In celebration of the ten year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:
As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?
Here's the latest reply, this one from author Kristin O'Donnell Tubb:
I’ve been surprised to find that, for me, the process for bringing each new story to life varies as the personality of the protagonist varies.
In writing Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte, 2008), I was dragged by my shirt collar through the story by Autumn, because she just had so darn much to say. She's feisty and free-spirited, and I learned to follow her lead when writing her tale.
But my work-in-progress features Hope, a smart but uncertain girl who lacks confidence. I've had a more difficult time writing this story, because Hope is always on the defensive. With Selling Hope, I finally created a meticulous, 20-page outline because Hope stayed just beyond my reach otherwise.
And in a mystery series I'm developing, the protagonist is Eleanor, a girl who idolizes investigative reporters. She is a straight shooter, and her story is unfolding like a developing news piece.
Prior to writing Autumn, I assumed that one was either an outliner or a person who wings it. Black or white, right? I was an outliner, through and through.
But Autumn would have none of it. And Hope can’t be trusted otherwise. Eleanor could go either way, so long as the truth as I know it is told.
Outliner or winger? I’d have to say it depends on how forthcoming my protagonist is!
Why is this important? For years, I tried to write like I was "told" to write:
-"You have to write xxx number of words per day."
-"One MUST write every day."
-"You really should outline/wing it/interview your characters/keep a notebook of personality traits/draw a map of your setting/make a collage for your main character."
But none of these worked for me. And parts of all of them worked for me.
So while we're never done honing our craft, we have to allow ourselves some flexibility in how we do that. What used to work doesn't always work. What was once foreign to us might now bring a fresh, new perspective to our work. And how fun that is!
Because honestly, if Autumn and Hope and Eleanor were too much alike, then what an uneventful career writing would be.