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My Writing Process – Scotsmen Prefer Blondes

Today was supposed to be my release day for SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES. Yay! Except…it’s not. It’s awesome that a self-published author can get a book out quickly, but I’m still learning how to estimate publication dates so that I don’t overpromise and underdeliver (as I did in this case, sigh). I’m currently waiting to get the book back from my formatter, so it should be up in the next two weeks. And there will be much rejoicing throughout the land (or at least my apartment) when that happens!

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share my writing process for this book. Or lack of process – it depends on what you think ‘process’ should be. If you’ve had a book turn into a nightmare of rewrites and revisions, read on – we can commiserate together. Here’s a brief timeline:

November 2004: I started a NaNoWriMo project about a woman whose mother arranges for her to marry a Scottish earl. I got ~10000 words into the story before life (in the form of Thanksgiving dinner for forty people) intervened.

2005-2007: I kept working on this project in fits and starts, but I spent six months in India and three months in Ireland for work, and life kept getting in the way. Excuses, excuses…but I knew that the story was about a woman who secretly wrote Gothic romances, and her fear that marriage would prevent her from ever writing again. Malcolm and Amelia’s characters were pretty set at this point, even if my feelings about the plot were “who needs plot when you have long, endless banter!” Ha.

2008: I took a leave of absence from the day job and finished the book (then called AN INCONVENIENT MARRIAGE) in time to enter it in the 2009 Golden Heart contest. Then I started querying like mad and overmedicating myself with coffee/chocolate/wine while I waited to hear back.

2009: I finaled in the Golden Heart and became a Ruby!! (which, to be honest, was one of the best parts of this whole journey). I also signed with a fabulous agent shortly after finaling, and eventually went on to win the Regency category.

2010: We heard back from the last editor who had the book, and even though she’d taken it to the acquisitions team, they declined it. I wailed and gnashed my teeth and tore my garments (or, rather, drank wine and had a surly NCIS marathon). Then I wrote ONE NIGHT TO SCANDAL, which eventually became the book that came out two months ago (HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE).

2011: HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE finaled in the Golden Heart (yay!) but didn’t sell to a publishing house (boo!). So my agent and I agreed that I would self-publish. I blithely said I would release HEIRESS and SCOTSMEN back to back, since they were already done. Stupid. Here’s what really happened:

October 2011: Oooh! I can’t wait to revisit SCOTSMEN and fix a few little things!

November 2011: There are more things to fix than I thought there were [note my utter disregard of plot when I first wrote it]…but I think I can salvage almost all of it.

December 2011: I’ll rewrite the first half and salvage the second. And I’ll numb the pain by watching several seasons of “Doctor Who” and eating every Midwestern delicacy my mother can feed me over Christmas.

January 2012: Maybe I’ll rewrite the second half too…

February 2012: What the %*#& have I done?! Is this a Frankenstein’s monster? Or is it actually better? I don’t know anymore – I can’t see the manuscript anymore through my tangled, unwashed hair. It’s at this point that I hired a freelance editor who worked at HQN/MIRA for several years, and she assured me that it wasn’t a monster (although she might have felt differently if she’d seen my hair).

March 2012: I finished the rewrite! Yay! I estimate I kept ~5% of the original book. But it’s way better, and there’s actually a plot, which is kind of exciting. Then I sent it off to the formatter, and as soon as I get it back from them, it will be up on Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Kobo.

This whole process was painful, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. However, I’m certainly glad that I did it. I could have taken the shortcut and just fixed a few continuity details before putting the book up – and I’ll admit I was tempted. But even though speed and prolific output is important when self-publishing, it was important to me to put out the best book possible. That’s why I hired a book formatter rather than doing it myself; I could have done it myself, and the book would have come out on time, but the formatter will produce something better and prettier and more professional than what I’m currently capable of.

I’m also coming to realize and accept that writing a whole book, and then tearing it apart and rewriting it, may be my process. I don’t want to admit that — I want to be the writer who can write a book once, do a couple of editing passes, and be done. But I think that I’m just enough of a pantser that I have to feel my way through the book on the first draft, and then rewrite it all once I have a better view of where the characters are going.

I could go on endlessly about process, but I’ll spare you. If you do want to hear more, though, I recently did an Authors@Google talk in which the interviewer asked me about process, self-publishing, and leaving the day job – you can watch it here:

Do you have any projects sitting under your bed that you want to revisit? Have you rewritten something you wrote years ago? Or is your process totally different? I would love to hear about your projects – and a lucky commenter will win a copy of SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES (any available format) as soon as it comes out!

