This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking about our greatest writing challenge and how we manage it.
In some ways, this is a moving target for me, because it seems that – like clockwork – each book presents its own challenge. With 64 published titles under my belt, I feel like I should have this process down and there shouldn’t be surprises.
No such luck.
What I have to constantly remind myself is that the creative process is its own creature. It’s this connection to something beyond ourselves and thus is not within our control. Particularly for a writer like myself – I am incapable of pre-plotting and write for discovery, relying entirely on intuition – letting go of that desire to control is critical. It can also be difficult, especially when I’m trying to write to a particular idea or market.
For example, I recently wrote one-hundred pages of a book for my agent, according to a very particular comp. Let’s call it Ghost meets Out of Africa. (That is NOT it, but that’s one of my all-time favorite fictional comps. Points if you can name the movie it’s from.) In thinking about this project, I consulted my friend, Melinda Snodgrass, incredibly talented novelist and screenwriter who counts among her credits the Star Trek: Next Generation episode The Measure of a Man. I asked her how closely I should follow the beats of Ghost, if at all. She gave me an incredulous look and asked why, when I had a hugely successful story blueprint right there, I would do anything but follow those beats?
So, I tried.
Turns out that, not only am I incapable of pre-plotting, I also can’t follow an outline to save my life. I struggled to write that book. Having the story laid out in essence should have made it easier. Instead it made it 1,000x worse. For me. Because that’s not my process. Once I abandoned that outline (sorry, Melinda) and followed my intuition, the words began flowing.
That’s the major challenge for me: remembering to trust the process. Particulars change with every book. This principle endures.
Good morning everyone this is Jeffe Kennedy author of fantasy romance and romantic fantasy I’m here with my first cup of coffee.
Ah, dreamy sigh for the deliciousness. Those of you acutely observant either on video or listening to the sounds of the chime will note that I’m back inside today. It’s a stormy morning here in Santa Fe not precipitation. Alas. But um, a cold wind blowing. Ah today is Monday April Twenty Fifth it’s the perfect date. Um, all you need is a light jacket. Ah, hopefully that’ll be us this afternoon you I’m sure all of you get that. Maybe not my mom but ah, you know what can you do. Ah I had a great weekend. Um, did get to get out in the garden hung up my hanging plants. You can’t see them on the video. It’s to glare e f. It’s not gonna happen. But. Yeah, got my hanging plants hung up just in time for them to be blasted by the cold wind. But I’m sure they’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. Everything is fine I got some other ones planted I put together a couple of hanging baskets of my own. We’ll see how they turn out. I did go out and check on them see if I could sit outside and I thought oh it’s not gonna be pleasant been scraping tumbleweeds out of the property. So Friday we got this wind that was. Unreal I mean they’ve been given us the high wind warnings by afternoon we had ah the alert go off on our phones saying warning us of dust storms that you know if we were traveling that the visibility could go down to 0 in like no time at all. We were having like seventy mile an hour seventy five mile and our gusts and the wind roared all night long it was it was something people so I’ll put a photo on the show notes. But the ah. Tumble weeds I was bitching about the tumbleweeds last week there they’re everywhere I had already cleaned up a bunch from like under the juniorni per out front and that kind of thing tons under there now but they had mounted up in front of our garage. You know like the old. Um I don’t know.
You know if you grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder like I did or that sort of thing but you you know instead of having snow piled up to the eaves of our house so that we have to dig our way out with tumbleweeds piled up in front of the garage and I had did like. Get out there and drag them out of the way just to get the car out of the garage. It was um and was something and on Saturday I saw some of the writer people Melinda Snodgrass did a plot break with us done at beastly books. And Melinda has lived here all her life I’ve just been here like 13 years but I asked Melinda because she lives not far from me just like we’re we’re both sort of in the same outskirts of Santa Fe area she’s a little bit more outskirty than I am. But I asked her I said knew the wind had to be bad at her house too and she was and she said it was the worst she’d ever experienced in all her time here. Good thing. There’s no such thing as global climate change right? Otherwise we’d be concerned. Ah, um. Total aside for those of you who you probably were not you probably were not worried about my laptop screen but it is gradually drying out it dried out someone I was in Tucson and there’s like only a couple little spots left. It’s mostly good now i’t been meaning to mention that. There’s like 1 that’s like right if I do this of your own video I could put it like right over my face and then it looks like I have some sort of skin condition. But if I don’t do that. It’s sort of like the ah the thing with the doctor you know it’s like you know, stop doing that it hurts when I do this. Then don’t do that. Ah, so um, yeah, been cleaning out tumbleweeds I told David that for the first time really ever I understand now why people want to burn stuff because. There’s like what can you do with all of these tumbleweeds except set them free again. I wish the ha would hire like a big wood chipper and put it in the community parking lot and so that we could just haul all our tumbleweeds there chop them up. That’s it’s so tempting to set a match to the fuckers.
