Hold Your Nose and Type – The Upside of Writing Fast with Ruth Harris
RU contributor, Ruth Harris, joins us today to discuss ways to jump start your writing and boost your word count.Hello, Ruth!
Today, as we head for NaNoWriMo, I’m going to talk about another, much less frequently suggested, but equally anatomically impossible act: the plusses of holding your nose and typing. But, you ask, won’t I add to the “tsunami of crap”? The answer is yes, of course, but let me remind you that writing slowly and agonizingly can also result in unspeakable crap. So, you choose.By writing fast, you warm up the engine and get it running.
You quash the inner scold, that mahatma of negativity that rains on your parade. By writing fast, you don’t have time to censor or second-guess yourself and you avoid wasting time obsessing over whether your hero should be blond, brunette or a power-baldy à la Bruce Willis. You can always figure that out later and, more often than not, as the character engages and develops, hair color (or lack of hair) will become obvious.
Writing fast increases your chances of “getting into the flow” and gaining access to your sub-conscious or what Steven King calls “the boys downstairs.” Those “boys”—or girls if you’re of the female persuasion—are the source of inspiration. They are the ones who come up with the unexpected (even to the writer!) plot twist and help you get the work done.
By watching the words and the pages pile up, you give yourself the gift of a sense of accomplishment. Where there was nothing, there is now something and the mere fact that there’s “something” where once there was nothing builds confidence.
Last of all, writing fast is professionally crucial in these days of self-publishing because a new book helps sell the old books. Just ask Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith.
Now that I’ve persuaded you (I hope!) of the importance of writing fast, one obvious question rises: How do you make yourself write when you’re tired, distracted, uninspired or just plain “not in the mood.”
My friend Rona Jaffe used to “read something good.” Which meant one of her already-published books. For Rona, reading her own work reminded her of what she did well and what she’d been successful at.
Other writers read something by an author whose work they admire.
Coffee works for some. Loud music for others. Vivaldi’s The Seasons for still others.
An external deadline can help: a contract or even a promise to someone else—including the dog who is in need of a walk.
Setting a word target, a time target, a scene target adds focus in the form of an achievable goal.
Do you respond better to the kiss or the whip? If the first, promise yourself a Dove Bar at the end of your just-get-it-down writing session. If the whip, then no dessert for you tonight unless you get your quota filled!
Shut the door, turn off the phone, the internet, do whatever you have to do to get the job done. Adapt Nora Roberts’ approach: you will permit interruptions only in the case of “blood or fire.”
Just begin and power through because once you’ve got something —almost anything— down on paper or, these days, on the screen, you have a point of departure. You can always fix it later. If you don’t have something down, there’s nothing to fix.
In the Universe of Writing Fast, there are a number of possible outcomes:
1) Might be much better than you think & just needs a light edit. Yay!
2) Might be pretty good but needs a careful edit. OK, editing is just part of the job of being a writer so get on with it.
3) Might be dull, drab and needs major, butt-in-chair revision. That’s OK, too, because revision is also part of the job.
4) The aaargh! draft: So what you wrote is real crapola and needs a four-corners rewrite? Don’t let that get you down. As I always say, “It ain’t the writing it’s the rewriting.” Professionals know it and the aaargh! draft is the perfect case in point.
5) Even worse than the aaargh draft is draft so putrid that it threatens the very integrity of the time-space continuum. We’ve all been there, done that and that’s why keyboards come with delete buttons. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to publish it or even that anyone else has to see it. Just trash it and move on. But don’t forget that writing has powerful after-effect and that even the worse draft imaginable can trigger important new ideas.
6) Saving best for last: OMG! Did I write that? It’s just about the best feeling a writer can have and, when you write fast, you outrun your insecurities and second guesses, your tendency to “fix” and diddle, you’re also raising the odds of the OMG!-Did-I-write-that? moment.
At Romance University, the topic is Romance. Does it surprise you that the subject is Sex?
Five Sex Thrills No One Talks About with Ruth HarrisI met Ruth Harris last year through Anne R. Allen’s blog. Ruth is a former editor and publisher, and a multi-published, NY Times bestselling author. Ruth’s engaging storytelling and her cast of complex and unforgettable characters always leaves me sleep deprived and wanting more.
