On Writing: An Interview with Gwen
Courtesy of Jenn Donnelly, Owner and Creator of The Writer's Niche.
Tell us a little bit about your credentials.
Iíve been writing professionally for twelve years, and Iíve been an editor for longer than that. This year my business partner and I launched a small-press publishing company. I write mostly erotica, though I do delve into other genres. I write non-fiction and academic work under my real name, and romance under another pseudonym.
Will you tell us a little bit about your current projects?
Right now I have several in the works. Iím launching an erotic anthology very soonómy first! I have just completed Crossroads, my latest novel, and Iím working on three others. One is a crime, forensic-based novel, the other is a mainstream novel on emotional abuse, and another is a down-and-dirty erotica novel. And of course, Iím working on short stories all the time. I usually have about twenty of them in various stages of completion at any one time.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
I remember when I told my grandfather that I wanted to be writer. I was standing in the basement, which he had turned into a kind of library. Books everywhere, and I thought it was heavenly. I told him I wanted to write books like those. He took me very seriously. I was all of five, maybe six years old? I remember it to this day.
Where do you get your ideas? Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
The ideas can come from anywhere, absolutely anywhere. I once overheard a conversation between two strangers, and that became the basis for a short story. Music inspires me more often than not. I love good, deep and meaningful lyrics framed by beautiful guitar licks. That inspires me. But more than anything else, Iím inspired by what happens in my own life. Whether it is a deep, heartfelt conversation or a wild romp between the sheets, it somehow makes its way into my writing.
Do you write your synopsis first, outline your book, or do other preparations for writing?
When I have an idea, I run with it. I will usually write the first few chapters of a book and then go back, read it and decide if it is something I can take all the way. Is this suitable for a short story? Do the characters have more to say to me? Are there places in this story I need to explore? Once I decide whether or not it is going to be a short story or a novel, thatís when I look toward the outline, toward structuring the novel.
How do you do your research for the different books?
It depends on the kind of book. If Iím writing erotica, I usually write what I know. That means I try new and different things with my lover, then I write about them. I ask questions of friends, have good discussions on sexuality, and then incorporate what I learned. If Iím writing something elseófor instance, the crime novel Iím working onóthe research takes a very different tone. I do interviews. I make phone calls. I go out to experience as much hands-on as I possibly can. Something I insist on in my writing is accuracy of geography, especially in my short stories. If I am writing about a particular restaurant and describing a conversation at a particular table, I want the reader to be able to go to that restaurant, find that table, and see the things I described.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Well...Crossroads took two years. Skipperís Compass is in its third year, but in the meantime I wrote Sex and Guitars, which took eight months at the most. Short stories can take anywhere from four hours to four weeks, depending on research and how inspired I am.
For you, what is the hardest part of the writing process? Which area just comes naturally?
The hardest part is structuring. I hate that. I want to allow the characters to go where they want to go. But sometimes they wind up meandering too far off course, then I have a mess on my hands, figuring out how to end the book! What comes naturally is the writing itself. I love to write. I could do it twenty-four hours a day. Actually, Iíve been known to do that, come to think of it. I have to tell myself to stop sometimes. Someone asked me once if I ever take a vacation, and I said no. I donít. Even if Iím in another country or on an island somewhere, soaking up the atmosphere and culture, Iím writing something in my head. Iím always taking notes.
Which part of creating a book do you find easiest for you?
The emotional interaction between the characters is the easiest to write. Iím a very emotional person, extremely open. That makes it easy for me to delve into any kind of emotional state with the characters and make it real, make it vibrant.
Is there a certain routine you following when writing? What is a typical day like?
My routine is pretty much set. I have children in school. I get up early with them, spend an hour or so with them before they go to school. As soon as they are gone, I come home and get to work. I write for at least four hours a day, most days. I deal with promotions and mailings and red tape for another two hours or so. I take very few breaks. I try to work nonstop while they are gone, so I donít have to worry about taking time away from the children when they are home. The evenings are reserved for the kids and for my man. Weekends, I work a bit, but not nearly as much as I do during the week. And if my family wants me to take a weekend off and never even touch the computer, I do it.