Except then we would be we would have big problems but I understand now why people want to do it? Um, yeah, so so had a great time. Got I was pretty efficient on Saturday got the laundry done got some chores done around the house. And then in some nebula meeting stuff and then headed out in the afternoon and ran a few errands and then met up with the writer folks for the plot break talked to Grace Draven on the phone for a while and that was really nice to get to talk to her. She had so some good news career wise so that’s nice because she’s been having a hard time with dealing with family stuff. So it’s funny when we have these conversations we our conversations are this mix of personal family and career. But it was nice to get to have a ah long conversation with her and yeah and just debate stuff. You know we were we? Um, we rubb her neck on other authors and and judge them. Ah quietly to each other. Um, but it’s always interesting to look at what other people are doing and do it it helps reaffirm our own guidelines for what we’re trying to do and 1 conclusion I came to I’ve been sort of mulling 1 question. And I’m trying to think of how to phrase this because I don’t want to to give you guys the exact details. But ultimately I came around to well I don’t know why my writing is perceived this way and someone else’s writing is perceived that way. And then I kind of circled around on it and said but you know why am I even thinking about this because even if I could figure it out. It’s not like I’m going to change what I’m doing and and I come back to this over and over again and I’ve even got this little. Well I’ve got it stuck on here pretty well on my monitor but it’s a Georgia O’Keeffe quote and she says if you can believe in what you are and keep to your line that is the most one can do in with life and I really do believe that. Ah, you know it’s. Tempting tempting when you look at maybe something else being ah more widely regarded you know more popular selling better um, having a better reputation that you think oh should I should I be trying to do something more like that.
And of course there’s always the drive to improve to to grow and to do better and are those things in line with each other or are they going in different directions and what I ended up circling around to on this was. I’m not going to try to write like somebody else does even if I could I couldn’t do that all I can do is believe in what my what I am and keep to my line and I think that’s that’s.
That’s just part of you have to grow and develop in your own way but you can’t be someone else and we were ah looking at another author who is trying very very hard to look like somebody else and and. And she’s not the only one it’s tempting. You know everybody wants to be as hugely successful as some of the big authors some of the big popular authors right now and but imitating them isn’t gonna get. Anywhere something that I don’t do and it may be effective marketing. It probably is effective marketing grace and I were acknowledging that it probably is and at the same time we will just hate it is when people have perfect for fans of. Sarah J Maas and that’s always like the same 3 authors you know, perfect for fans of these books and it’s like well ah, what maybe it’s perfect for fans of your books guys. Ah I ah, um, shake my cane at you can I shake I’ll shake my ah. Permission wand here shaking the permission wand ah Scott the same as shaking a cane. But um, yeah, be yourself right? like you if. If you want to do a cover that’s more in line with the subgenre now I just did this rebranding for sorceress moons books they’ll start releasing on Friday I am’m trying a new a few new marketing things on those I’m gonna put them in kindle unlimited ah but I want to signal to readers that I think these books fit in that genre but I am not going to tell you that you know perfect for fans of throne of glass. You know first of all, okay, Mea Culpa I’m going to say it right out here. Um I hate a throne of glass I tried to read it. I read about half of it and nearly threw it against the wall because I found it insipid and stupid I know a lot of people. Love it. I’m sorry yeah and and it’s one of those ones that like people say oh well, it gets better after the next book and it’s like yeah I’m not gonna spend any more of my life reading about this. Girl who’s supposed to be an assassin. she’s supposed to be a trained assassin and she’s like the stupidest assassin on the face of the earth who never does actual assassin things there. There’s my unpopular opinion and I know a lot of people. Love it.
And it’s a great premise. It was a really wonderful premise and I I read it. You know as part of genre research. Ah there are other books are wildly popular that I think are abysmally stupid and I never ever ever. I shouldn’t say never ever ever. But I I feel like at this moment I can say with confidence that I’m not going to compare my books to those because I don’t I think I write better books on that. Yes or not as popular, but so anyway it’s it’s back to that same thing. And I know I talk about this a lot. But um, don’t try to write like somebody don’t try to make your book be a clone of somebody else’s so anyway, it was fun talking Grace always grounding for me. Do that with her and I’ve got I cleaned off my desk I had like all this crap you know how it like slowly grows I like a really clean desk so I’m very happy that my desk is now clean, but I’ve got a couple of stickies. So I’m gonna throw this one in here. Um, I thought I was gonna talk more about it. But I was you know last week or the week before I talked about generation x stuff. So I think maybe this is a Genx thing. But when I see on a I don’t know any of these social media sites. When I’m trying to find something or look at something in particular and they have the thing like look at what’s trending it’s like is it just me that I am automatically suspicious of anything that’s trending this is not a feature for me. It’s a bug It’s like if it’s trending I don’t want to know about it because. That’s like mass mind shit I’m I’m in a feisty mood this morning aren’t I I mean when you guys see stuff that’s trending do you go to magpie to it I know that’s what they want us to do I think this is like a gen x thing Megan tell me sit since we are. Fellow Gen Xes um so then my other sticky note I was well I want to finish what I was saying about melynda. Um, she’s so smart and it’s really fun to hang out with her and for those of you not familiar with Melinda Snodgrass um she has written. You know she wrote for star trek the next generation she was the show run showrunner for the third season she wrote the episode the measure of a man where they did the trial for whether or not data was human I think is was the question.