———————–

Sara Ramsey writes fun, feisty Regency historical romance. Her first book in the Muses of Mayfair series, HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE, is out now on Amazon, Nook, and Kobo. Her second book, SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, will release in early April. You can find more information about her writing (and participate in her current contest for chances to win books, gift cards, etc.) at www.sararamsey.com.

40 Responses to “My Writing Process – Scotsmen Prefer Blondes”

  1. Shoshana Brown says:

    >>I’m also coming to realize and accept that writing a whole book, and then tearing it apart and rewriting it, may be my process

    I’m starting to worry this is my process too. And I don’t even have the excuse of being a pantser. I keep thinking that if I just do a few more charts/graphs/synopses/outlines at the beginning it will help, but so far, not so much. So let me know if you find the magic solution.

    Can’t wait to read SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES!

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Shoshana! We should start a support group for people who rewrite entire books :) I’m still on the lookout for the magic potion that will break me out of this process – will let you know if I find it!

  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    I’ll be rejoicing when Scotsmen Prefer Blondes comes out! Can’t wait to read Amelia’s story. My Kindle will be waiting eagerly. :D

    My process isn’t one hundred percent constant on each book. One will be smooth as silk and practically write itself and another will fight me from start to finish, kicking and screaming its way out of my brain. And there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why they differ so much.

    Here’s hoping your next book is smooth sailing.

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks so much, Vivi! I’m giving my current project the side-eye – so far it seems to be going well, but I’m waiting for it to betray me :) It is interesting how different projects can feel even after you’re more comfortable with your own writing process/style!

  3. Process. I know it has seven letters, but I think of it as a four letter word. I makes me cuss often enough!

    My 09 finalist was a book that had been in stasis for nine years. The rest of the series was only names on a geneologic chart. Laurie’s prodding has changed that, and two of the series can now claim being GH finalists.

    I also have several sci-fis that drew their first breaths in the 90s, but were too far ahead of their time to find an audience (very strange, that, considering the genre, but sci-fi romance still hadn’t become a recognized romance genre then) and are now viable. Of course, at the rate I’m going, they’ll be historical by the time I get to them.

    The interview was interesting, Sara. The support of those who once worked with you is lovely. Looking forward to Scotsmen Prefer Blondes—although I’m mighty glad mine didn’t. ;-)

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Ha! I hope not all Scotsmen prefer blondes – glad you found yours :) And yes, I’m very lucky that my coworkers were so supportive – tremendously lucky.

      I’m so happy for you that you’re making progress with your series! Best of luck to you, and I can’t wait to see what this year holds for you.

  4. Lyn says:

    My first book started out as a short story and after I expanded it into a full length novel, complete with many new characters, and sub plots, it languished in a drawer for years – like Gwynlyn, I couldn’t find a market for SF Romance. When I eventually decided to give it another go I tore it to bits and soldered it back together, and discovered all sorts of things about my characters along the way! By the time I submitted it to a small press I think it was a much better book, although it had taken another two years to get to that stage!I intend doing a similar thing with a story I wrote for NaNo.

    I have to say ‘Scotsmen Prefer Blondes’ sounds like a great book – I love historicals even though I write SF romance.

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Lyn, thanks for the comment and the kind words about SCOTSMEN. That’s funny that you say your book started as a short story – it’s why I haven’t tried writing a novella yet, because I’m pretty sure it would hijack itself and force me to write a full-length novel instead. But that’s awesome that your rewrite uncovered so much more of the story, and I’m sure the pain was worth it if you came out with a better book at the end of it!

  5. Gillian says:

    This does make me feel better Sara, as my “revisions” have morphed into “rewrites” and it’s a pretty little monster right now. I’m telling myself that when this beast has transformed into a beauty, I’ll have learned so much about my writing process that the next one won’t possibly take so long.

    Congratulations on your upcoming release, Sara–I really enjoyed Ferguson and Madeleine’s adventures, and am looking forward to your next Muse of Mayfair! :)

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks, Gillian, and thanks for reading the first book in the series! I’m sure your revisions will result in a better book, even if it’s hard to see the finished project right now. And yes, I think one learns so much on every book that it can’t help but make the next book better. Whether your *process* gets better is a different story, but at least you’re more likely to incorporate the things you learned on this book into earlier drafts of the next one, right? (says the person desperately holding onto that belief during the early drafts of the next book ;)

  6. Jenn! says:

    Process…hahaha. No such thing with small children under foot. But for me, the pantser that I am, I write one chapter at a time to which afterwards I edit and/or revise. I have to edit it before moving forward. I think it also helps anchor me to the story and keeps me from forgetting detail later on.

    Loved reading about your process. And I’m truly excited for you. Can’t wait until Blondes is available. :-)

    Jenn!

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Ah, editing as you go – I’m so glad it works for you. For me, I found I would just keep editing the first few chapters over and over again until I’d killed them :( But I can see how it would work for some people.