Can you write on demand? As in someone gives you a topic and says I want you to write a story about this, can you just up and do it or do you need to be inspired?
I can write on demand. Itís not as easy as when Iím simply inspired by something out of the blue, but I can do it.
How do you stay focused on one thing at a time?
I donít! I always have dozens of different things going at once. Sometimes I will have half a dozen short stories up on my computer screen. I will write a few paragraphs, change to another story and read a bit, then write more on that one. I find it difficult to focus on one project for more than a few hours at a time, so I switch it up and give myself enough lead time that I donít have to put my nose to the grindstone and focus on that one thing. It took a lot of trial and error to get to that point but now that I have broken out of that traditional ďkeep at it until you get it doneĒ mold, Iím finishing projects far ahead of schedule.
How do you discipline yourself to write a book? How do you push yourself to finish?
Usually the book just flows, but sometimes I have to remind myself, okay...you have a deadline. Get it done. If all else fails, I remind myself that my bank account depends on having this done at a certain time. Do I want to make money or not? When Iím not feeling like working, that question is usually a good swift kick in the rear, so to speak.
What methods do you use to avoid writerís block or push through it? Do you even get writerís block?
Iíve had writerís block once in my life. I had just come out of a very emotionally abusive relationship, and I was a complete mess in so many ways. I couldnít bring myself to write anything that wasnít fantastically angry. I took a break for a while, and when I went back to it, I realized there was nothing in me to write. It was one of the most terrifying periods in my professional life. Iím not sure how I came out of it. One day I woke up with a wonderful idea and literally ran to my computer to write it down, and havenít stopped since.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
The lesson that came hardest for me was patience. You have to have patience. Know that editors and publishers work on their own timetable, and that timetable is not necessarily the same as yours. You have a really good novel? Great. Shop it around, but donít stop writing in the meantime. By the time you get that thing sold, itís time to sell another one. Keep up the momentum.
Every unpublished writer dreams of getting the call. How did yours come about? What did you do to celebrate?
My first published piece was a short story, and I celebrated by going out to dinner. That one published piece gave me the confidence to pursue other projects. When my first novel was published, I cried like a baby for a few days. I was so happy! With that first royalty check I bought myself a very nice set of stationary and a good, heavy fountain pen. Thatís my tradition now. When I have something published, I give myself a small, meaningful gift that I will be able to cherish forever.
If an aspiring writer had an issue with point of view and told you they just didnít get it, how would you explain it to them?
Point of view can be difficult to stick with. To this day I find myself slipping from POV in a story. The easiest way to stay on track is to put yourself there within the story. Try to relate to the character deeply enough that you can envision their thoughts, that you can feel what they feel. It isnít foolproof, but it helps.
How do you go about creating a realistic character?
My characters take on a life of their own. They control the story sometimes...Iíll find myself as the conduit for something that needs to get out. I wonder sometimes where those characters come from. Parts of me? Parts of someone else? Parts of my psyche that need a voice and canít find it any other way? During the time when a character doesnít come so easy, write up a list of questions. If you know a characterís favorite food, best childhood memory, favorite pair of jeans? Then you know them on a level that is much deeper than just words on paper. It helps to make the words on paper more realistic.
How would you explain the best way to create interesting and realistic dialogue?
I write in the way I would speak. Is the character sarcastic? Angry at the world? Sweet and innocent? Think of the times you have felt that way or acted that way. What did you say? How did you say it? Were you careful with your words or did you just let it fly? Let your characters do the same thing. If it is interesting and realistic to you, itís likely to be even more so to the reader who is coming upon it fresh and new.
Iíve heard a lot of writers say itís important to show the reader rather than tell them. How would you explain this statement to someone who didnít understand it?
Take a very clear statement, such as...ĒAdrian put the flowers on the table.Ē Thatís simple and direct, but to show it, think about the things around it. The smell, the sound, the position. ďThe cut-glass vase was heavy in Adrianís hands. He took a deep breath of the sweet smell of the flowers, smiled at their yellows and reds and purples, and hoped Victoria liked tulips.Ē Thatís a quick one, and unpolished at that, but you get the idea. Put the reader there and surround their senses.
How do you go about keeping a story focused?
