Writers on Writing
Our clients frequently receive questions about their writing habits: how they come up with ideas, their creative processes, and their thoughts on the skill and discipline it takes to finish a book. So we asked a few of our authors to share their experiences and suggestions with you here.
You can't be a writer if you don't write, it's just that simple. I wrote two complete novels and another book before I even attempted to write The Notebook . Those two novels are unpublished, but they taught me that I not only liked to write, but that I had it in me to finish a novel once I'd started it. Those lessons were important when I sat down to write The Notebook . I write five or six days a week, usually a minimum of 2000 words, sometimes more. 2000 words can take anywhere from three to eight hours. (Love those three-hour days, by the way, but the average is probably closer to five hours). The actual time spent writing depends on a number of factors, including what I'm writing, whether the scene is difficult or easy, etc. No matter what, I try to maintain consistency in my work habits. And I'm always trying to improve, to try new things, to write a new story that is better than anything else I've written. All people who regard writing as a profession write consistently. Those who regard it as a hobby usually don't. For more information, see Nicholas Sparks's Writer's Corner: http://nicholassparks.com/WritersCorner
I guess finding ideas to write about comes down to a writer’s filtering mechanism—how she looks at what’s in front of her. We all see the same things but notice different aspects of the same scene. I like to use an analogy to explain: My daughter, Jenny, who is a garage sale enthusiast, and I were traveling in my car some years ago. During that trip Jenny saw at least three garage sale advertisements in a short amount of time, because that's what she was looking for. During that same time frame I didn’t see a single one of those signs. I did see a mother and child swinging hands and walking, a boy chasing his puppy around his front yard, and a husband and wife arguing in the next car over. You get the idea. Naturally, my mind was busy inventing conversations and imagining pieces of these peoples' lives. I never run out of ideas because people never stop being interesting.
Writing novels begins by reading lots of novels, by studying what is being published and who is publishing it. And by writing. Every day.
Sometimes, I don't know how I finished my novel. I'm the most distracted writer, jumping up and down to attend to this child, that bill. When I do find myself writing, I scare myself sometimes. It's as if I write from one very specific corner of my brain, and I can't think about it too much. I never write for long stretches--it comes in five minute bursts, here and there, interspersed with much daily matter.
Here is my usual schedule:
Get the kids off to school
Make another cup of coffee
Bring it upstairs where I sip at it while answering emails (I live in Hong Kong, 12 hours difference from NY so I usually wake up to at least two dozen emails)
Browse newspapers online
Open up a Word document that I'm working on ("youth essay" for a magazine article or "new" for what I'm too frightened to call a novel)
Go right back to browsing newspapers and blogs
Shop for books on Amazon
Don't complete the purchase
Go back to the Word document
And so on. It goes like this for much of the morning. Somehow work gets done. Somehow, at the end of the month, I have five more pages, or an essay finished, or a short story edited.
Accepting this scattershot way of writing was important. For a long time, I thought it meant that the work I turned out was not good enough, or that the distraction showed through in the writing. This is not true. This is just the way I write.
I love to write. I think that’s the most important thing. Not having a strict schedule or rules about how to approach it, but that it’s what my brain gravitates toward. More than anything, this is what compels me to sit down, not every day but as often as I can, to tap away at the next scene. I love stories, and figuring out the best way to tell them and how to layer the pieces for the best effect, knowing that I’ll never achieve The Perfect Story, but endeavoring nevertheless to draw as close to it as my imperfect skills will propel me.
Part of the excitement is not always knowing what will happen. Within a loose structure of main characters and an over-arching theme and a general sense of the direction we’re heading, I like to be surprised. I often find myself getting blown off course, toward something my organized brain hadn’t anticipated, and then letting my creative brain find its way back.
And I love to read all kinds of books, watching to see how each writer builds his case—how much of this, what kinds of that—saying too much, too little or just enough to carry me along to where he wants to go.