      It always amazes me just how different processes work for different people – we can all write great books in the end, but some of us take the direct route with a few small pitstops and others of us are meandering with the wagon train and occasionally succumbing to cholera or some other dreadful disease. If anyone cares to join me on the wagon train, there are plenty of seats ;)

  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Ugh, I’m a technology process analyst for my day job, and you’d think some of that experience might transfer to the creative writing arena. No such luck. My writing process hasn’t come close to stabilizing. My first book, TASTE ME, was written in a slow, meandering way, scenes out of order and with time for experimentation, completely on my own time. My second book, CHASE ME, just laid itself out linearly, chapter by chapter, which was a damn good thing because I was writing on deadline and under contract. This third one, TEMPT ME? Still on deadline and under contract, but it’s fighting me every freaking step of the way. This baby does NOT want to be born. I’m pulling scenes into the world kicking and screaming.

    After I deliver this manuscript, I need to invest some time in analyzing how I write – what works, what doesn’t, what tweaks I need to make. Process-wise, we engineers call this a post-project assessment. ;-)

    Sara, congrats on your releases! Those covers are absolutely luscious, and I can’t wait to watch your Authors@Google interview. I love that series. (lusty sigh) Tony Bourdain…

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Ooh, Anthony Bourdain! Love him, but haven’t watched his Authors talk – thanks for giving me something to procrastinate with :)

      It’s hilarious (even though some days it may not feel hilarious) that you’re so process-oriented at work and yet your writing won’t let you treat it like any other project. The creative process is such a different beast. I managed a lot of projects at work as well, and so I think I smugly thought that I could engineer my writing that way too – and so my writing process has been a very rude awakening.

      I’m sending all sorts of good wishes your way for TEMPT ME! You can deliver that baby…and I can’t wait to read it! (no pressure, of course ;)

  8. Diana Layne says:

    I hate rewrites. But since I learned the Sentence and Snowflake, my rewrites have turned into edits only…of course, that’s only after having done one book that way. I’m working on the next one, will let you know. Loved reading your whole process though, I can empathize, my hair was a tangled mess after The Good Daughter, too, lol. Good luck with Scotsmen Prefer Blondes!

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks so much, Diana! I haven’t tried the Snowflake method, although I’m trying mind-mapping on this next one (which I think might be peripherally related to Snowflake). Gail Carriger, who writes steampunk/Victorian, talked about mind maps at an event I attended a few weeks ago, and if nothing else I think it might help me to unearth more detail about my characters early rather than stumbling upon a crucial detail at the 75% mark and having to rewrite everything else to make it work :)

      Thanks again, and keep rocking the sales for The Good Daughter!

  9. Hope Ramsay says:

    One of the things that a lot of writers don’t realize is that writing a book, tearing it apart, and rewriting is is ALWAYS the process. I am a consummate outliner. I don’t usually write myself into corners. But, even so, when I’m finished with a first draft its always sh@$.

    I know now that I am not alone. At a conference recently I heard Suze Brockman say that all of her first drafts were sh#@. I seem to recall the divine Nora saying that all of her first drafts are sh@#, which is just mind boggling when you consider that Nora has written 200 books. SEP says it takes her a whole year to write a book because her first drafts are terrible. Jenny Crusie talks about how first drafts are never any good.

    The point is that what takes a book from average to exceptional is usually what a writer does in the rewrite. And when you get to the point where you are ready to murder your hero and heroine, you know that it’s tie to move on.

    So, Sara, you are NOT alone.

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Oh, I forgot to say that your covers are absolutely gorgeous. Your artist did a wonderful job.

      • Gail Hart says:

        I agree with Hope about the covers! Most self-pubbed covers are awful, but yours look truly professional. I’m sure they’ll help with sales.

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Hope! It is good to know I’m not alone. I’m nowhere close to rivaling the wonderful Nora, but if bad first drafts work for her, then surely they can work for me :)

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I wrote about this in a Brag Blog post during the Winter Writing Festival, but I doubt many folks saw it, so I’ll repeat it here: F. Scott Fitzgerald, known as one of the finest stylists ever to write in English, wrote what one scholar politely calls “undistinguished first drafts.”

      He’d revise a chapter as many as SEVENTEEN times till he was happy with it. But what chapters they are!!

  10. AJ Larrieu says:

    I have the exact same process. I don’t even think about plot until I’m 10-20k words in, because I have to learn who the characters are before I can see where they’re going. I wish I was one of those writers who can write from start to finish, but my brain just doesn’t work that way.

    I’m looking forward to reading Scotsmen!