Ruth’s novels are full of sexy, magnetic men. But sexy extends beyond appearances. Ruth tells us why.
The vaunted 6-pack? Meh.
The broad shoulders and small waist? Big effing deal.
The biceps and triceps? The quads and hammies? Don’t bore me.
Lifts weights like an Olympic champ but won’t lift a finger around the house? Surely you jest.
Bulked-up cover boys remind me of Arnold Schwartzenegger and we all know what he was up to. Or else they bring to mind pro athletes—baseball, football, basketball, you name it—with a different baby mama in every city his team plays in.
I have zero interest in a man who devotes hours to himself and “sculpting” his body.
He’s the kind of man I’m going to have to fight for mirror time in the AM, who uses more—and more expensive—“beauty” products than I do, and the kind of man whose self-involvement turns me off, not on.
What turns me on in a man is:
1: Competence— Can he change a tire, fix a leaky faucet? Big plus for sure if he can, but, no, I’m not looking for a handyman. Sometimes I just want the man who knows who to call to get the job done.
2: Humor—Give me a man who can make me laugh—over spilled milk, a bad haircut, a new recipe even the dog won’t eat. He’s the kind of man who can make me smile all the way into the bedroom.
3: Integrity—Introduce me to the man I can trust. The guy who won’t cheat on me, steal my money or turn into a vampire sucking my energy, ambition, goals, dreams is the man who turns me on & keeps me turned on.
4: Savvy—Set me up with the man who knows how to wangle/charm his way into an airline upgrade, can order in a french/spanish/chinese/dominican restaurant, is knowledgeable about finance, insurance and world affairs. That’s a man you can live with for a life time and never once be bored or restless.
5: Smile—Who can resist a guy with the kind of smile that would melt a glacier or even contribute to global warming? Does his smile start with a glint in the eyes, go to the mouth & light up the whole face? Please. Give him my number and Twitter handle.
Oh, and one last thing, I also appreciate a man who can put a load of laundry in the machine, turn it on, unload it and then FOLD THE LAUNDRY AND PUT IT AWAY without fearing his testosterone level will sink lower than a nuclear submarine.
Or the guy who can cook dinner and clean up afterwards without acting like turning on the stove or washing a dish will make his man root shrivel up and fall off.
Spare me the studs. Keep your hunks. You can have those “irresistible” bad boys all the girls seem to love. Just give me a man who appreciates everyday life and knows how to live it.
Dressing–and–Undressing Your Characters…Plus How Did They Do the Laundry on Downton Abbey?Does your heroine prefer yoga pants and a holey t-shirt or is she wrapped in Prada from head-to-toe? Author Ruth Harris steps up to the lectern to discuss why dressing (and undressing) your character matters.
Welcome back, Ruth!
Clothes, said Mark Twain, make the man. And the woman, as any woman in her right mind knows—whether she’s shopping at Saks, at the mall or on her iPad. Clothes also make the character, as any writer knows.
Whether you’re writing about a fashionista or a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom), a tomboy, a 1920’s flapper, an East Village artist or a Queen, modern or otherwise, the characters will be different and their clothes will be different. An Annie Hall look projects one kind of heroine; a little black dress and sunglasses à la Audrey Hepburn another; those Katherine Hepburn-type nifty slacks still another. Whether you’re writing about Madonna or Lady Gaga, Michelle Bachman or Michelle Obama, about Catherine the Great or the girl next door, their clothes are your secret weapon and a crucial part of the author’s tool kit, an essential way to bring your characters into focus for yourself—and for your readers.
By the way, speaking of writing about a Queen, did you know that Queen Elizabeth’s skirts are weighted so that no errant gust of wind can blow her skirt up? Never a photo of the Queen’s underpinnings. Interesting tid-bit and just the kind of info that can give a scene or a character another and very intriguing dimension.
Shoes matter. Some actors say that finding the “right” shoes for the character they’re about to play is key. Shoes on chick lit covers have edged into chiché territory. Cliché—but effective! Jennifer Weiner went even further and acknowledged the importance of footwear in a title: In Her Shoes.
