Sunday, June 21, 2009

NORA ROBERTS AND REAL ROMANCE

Whether you write women's fiction, science fiction, YA, fantasy, romance or literary fiction--even nonfiction, you should read the profile of Nora Roberts in the June 22 issue of The New Yorker magazine. "Real Romance: How Nora Roberts became America's most popular novelist" by Lauren Collins takes the "romance" out of the writing life. Roberts, who grosses sixty million dollars a year for her books, has one key commandment of writing: "Ass in the chair."

"You know," she says, "writing's creative and all this, certainly, but you don't just wander around dreaming. That's not what you're getting paid for."

"People go, 'Oh, you work six or eight hours a day, oh my God!' Well, yeah, how many hours do you work?.....this is my job. And I think people who"--she hesitated for a moment--"have more of an artistic bent, they're just not as productive, and their writing is probably not any better than mine at the end of the day."

Collins estimates that it takes Roberts, on average, forty-five work-days to write a book. "Roberts, who, as J. D. Robb, also writes futuristic police procedurals, has written a hundred and eighty-two novels, in addition to short stories and novellas. In a typical year, she publishes five "new Noras": two installments of a paperback original trilogy; two J. D. Robb books; and, each summer, what her editor Leslie Gelbman, refers to as the 'big Nora'--a hardcover stand-alone romance novel."

Nora Roberts is not every one's idea of a great writer, but you can't argue with her productivity. What can you learn from this dynamo?
  • AIC--Ass in the chair, each day, every day. It's the way books are made.
  • OOC--Get your head Out of the Clouds. It's your business to be a writer and that takes hard work. Go out, look at the sky, think about your characters, and then, start writing!
  • Learn how to write dialogue--If you're a fiction writer, it will save your butt.
  • Learn how to research--Roberts uses the Internet, you can too.
  • Engage your reader--Create characters that readers can relate to.

So Happy Father's Day! Kiss your dad on the forehead or give him the homage of your choice. Then, get busy!


5 comments:

DebraLSchubert said...

AIC plain and simple is indeed the secret formula. Thanks for the reminder. And, Happy Father's Day to the wonderful dads in your lives as well!

Reason Reanimator said...

Roberts will probably get slammed for what she's said...maybe she should be.

"Bigger is better! More is better!" Not necessarily. I'd like to know where it's written absolutely that society should value quantity over quality. I think very, very few writers can do both to-the-max at the same time. Maybe none can. Or have. I haven't decided yet. I do think that writing too fast is just as bad as writing too slow.

But not every artistic-leaning writer seemingly takes ten-thousand years to pen works. Joyce Carol Oates is prolific, John Updike was too, though neither completed more than one novel a year as far as I can tell.

No matter a writer's genre, completing more than one a year is asking for sub-par work, in my opinion. I once first-drafted four novels in one year--so what? Two of them just weren't any good; the other two needed a lot of work. I normally first-draft really fast, but when I do, those drafts are a mess; they need lots of revising.

Roberts writes six to eight hours a day? Try twelve to fifteen! So what again? I got nowhere writing so much every day. I rarely do that now.

Nora Roberts makes lots of money at writing; she can now afford to spend a full workday every day writing fiction. Each day for everyone only contains 24 hours. Many writers have mandatory day jobs; that some can only write a few hours in a day--tops--shouldn't be held against them. To me, the quality of their resulting works is what matters. Some writers may only need two hours to do what Roberts can only do in six.

I hope the article means 45 workdays for her first drafts. If that includes revisions--I think that's ridiculous. Works need to rest so writers can look at them with fresher eyes. I've read a few of Roberts' books; I think they're largely cookie-cutter stories, interchangeable, and full of stereotypes. Maybe if she reflected on each of them for at least several months, she'd notice she's repeated herself too much!

Reason Reanimator said...

One last thing: how does the public know Roberts has actually written everything she's credited as having written? There have even been some "Ghostwritten!" mumblings toward Oates and Stephen King.

Actually, if it were up to me, I'd outlaw ghostwriting so no one could ask these questions; then everything would be more real rather than tainted with fake.

Rebecca Knight said...

Thank you for sharing this!

Even though, like you said, I don't think Roberts is the best of writers, she is incredibly successful, so there's a lot to learn from her.

It's fascinating to see how she works. I'm not sure I could ever write that quickly, but AIC is definitely something I need to do more of ;).

Thanks for the post!

JACLYN said...

AIC--Ass in the chair, each day, every day. It's the way books are made.

OOC--Get your head Out of the Clouds. It's your business to be a writer and that takes hard work. Go out, look at the sky, think about your characters, and then, start writing!

Learn how to write dialogue--If you're a fiction writer, it will save your butt.

Learn how to research--Roberts uses the Internet, you can too.

Engage your reader--Create characters that readers can relate to.

SOUND ADVICE FROM A GREAT LADY. I MET NORA YEARS AGO. IF SHE THINKS IT, SHE'LL SAY IT. SOMEONE ONCE SAID SHE SHOOTS FROM THE HIP.

THAT'S THE ONLY WAY. YOU'LL LEARN MORE FROM HER FEW WORDS THAN AN HOUR LECTURE FROM SOMEONE ELSE.
BECAUSE OF HER I DO MOST OF MY RESEARCH ON THE INTERNET.

SHE HAS GIVEN ME THE GUTS TO GO TO A POLICE STATIONS, AND PROUDLY ADMIT I'M WITH THE RWA AND ASK QUESTIONS ON DRUGS FOR ONE OF MY BOOKS.
I CALLED A SECURITY COMPANY TO SEE ABOUT MUSEUM QUALITY SECURITY AND HAD TO GO SEVERAL AROUND WITH A CHAUVINIST UNTIL I GOT THE INFO I NEEDED.

EVERY TIME I NEED HELP, I THINK: WHAT WOULD NORA DO?

THANK YOU NORA ROBERTS, YOU’RE AN INSPIRATION TO WRITERS.

JACLYN