Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Necessary Part of the Process or Complete Time-Suck? Your Call by Megan Crane

I was going to write about the writing retreat I took earlier this month out in Palm Springs, with fabulous writers Elizabeth BoyleLiza Palmer, and Jane Porter.  The four of us took over a pretty condo for the weekend and pounded out a serious amount of words on our current projects.

But Elizabeth beat me to the post I was going to write--all about how different the four of us were in terms of how we approach our writing.  Who was a pantser?  Who was a plotter?  What did our processes look like when we were all sharing space?  You'll have to check out Elizabeth's post to see. 

I can tell you that I am definitely not a plotter!  Not if being one involves Elizabeth's many binders and scene breakdowns--all of which fascinated me, but none of which I could use, I don't think.

I don't really plot.  But nor do I sit down and just wing it, either...  Well.  At least not entirely.

Here's me typing away in my sunny little corner of our condo.  I used the weekend as an opportunity to launch into my new book.

When I start a new book, I like to jump in and just start writing.  I like to get the characters on the page and see who they are, what they have to say for themselves, what they might be hiding.  I usually play around with them and their world for about three chapters, until I have a little bit of a handle on who they are and what their conflicts seem to be this early on.  And when I'm finished those first three chapters, I usually take a time out to regroup and figure out the spine of the story.  What do I think is going to happen?  What would I like to have happen?

Usually, I craft a (very vague) synopsis that sketches out what I think are the major turning points, the beginning, middle, and end.  It's not a very official document.  If my editor asks me about my next book I'll type it up (it's rarely more than a page and never more than two) and if she doesn't, I just scrawl it out on a piece of paper I keep on my desk.  And then I usually rewrite those opening chapters multiple times to really nail the characterization right from the start, now that I know where I'm going.

When I talk about editing chapters and rewriting them to move forward, this is what I mean and this is what it looks like.  (A mess, you say?  Well, yes.  That's how I work.  In scribbled chaos.)

I do this until I feel as if I know the characters well enough to move on toward the story I've mapped out for them, however vaguely.

But this time, I decided to do something brand new for me: I decided to use pictures.

The truth is that I don't think of myself as being particularly visual.  When asked to assign celebrities to my characters, I usually draw a blank.  But over the course of the last few books I've written, I've started to use pictures a whole lot more to help clarify my thoughts and inspire me as I sit in front of this screen daydreaming my way into the next scene.

So it was a short step from there to Pinterest.

This is the vision board I created on Pinterest for my latest book, a Harlequin Presents featuring a billionaire Spaniard and his British personal assistant:

I won't lie, it's easy for hours to slip by while I'm on Pinterest, busy pinning here and there, but I've noticed that since I made this board, my writing is significantly more focused.  The characters seem to pop more, and the scenes seem more vivid.  Maybe because I can actually look at my thoughts in addition to writing them on the page.  

Do you collage or pin or create vision boards?  Do you cut out pictures from magazines?  Do you cast your books?  Do you think these things help--or are they simply artful procrastiation?

I suspect that for me, the answer lies somewhere in-between.  But every book needs some mulling-over, some daydreaming into life, and so far, Pinterest seems to be a great way for me to do it.

Megan Crane is the author of more than twenty novels, most of which she wrote while fighting off (and usually succumbing to) her crippling addiction to all things internet-related. There is no time-wasting bit of social networking she is not prepared to spend hours on.  Obviously, this post is an attempt to rationalize her hours spent online by claiming it is all some form of good writing habits, after all. Whatever works.  She also teaches writing in places like UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. You can find out more about her at


  1. This was so fascinating to me because I love reading about process. I also went and read Elizabeth's post. Now I want to do Pinterest!
    I've never done a writers' retreat either. I bet it was fun.

  2. Great post, Megan!! And now I want to take a writers retreat AND start playing on pinterist! All in the name of good writing habits, of course.

  3. What a damn smart idea! I am always telling my social netting students that they should be creative around how they use SN, that everything's still so new and open. And you validate my theory. Enjoyable post, Megan.

  4. Pinterest is totally addictive. When I was fleshing out my characters and their homes I scoured the internet for inspirational photos. I have a folder stocked with photos and dozens of websites bookmarked. I'm slightly nervous about putting it all up on Pinterest though. I can see using it as a marketing tool once my story is being shopped around, but I have a totally unrealistic fear that someone would steal my idea. Not that it's that good or anything, but as an unpublished writer, I'm guarding my baby...

    Great post!

  5. awesome post, megan. I am frightened that you've written 20 books at your young age. All while harboring an internet addiction. I think Pinterest is very cool. Haven't got my own but my teenage daughter's shown me hers.

    Anyway, congrats on your newest endeavor.

  6. I'm with Sheila - lol! Wow! What an accomplishment! Love your process and the pic of the writing retreat condo. How fun!

  7. Karin, the writing retreat was great! Not only did I get a lot of work done, but it was really cool to be able to take a break from work and talk with other writers. Very inspiring! And let me know if you try Pinterest. I'm loving it!

    Brenda-- you should do it! Both!

  8. Lynne, I think a lot of authors are using Pinterest this way. It's a lot of fun AND really useful!

    Vinobaby, I don't think you have to worry about anyone stealing your work from your pictures. Even if I looked at your pictures and decided to write something based on them, it would be completely different from what you're writing. I promise. But I get the fear, too!

  9. Sheila & Kathy--I don't know how old you think I am, but I have not heard the word "young" used to describe this particular age in quite some time, unless it is by my 92 year old grandmother. But I'll take that as a compliment. Ha!

  10. What a great idea to use pininterest this way! I'm going to try it as I work on my 3rd novel. Thanks so much! - Kathy Lynn Harris, author of Blue Straggler

    1. You'll have to tell me how it works for you, Kathy!

  11. Sorry to have stolen your post! LOL! But I love yours and because of you have become a pininterest freak as well. Thanks for another addiction.

    1. Elizabeth, I'm sure you wrote that post much better than I would have! Plus, I'm delighted to be able to discuss my Pinterest obsession in public. Isn't it fun? I'll have to think of what other things I can try to get you addicted to...

  12. I love Pinterest. It's totally addictive.

    I've posted boards of things I think are cool like vintage travel posters and creative ideas for organizing (which I always need help with) but I'd never thought about doing a board for a book in progress--what a great idea! Now, I'll be *working* when I'm on Pinterest!

    Thanks for the inside look at how you write--always a fascinating subject.