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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writing the First Draft of a Novel

Last week, I conducted a roundtable discussion with best-selling mystery author Margaret Coel in a session of the Introduction to Publishing course at the University of Denver, billed as "How a Book is Born." Our focus was on Margaret's 15th--and latest--novel, The Silent Spirit. One of the students asked Margaret about how she works. Her answer was that she usually goes into her office at about 9 in the morning, starts writing, and keeps going until about 12, when she takes a break, then resumes for another couple of hours. Her average, she said, is about 10 pages a day. She works from a rough outline of the novel--which she calls her road map--but said that occasionally the characters start heading for a different ending from the one she had originally projected. Interestingly, she said that she does not stop if she's stumped for the right word, but just puts a question mark there and keeps going. And she doesn't even think about revisions until she has completed the first (very) rough draft of the novel. Only then does she begin the revision process, which she said could take her through several reworkings of the novel. I was struck by this headlong pace she described for the writing of her novel because I felt this same kind of headlong energy as I read the completed work.
Obviously each writer will have his or her own unique way of working, but there may be something to be learned from this one writer's working style.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Arnold. I love this kind of shop talk and I have often gotten interesting and practical tips from hearing about how writers go about their work. Others who like this sort of thing should know about the great Paris Review interviews which since 1953 have provided a wonderful venue for insights like these, featuring writers from Faulkner and Capote to John McPhee. You can find the Paris Review interviews here.