If it is a short story, I usually know where it is going. With a novel, I take it one chapter at a time. I donít get all bent out of shape if the novel doesnít fit along with my outline of where it should go. I would rather adjust the outline than rein in the characters.
Iíve heard writers say that a characterís name is important, do you agree? If so how do you go about naming a character?
It is important. You want something you can relate to, something not too over-the-top, something that will be memorable. And you donít want to repeat names! Iíve been guilty of that. To remedy the situation, I bought a very cheap baby name book. I highlight names I have already used. There are something like 2500 names in there...itís easy not to repeat if you have a list!
What is the best way to describe a setting?
I start with the big picture and then get specific. If I am writing a story about a couple who eventually have sex on top of a piano, like I did in a short story titled, appropriately enough, ďThe PianoĒ...I start with describing the room. Itís a bit chilly. The hardwood floors are cold. The sounds of the piano fill the house. Then I get more specific...what kind of piano? What is the lighting? Where is it in the room? What does the finish feel like? Start big and go small, and it brings the reader in. Imagine flying over a room, observing it, and then floating down to one particular point. Close your eyes and see that happen. Then write it.
What type of organization do you feel is necessary in order to write successfully?
Iím not sure if it is necessary, because I think everyone has their own style. I know that for me, I have to be completely organized. I have filing cabinets, folders that are very specific, lists and spreadsheets and word count tallies. I know where everything is and I can find it at a momentís notice. It makes me feel more secure about what Iím doing, business-wise.
Have you ever created other worlds within novels? If so how do you go about doing this?
I canít say that I have. Itís something Iíve toyed with in the past, but I never seem to be able to make it work!
If wanted to write a spicy scene how would I do it without it sounding awkward?
Thatís hard for me to answer, because I love writing erotica, and by now it comes easily to me. Perhaps think of what you would say to your dearest and closest friend? The one you can share anything with? Or what would you say in bed while talking dirty to a partner? Incorporate that. What turns you on to hear?
Do you think that a specific point of view is better for a specific genre; if so which point of view do you feel sound best with which genres?
I havenít found one that is necessarily better, but I have found a few that are really bad. I read Dutch by Edmund Morris, and to this day I am still confused. It was a biography, was it not? But the point of view was written as though he was there when all these things were happening in Ronald Reaganís life. It blurred fact and fiction. I thought the book was very revealing, but that it was also sloppy writing. Did he have to do that to keep it interesting? Reagan was interesting enough. So I donít think point of view is necessarily set in stone, but for heavenís sake, donít switch it up too much, or your readers will just be confused.
Iíve finally written the end on my story what do I do now?
First things first: You sit back, have a sip of your favorite adult beverage, and congratulate yourself. Youíve done something very fine and good, conquered something very daunting. Now: Are you going to publish this? If so, itís time to dig into the resources. You should have already planned for this, and have a short list of publishers, agents and editors who you know will love to see your work. Finish that drink, send the story off to your favorite proofreader, and start polishing that query letter.
Are there any books or sites youíd recommend to help with the writing process?
The Writerís Market is a very valuable resource. I buy a new copy every year and give my old one to the library bookstore. How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool is a good book for those who want to know the basics. Another good one is On Writing by Stephen King...he tells it like it is. If you are writing erotica for profit, Susieís Brightís How to Write a Dirty Story is the best resource I have found out there. So far as websites, I have found that a critique group is a huge resource for polishing your work.
Is there anything else you feel every writer should know about writing?
Writing is magical. The business is not. The business of marketing and publishing your novel is like diving into a beautiful, glistening pool filled with alligators. Make sure you have a thick enough skin to withstand them, and the wherewithal to fight back. If you have a novel you believe in, hold it in front of you like a shield. Be prepared to see it ripped up around the edges, but if your idea is good, it will hold up no matter what is thrown at it. Remember that when things get to be too rough.
And when things get rougher than that, remember that the great Louis LíAmour was rejected hundreds of times before his first novel was published. Same story for Stephen King. They are now arguably the most recognizable names in their genres. It can be done!
This article originally appeared on The Writer's Niche, a group for aspiring writers. For more information, contact .