The fashionista will be hobbling around in stilettos, the SAHM in flip-flops, the tomboy in Nikes, the artist in Doc Martens, the Lauren Hutton type in jeans and Topsiders. They look different, they walk different, they talk different. Your dialogue will take its cue: a bit of faux French for the fashionista? Chat about pediatrician recommendations for the Mom? NFL standings for the tomboy? References to Renoir and Renaissance for the artist? Safari tips from Lauren Hutton.
The fashionista will lunch at the latest, trendy bistro, the SAHM will eat whatever the kids don’t, the tomboy a hot dog at the baseball game, the artist will go organic or maybe vegan. Where they go, who they meet, who they fall in love with—in essence your plot—will all derive from their personalities as revealed by their wardrobe choices.
Take the fashionista out of the trendy bistro, put her into a vegan lunch counter and you have the beginnings of a plot. What will she think of the bearded video artist who, apparently needing to make a little money, serves her the organic sprout sandwich? What will he think of her? Intrigue? Disdain? Conflict maybe? Leading to sparks?
Then the twist: the “starving” artist working in an organic luncheonette turns out to be a good-guy Department of Health Inspector saving the public from cooties etc. and the fashionista turns out to be the devil in (knock-off) Prada. Looks can speak honestly or looks can deceive. The twists and turns are up to the writer but clothes, well-described, can launch an engaging, twisty plot.
So does whatever your character wears or doesn’t wear underneath her—or his—clothes. Come on, we’re writing romance. We’ve got to get them undressed, too, don’t we?
The unexpected shock of Fruit-of-the Loom white cotton under the fashionista’s haute couture? Does the SAHM flaunt lacy, silky undies from Sabbia Rosa on the Rue des Saints Pères in Paris? A sequined thong for the tomboy? Or is super sexy Victoria’s Secret the secret our tomboy is hiding? And what about the downtown artist? She’s in black: black bra, black panties. Isn’t she? But don’t forget scarlet, acid green or electric blue. If you’re writing historicals, don’t forget that corsets were abandoned in the 1920’s, that underwire bras became popular in the 1950’s and that recently a bra dating from the Middle Ages was found in Austria.
Let’s not forget our heroes, either, the bad boys and the good ones. Does the powerful executive in his custom-tailored Saville Row duds indulge in silk boxers? Or satin briefs? The grunge musician in tightie whities? Is that honest politician (this is fiction we’re talking about, right?) wearing Spanx under his drab off-the-rack suit?
To finish where we started, I’ve got to make a confession. I (ahem) cut/edited M. Twain. His entire quote reads: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
Much as we love, respect, and admire you, Mr. M. Twain, we beg to differ. After all, we’re romance writers and we know better!
***Who’s more fashion conscious, you or your characters? Do you dress vicariously through your character’s wardrobe?
Have you wondered how the elaborate gowns worn by heiresses and ladies of the ton were kept in tip top shape? Check out this fascinating article from the NY Times on the maintenance of period clothing which features the splendid fashion of Downton Abbey.
***Michele DeWinton presents Pushing the Passionate Pen on Tuesday, August 21st.
ZURI, Ruth’s latest release, is a different kind of love story.
Zuri’s a love story with a difference. A triangle. He’s a scientist, prickly and critical, an expert in animal communication.
She’s a veterinarian accustomed to praise and success. Zuri is the sad little orphaned rhino they’re trying to save. They both love Zuri but can they learn to love each other?
***Bio: Ruth Harris is a New York Times bestselling author whose books (with Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St.Martin’s Press) have sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback, been translated into 19 languages, published in 25 countries and selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club.
Ruth started out in publishing right after she graduated from college. Her first job was as secretary to a textbook editor, an unpromising start if there ever was one, but she was soon promoted to copyediting—much more interesting.
She’s been a copywriter, assistant editor, editor, editor-in-chief and, eventually, publisher at Kensington.
Ruth blogs with author Anne R. Allen and WG2E. She can also be found at: http://ruthharrisblog.blogspot.com/