I’m so pleased to welcome debut author Jo Robertson to the RU campus! Jo’s first book, THE WATCHER, debuted on Amazon earlier this month. Here’s a quick blurb.
Forensic psychiatrist Kate Myers believes the killer of two teenage girls in Bigler County, California, is the same man who savagely murdered her twin sister over fifteen years ago. Working with a single-minded tenacity, she sets out to prove it.
Deputy Sheriff Ben Slater hides his personal pain behind the job, but Kate’s arrival in his county knocks his world on its axis. He wants to believe her wild theory, but the idea of a serial killer with the kind of pathology she proposes is too bizarre.
Together they work to find a killer whose roots began in a small town in Bigler County, but whose violence spread across the nation. A Janus-like killer, more monster than man, he fixates on Kate. The killer wants nothing more than to kill the “purple-eyed girl again.”
When it comes to writing processes, we each have our own method of madness. Today, Jo shares her modus operandi.
The Wacky, Wonderful Writing Process
How an author tackles the task of writing absolutely blows my mind.
The whole affair of starting, continuing, and finally finishing a book is a process that varies as widely as the number of writers. Even though I taught writing to sophomores and seniors in high school, I’m amazed at how different the writing process is.
Students virtually stop writing “stories” in middle school. By the time they reach high school, they’re encouraged to stop using first person narration and to stop penning “The End” at the completion of their papers. They no longer “tell stories,” but write expository essays – a form they will generally follow through their remaining school years.
It’s a shame really.
Narration and exposition are about as far apart as the proverbially Venus and Mars. However, unless a student takes a creative writing class, he pretty much won’t tell “stories” any more. As one educator phrased it, “You can’t haiku your way into the boardrooms of America.”
But what if you’re not interested in the boardrooms of America?
What if you want to be a “writer” writer? That’s sort of like running off to New York or Hollywood to be a Broadway actor or film star. Instead, you’ll likely be waiting on tables.
Expository writing is just what the name suggests – it explains or analyzes something. Anything from an article on how to establish a fan page to a description of a mountain pass to a college application essay falls into this category. Useful tools in corporate America.
I understand why we no longer teach “fun” writing in the upper grades; it’s not practical writing, and let’s face it, few students will become professional writers and actually earn a living with their books.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were room in the curriculum where kids could metaphorically wiggle their fingers and toes in the mud, where they could draw on that creative side of their brains, find out what works for them, and explore the possibility of telling stories?
What if you just want to tell stories?
Fiction is narrative writing. It tells a story, has characters and setting and plot, theme and motif and point of view. Expository writing has far more structure, is easier to write (in my opinion), and easier to teach. There are logical rules and formulas for this kind of writing and one can be fairly successful at it without being either highly creative or particularly brilliant.
What if you want to be a genre fiction writer?
Narrative writing has fewer “rules” than exposition, and you’re actually allowed to “break” them as long as the story “works.” The narrative writing process is different for every person and varies as greatly as the number and species of North American birds. The standard of success is pleasing the reader.
Narrative writing comes primarily from the right side – the creative side – of the brain. For success a writer usually has to turn off the left brain – that linear, analytical portion – and allow ideas and concepts to flow freely from the subconscious mind. This is the reason few writers turn out “good enough” rough drafts. The right brain doesn’t censor the writing, but allows it to fall like mud on the sidewalk – messy, dirty, and disorganized.
Some authors write in a linear, chronological manner, going from one point to the next until the “story” is complete. Others write in scenes, visceral moving scenes which come to mind like photo images. The writer may not even know where these scenes fit in the broad spectrum of the story, but she’s sure they’re important.
This is very organic writing, it’s messy and nonlinear, and it’s very uncomfortable for some writers, but I believe our best writing can come out of these scenes.
When I taught writing, I encouraged my students to use a process that works for both narration and exposition. I call it the Dump Version. It allows the writer to freely explore his initial response to the topic or assignment or plot. It’s sort of diarrhea on the page – get it all out in concrete words, ignoring order and mechanics and cohesion. Literally dump it on the page.
Later go back and add content as necessary – examples or experiences –or delete extraneous material. Now put the paper or story aside. Yes, hide it under the bed or in some stuffy old closet.
And forget about it.
Bring it out a month or two later and re-read what you’ve written. Trust me – you’ll see the writing with fresh eyes.
Then, and only then, work on revisions, edits and copy edits.
I discovered this trick accidentally when I misplaced a set of Advanced Placement essays. About six weeks later I found them, and without marking or responding to the papers, I returned them to their owners.
“Look at your papers with a fresh set of eyes,” I said (sounding like I’d had a plan all along). “Now revise your essay.”
This is what real revision is.” Seeing the words, ideas, characters, setting anew. Revision isn’t just making changes; it’s re-visiting the content with a new perspective, a new set of eyes.
As a writer, what’s your process? Share. Inquiring minds want to know.
If you’re a reader, what’s been your experience with writing, either in school or for fun? Do you keep a journal, create poetry, or write a blog?
One of today’s commenters will receive a print copy of “The Watcher” from a random drawing. And those who send their snail mail addy to firstname.lastname@example.org will get an autographed postcard of this debut book.
Author Louisa Edwards joins us on Wednesday, August 18th with a post on Breaking the Rules and why pushing the boundaries of works for her.
Bio: Like many writers, Jo Robertson penned her first story at a young age. However, a family and a teaching career put her writing dreams on hold until her Advanced Placement seniors conned her into writing her first complete manuscript. That story, which subsequently won RWA’s Golden Heart Award in 2006, was THE WATCHER.
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