Um, she’s also written on other shows the profiler ah stuff like that. She’s writing on a new show. It was fun because after we did the plot break stuff which I’d like to go and listen to that’s how I got into this I was explaining to grace. That I don’t go to get my own work critique because I have feelings about that. But I like meeting with this group because I really like hearing how melynda approaches plotting she has such a different approach to it than I do so this is part of how I want to learn and grow because. I may not be able to do it like she does I’m tempted to try it with one of my upcoming books to have her do plot break with me and just see if I can do it but 1 of her things is is she she has to know the ending she wants to know the ending so that she can figure out everything. Leading up to that and she’s very firm in her opinions and which I adore about her. But I think is funny sometimes too because sometimes I just totally don’t agree with her. Um, but she puts things with such conviction I I admire that. Ah. But she’s like you have to know the ending otherwise you never end anything and it’s like I finish stuff all the time. Ah, but I never know the ending till I get there but there is one book that I do kind of that I’m one of my upcoming projects for the fall I do kind of know the ending of it. And I’m going to get her to ah maybe do plot break with me on it. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens it maybe I don’t know I might drive us both crazy. Yeah, we’ll find out but um, yeah so I was telling grace how interesting it is. Just to go through that mental process and it was very stimulating for me refilling the well and and now I have all of these ideas of things that I want to do and and she’s funny I may never get around to my sticky note here because I have other things to say. I did ask her a question because 1 of my upcoming projects is very much inspired by a particular movie and and I love her that she didn’t ask me what it was I said basically it’s an alternate fantasy world version of of a big movie. And she well she did say well if it’s Casablanca and I said it’s not Casablanca ah they all love casab blanca. It’s like the perfect moving perfect story. Ah they were going on about it at the Jack Williamson lecture ship too and I guess at tous toolbox they have a casa blanca viewing night.
Where people um are forced to watch it and then they analyze why it works so well I know I saw it a long time ago when I was younger and I keep thinking she watch it again. But I don’t I don’t know maybe I’d appreciate it better this time anyway. Um. Yeah, I’m clearly never going to get to the stick keynote so it’s just gonna have to live on my desk today. Um I asked her is it. You know this is what I want to do I said if you were going to do this if you knew not me would you. Try to plot the book according to the exact beats of the movie or would you just allow that beat to be the inspiration and and get away from the movie and she kind of cocked her head at me in a funny way and she’s like I would even take the movie of course she said that’s. That’s how you do good work is you find the right template and you use it. So I’ve never done this before but I’m I’m intrigued so I have these 2 potential projects that I could try to plot break with her and I would find very interesting to. Know just try stretch myself a little bit that way I’m having all these stretchy feelings as those of you who have been participating in the podcast for a long time having coffee with me for some time now. Um. That you know like I’m wanting to go into multiple povs which I know should not be as big a deal as it feels to me but it does and I think it’s it’s breaking out of that romance structure is what feels like such a big deal. Um. And I kind of want to do that for the next bonds of magic book once I finish this one? Um I found out interesting things about the book that I’m writing I’m enjoying that and let’s see oh but I know that there’s something I’m supposed to tell you guys. Also. Have to go look at my um to do list because I know I noted it on there something I’m supposed to publicize as a responsible author. Oh yeah, um I have I’m going to start putting the link in the show notes. But I do have a. List of ah but bla for the polyon convention in July I have a preorder link and it’s only it’s a good to like the first week of June or something like that. But if you want to preorder print books for me to have their.
For you to purchase and sign and so forth. You can do that and I’ve been meaning to say things about it but I need to put it out there a little bit more um and then sorceres moons rebranding. Coming the end of this week exciting. Yeah so um, there’s my 20 minutes further stickies tomorrow I hope you all had a great weekend to hope you are feeling. Like stretching and growing in all the most positive ways and I hope that April Twenty fifth is indeed the perfect date for you and I will talk to you all tomorrow take care bye bye.