What is your writing process? Do you outline your stories ahead of time? I never outline my novels before I write. I have a vague sense of beginning, middle and end, but for me, it is a very character-driven process. As I get to know my characters, and the relationships between them form, the plot evolves accordingly. For example, the plot twist at the end of Something Borrowed came to me late in the game. *SPOILER ALERT* I had this moment where I thought, “Why, of course! Darcy was with Marcus all along! Just another example of her taking from Rachel.” Another instance of such plot shift involved Dex. Originally, I saw him as a smooth-talking cad. But as I spent time with him, he changed in my mind, and I decided that his feelings for Rachel were sincere from the start. This worked a lot better in the story, of course, because Rachel’s dilemma would have become trivial if her relationship with Dex was merely about sex, intrigue or getting even with a friend. Although this method of writing can be inefficient, and I sometimes have to scrap whole chapters if I don’t like the direction the story is unfolding, I love being surprised in the writing process.
Where do you write? Do you have any special writing rituals? I usually write in my attic office—two floors above the chaos created by my three children. When I get stir crazy, I transfer to a coffee shop or bookstore. I don’t have many rituals—but I always start out my writing day with a cup of coffee and find that my work is the strongest in the morning or in the middle of the night.
What inspires your stories? My books are all relationship-focused, so much of my inspiration comes from my own relationships and the issues and concerns that arise among my friends and family. It’s amazing how universal certain themes are, such as whether there are deal breakers when it comes to true love (Baby Proof); the idealization of a past relationship and a fixation on the “the one who got away” (Love the One You’re With); or complicated, if not downright toxic, female friendships (Something Borrowed). It is always so satisfying to write a book and discover how much it resonates with readers of all ages, worldwide.
You often write about flawed characters. Is this something you do intentionally? I find flawed characters much more interesting than perfect ones and enjoy the challenge of making readers root for them in spite of their unsympathetic path and destructive choices. Life is about the gray areas. Things are seldom black and white, even when we wish they were and think they should be, and I like exploring this nuanced terrain. I believe most people are good at heart and sincerely try to do the right thing. Yet we are all capable of missteps and of hurting the people we love, and we all have had to grapple with the guilt and regret that come from these mistakes and weaknesses.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you deal with it? What is the hardest part of being a writer? Yes—pretty much every day is filled with at least a few moments of frustration in which I’m staring at a blank screen (or a screen filled with sentences I loathe). To me, writing is about overcoming those moments, fighting through them, getting to the other side. More than anything, I write for that feeling of accomplishment and relief. I remember my publicist once saying to me, about another writer, “She only had one book in her.” That is always my fear—that I’ve reached my limit. But I’ve discovered that nearly every author—no matter how accomplished—has this feeling on occasion. And ultimately, I believe that writing is mostly about hard work, perseverance, keeping faith in yourself—which, I believe, is true of most things in life worth pursuing.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers, or for those who’ve never tackled something as big as a novel before? What about writers who are trying to get published? First, stop referring to yourself as an “aspiring writer.” You might aspire to get paid for what you do, but you are a writer if you write… As a corollary, stop worrying that you won’t be good enough, or comparing yourself to others. Don’t let the idea of a novel overwhelm or intimidate you so much that you are too afraid to begin. It’s like training for a marathon. Nobody gets out there and runs twenty-six miles on their first effort. It takes daily training and discipline and desire. There’s no real magic to writing a novel or one method that works for all—it’s just a question of attacking the project sentence by paragraph by page by chapter. Also, try to follow Stephen King’s advice (from his memoir On Writing) to keep the door “closed” when writing early drafts. In other words, don’t concern yourself with what others might think of your work, or whether it is commercially viable. Write what you feel and be fiercely honest. If you don’t feel a deep connection to your characters and writing, then chances are nobody else will. Other books I recommend are: Turning Life Into Fiction by Robin Hemley, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
When you get to the “finding an agent” stage, check out Jeff Herman’s Guide to Agents. I found it to be very useful in that it gives a bit more background on agents. Always keep in mind that publishing is a very subjective and personality-driven. Therefore, you really want to click with your agent and be sure that your work resonates with her. If you have multiple offers, do your due diligence and ask to speak to their respective clients. And until those offers come in, resolve to have a thick skin. Rejection is simply part of the process. It happens to most every successful writer. Many times. When I was writing Something Borrowed in London, I lived around the corner from J.K. Rowling’s flat, and derived strength from walking by her place on my way to get coffee and thinking of all the rejection she endured. So no matter what else, persevere, believe in yourself and keep doing what you love.
When you were working on your first book, did you know you were writing chick lit? How do you feel about the label? Although somewhere deep down I believed in myself, I don’t think I fully imagined that my novel would one day be published. So I wasn’t thinking in terms of genre or marketing or the hue of the cover as I wrote Something Borrowed. I was simply telling a story of love and friendship and how complicated both can be. In fact, my original title for Something Borrowed was Rolling the Dice, which my editor decided sounded too much like a book about gambling—certainly far from your typical chick lit title. Since that time, my work has often been described as “chick lit” and for the most part the term doesn’t bother me. I think it simply signals to readers that the book is about women, written for women (although many men enjoy my books), about issues that concern women (relationships, careers, etc.) The only thing that bothers me is when the label is use disparagingly, to imply that all chick lit is, by definition, superficial, beach-read fluff because I believe that this is akin to saying that all women are devoid of substance and the issues that concern us, are fundamentally trivial ones. And I take issue with that. Bottom line, I try not to get too hung up on labels as I think they can be very limiting.
I did think NPR presented a very interesting take on the debate ...