversary of the day I sat down and decided to write a romance novel. When I think about where I was when I started and where I am now, a lot has changed. For one, I no longer think writing a romance novel is easy. Yes, that's right. When I first started out, I was one of those idiots who completely underestimated the complexity behind the seemingly simple stories I was reading. And in reality, my assumption wasn't technically wrong. Writing a romance novel IS easy. It's writing a good one that people would want to read and a publisher would buy that's hard.

And the longer I write, the harder it gets.

A side of me misses the old days when I wrote in ignorant bliss. I used to crack myself up writing outrageously funny and completely ridiculous tales. I didn't know about things like conflict or tension or POV. I just wrote. And had a blast.

But the more I wrote, the more I learned. And the more I learned, the more intent I was at trading in the fun for the serious craft of writing. No more do I sit down and pantst my way through a book, laughing hysterically over my completely over-the-top scenes, having no clue what I'm doing or where my story's going. Now my process is meticulous and involves careful thought, planning--and agony.

For me, writing has become a very distinct 4-step process:

Step 1: I think up a premise. In my upcoming Blaze, "Unleashed", that premise was this: A guy has a one-night-stand, wakes up the next morning to find his lover gone and his house robbed. That's it. Just a simple situation that would be the seed for my novel.

Step 2: The seed is exciting. My mind rushes through all the possibilities. And in my giddy excitement, I send it to my CPs who both encourage me, but also usually point out some flaw. In this case it was "How can you have a heroine rip the hero off and still make the reader like her?"

HYSTERIA PHASE I: You see, this is the kind of technical detail that ruins all my fun. In the olden days, I knew nothing about sympathetic characters. It never occurred to me how a reader might actually FEEL about my characters. Now, instead of running with it, I've got to spend days twisting the idea over in my mind trying to get it to work, all the time fearing that I'll have to throw out my exciting fun premise if I can't come up with a plan. This is where I lose about 70% of my ideas. Either through one of those technical details or the dreaded recurring response, "Ooh, I love that idea! And Nora Roberts did it beautifully when she wrote that exact same book two years ago!"


In the case of Unleashed, I managed to get past those two hurdles, firstly because no one could recall a book with that exact premise, and two I decided that it would be someone else who robbed the hero, he just assumed the heroine did it.

Step 3: Happy to have passed the first hurdle, I send the blurb to my editor. She loves it and tells me to write it into a full synopsis. So I sit down and begin to plot out the entire story.

HYSTERIA PHASE II: I realize that beyond the initial premise, there's really nothing that can be done with this plot. It would make a great novella, but anything beyond five chapters is completely out of the question. Unfortunately, now I'm stuck, because there's no way I can call up my editor and say "Never mind. I couldn't get that one to work."

I've officially screwed myself and must come up with a thorough plot or give up writing professionally.

Step 4: I somehow manage to bleed a plot out of my veins, send it to my editor and get the basic idea approved. I'm then assigned the task of writing the actual book. Usually for me, the first three or four chapters come pretty easily. Sometimes I'll struggle with where the book should open, but usually I come up with that pretty fast and am happy with the result. For me, it's not until I get through the first third that I run into...

HYSTERIA PHASE III: I don't know why, but 1/3 of the way through every book I've ever written, my entire story comes to a screeching halt. I've plotted the general idea and know what's coming and how the story will end. But at this point, I am always completely certain that my book will run at least 20,000 words short. And unlike the olden days, now that I'm a pro, I know better than to fill the middle with lots of crap no one cares about.

I get over it by doing a chapter by chapter outline. Before this point, I know too little about the details to get that granular. But now an outline is the security blanket I create that lets me sleep at night. This is when I go back to my original synopsis and remind myself what I was thinking, and I'm able to plot out enough content to make my way through this book.

From this point on, life becomes pretty good. I usually end up rewriting what's left of my outline two or three times, adjusting the plan as I trod through the story and things change. But from there on out, it's just a matter of getting the words on the page in a way that is fun and interesting, which isn't as easy as I'm making it sound, but at least the major panic moments are gone.

Or maybe it's simply exhaustion.

That's not to say there isn't more to agonize over. Once the book is done, I go through the typical process of being convinced it's garbage, that it will tank, that the reviewers will shred it. I fret over all the scenes I'm not sure about. I'll wake up on occasion at 2:00 a.m. fearing my editor will hate it and I'll have a meager two days to rewrite the whole book. (I've heard those stories--they're real). And by the time the fun part comes around and I get my cover or a good review or reader mail comes in, I'm in one of the hysteria phases of my next book, so the ups on the last one are somewhat diminished. But that's okay. I write anyway see it's....well....

Crap! Why do I write again?

Look for Lori's next Harlequin Blaze, "UNLEASHED", on shelves November, 2008. And for more info on Lori and all her books, visit


Pat Cochran said...

My goodness! After all this stress
and hysteria, I think I need a nap!
Good luck with your book! I'm sure
you will do well, (Yawn) I'm just some what worn out!

Pat Cochran

Estella said...

I love your books, even if you do stress about them!

Lori Borrill said...

LOL, Pat. Maybe that's why I'm tired all the time.

And Estella, thanks so much! Comments like yours make them all worth it!

kimmyl said...

I just added Putting it to the test to my tbr pile.

Nancy said...

Lori, what a wonderful and fun blog - you even make stress sound funny!

I'm so far behind on my reading it's criminal, but I have your books on my list!

Happy weekend!

Nancy Haddock
La Vida Vampire

Lori Borrill said...

Thanks Kimmy! I hope you enjoy it!

Lori Borrill said...

Nancy, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Like you, my TBR seems to continually get bigger. I hope you like the books!

Jennie Lucas said...

Brilliant post, Lori! I can *so* relate to your writing process. And as I sit down to spend a hot Saturday night reading through a book proof (my weekdays are already spoken for, to finish my next book that's due next month), the last line of your post made me laugh out loud!

Unleashed sounds terrific. Can't wait to see how you tied it all together!

Lori Borrill said...

Thanks Jennie! I remember one time when I was particularly frustrated. I thought I should quit writing, and said so to my husband and 12-year-old son. My son goes, "Mom! You can't quit! I totally brag about you to all my friends!"

So usually, when I feel like it's not worth it, that's the thought that comes back to me. LOL!

Jane said...

A day at the spa will refresh your body and mind. You can pamper yourself with a massage and a mani-pedi.