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I know- I don’t think I would care that this is my process if I didn’t wistfully wish that I could write straight through like some people do :) But the first 10 or 20 (or 30…) thousand words seem to be more of a character exercise for me than anything else.

      And anyway, your process must work for you, since you’re a Golden Heart Finalist!!! Congratulations, lady!

      • Amanda Brice says:

        I normally call the first 3 chapters my “warming up” phase where I’m just getting to know my characters. I write them and then throw it all away.

        But the book I’m releasing in May. And I think the reason is because it’s the second in a series and I follow the same heroine (1st person) throughout, so I knew her already. I’d originally thought maybe each book would get a different heroine but then I decided to just stick with Dani (and that way I could follow a romantic subplot throughout the series arc). And I’m glad i did b/c it allowed me to keep more of what I’d written this time.

  11. I have a couple of contemporary romances collecting dust under my bed that I’d like to revisit some day. One isn’t finished. One is, but it’s a mess. I wrote it before I knew about stuff like plot and conflict. The characters, though, are people I love, so….one of these days! :)

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Someday, Cynthia! Having too many stories to tell isn’t the worst thing in the world :) I have a whole list of stories I want to start/go back to, but I’m trying to stay focused. It’s hard, since I’m *sure* (ha) that the other stories would be so much easier to write. But if you love those characters, I’m sure you’ll get back to them at some point!

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Oh, yeah…those “other stories” are like Sirens: “I’d be sooooo easy; the words will just flow onto the page….pick meeeeeeee!”

        Where are my earplugs?

    • Amanda Brice says:

      LOL, I can so relate, Cynthia. The very first book I wrote (started in Nov 2004) is just a big ol’ mess. It had great characters and sparkling repartee but zero plot. None.

      It shall always remain on my hard drive…unless I delete entirely someday. LOL

  12. What a great interview, Sara! You seemed so relaxed. I would’ve sat there and babbled.

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Laurie! It was definitely great practice for interviews (if I ever get interviewed again, lol), since my former manager is so awesome – we had a great relationship before I left, and she’s so inspiring as a female leader that I learned a lot about speaking and presentations, etc. while working for her. And it was fun to do it in front of a friendly audience! Thanks for watching!

  13. Sara, thank you for this post today. I can SO relate to the Frankenstein’s monster-book and peeking through matted hair to see the screen. I feel I’ve been there all month with my manuscript. It’s such a relief to read everyone’s comments and see that maybe THIS IS the process (as much as we hate it). Thank you, Hope, for saying that.

    I was SO excited about this book, too, gals. It was my NaNo this past year, and then I had to set it aside as I edited the book that was under contract. Getting back to it, I finally added 35,000 words so that it’s almost the length I wanted, but I ended up starting it in 3 different places (yes, 3), so going back and editing has been a nightmare.

    But I will prevail. I keep telling myself what doesn’t kill me (or my book) makes it stronger…

    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Anne Marie, best of luck with finishing the project you’re working on! I think it’s hard to start with a story you’re so in love with and then have it turn into a snarling disaster…but I’m sure that at the end of it, the love will be back :) You will definitely prevail, and the book will be stronger for it – onward and upward, sister!

    • If it’s any consolation, Anne Marie, I’m not going to make my March 31 deadline either. I’ll spare you the gory details, but you aren’t alone. On into April, my dear. Let’s say by Tax Day, shall we?

      • Amanda Brice says:

        I had hoped I’d have these revisions done and to the editor by now, but alas. That never happens, huh? Fortunately as long as I can get it to her by April 16 I can still meet the deadline B&N gave me to participate in Nook First.

        And I *WILL* participate in Nook First. I’d be stupid to give up that promotion.

        So here’s to finishing by Tax Day!

  14. Fabulous Blog! Happy Almost-Release Day! I can’t wait to read this.

    I think seeing other go through the slash-and-burn revision and editing process gives me courage. It’s really hard to highlight a whole chapter and hit “crtl+X” on something that took a week to do the first time around. I’m surprised you have *any* hair left. But I think that’s what makes good books into keeper shelf books–the willingness to completely rewrite part to have a stronger whole.

  15. Amanda Brice says:

    Happy almost release day! And great interview!

    I can definitely relate to the book that won’t die and tearing it apart and back again. People keep begging me to self-pub PARTY LIKE IT’S 1899 (my 2008 finalist YA time travel book) but it’s been ripped apart and rewritten so many times I can’t even see the forest for the trees anymore, so it would be way more work than I feel like doing.

    One of these days…

  16. Amanda Brice says:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that I started writing (as an adult — I’m not counting my kid and teen attempts) in November 2004. :) That was a good month, I guess!

  17. Sara, thanks for sharing your process. And for sharing details about your courageous decision to self-pub. Can’t wait to read both your books!

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