Nora Roberts (born in 1950) is one of the most successful authors of all time, having written more than 225 romance books, along with tons of mystery books under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.
Here are six of her wonderful quotes about writing!
1. Action, reaction, motivation, emotion, all have to come from the characters.
I’ve been writing novels for a long, long time, and something that took me awhile to learn was that the best stories are born out of character and not plot. Think about the stories you love to read and the movies you love to watch. The story plays an important role, sure, but isn’t the characters you adore that keep you coming back time and time again? Would Harry Potter have been such a phenomenon if J.K. Rowling hadn’t taken the time to develop all those wonderful characters? Would Stephen King’s books resonate with so many people if the character on the page were ultra bland?
Absolutely not. It’s all about the characters, my friends. Sure, you need a compelling story, you need a concept that has some originality, you need a plot with plenty of conflict and where the stakes are constantly raised, but eventually your reader won’t care that much if they don’t connect emotionally with the main character. And how your characters react to things have to come from a real, authentic place. Don’t just tell us what the character is feeling, don’t say why they are motivated to do something. Show and not tell, and make your characters as three-dimensional and realistic as possible.
2. I generally write a first draft that’s pretty lean. Just get the story down.
Every writer has a different approach to the first draft, and really you’ll learn throughout the years what works best for you. Nora Roberts prefers to write a first draft that’s lean, that gets the story down so then she can get to work on shaping it when she revises. I totally get that. I’ve seen authors who write a short first draft and then build it up in drafts two and three, adding lots of detail and dialogue and even new scenes along the way.
I’m not like that. I like to write a lot in the first draft and then cut back as I revise. Many writers don’t like to cut, but I love it. I would find it difficult to reach a scene that doesn’t work in the second draft but feel compelled to keep it there just because my word count is down. When your word count is high and your novel could easily lose 10,000 to 20,000 words, you never have to think twice about cutting something that shouldn’t be there.
At the end of the day, what Roberts says is true, though, no matter how long your first draft may be: get the story down. Whether that means 50,000 words or 150,000 words. Do what you need to do. Get the story down… and then the real work begins.
3. I don’t think you can write — at least not well — if you don’t love stories, love the written word.
I’ve been obsessed with stories and the written word since I was a little kid, and something tells me so have you. Stories are what get me through everything, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction. And to this day, after how many millions of words of fiction I’ve written, I’m still tickled by the power of sentences and the written word. I love to look back over a new novel or short story I’ve written and find a sentence that blows my mind.
Because here’s the thing — when you get super involved in a scene and the sentences are flowing out of you and the characters are almost talking to you in a sense, some truly magical things can happen on the page. When you’re constantly thinking about your story and editing yourself as you write, the magic almost never comes. But if you calm your mind and let the world of your story take over for a couple of hours, you can end up writing some amazing prose that will show you just how much power you have a writer.
4. Every writer has to figure out what works best — and often has to select and discard different tools before they find the one that fits.
Practice is everything when you’re a writer. Practicing your skills will show you as the years pass what works well for you and what doesn’t. This goes for everything from the writing itself to coming up with your ideas to revising to publishing, and so on. You won’t know what works best in the beginning. All you’ll think about is starting, and hopefully finishing, that latest project. Finishing whatever you started is always a good thing to focus on at the start.
But once you write more stories and novels, you’ll pick up on some tools that work well for you, and you’ll throw away the tools that don’t. You’ll discover the best place for you to do your writing, and you’ll decide the atmosphere you do your best writing in (silence? loud noise? music?). Keep trying different things and see what sticks. Eventually your success will come when all the tools suddenly fit perfectly.
5. I don’t believe for one moment you can write well what you wouldn’t read for pleasure.
This is something important to remember as a writer. Something huge. Would you read your own story if you hadn’t written it? I’ve written lots of books throughout the years, and I can honestly say some of the novels I’ve written I probably wouldn’t seek out at the bookstore, and even if I happened to take it off the shelf and read the first few pages, I’m not sure I’d buy it. The books I feel this way about are the ones I wrote not because I loved the idea but because I thought I might be able to make some money from it or that it might easily get me a literary agent.
You want to always be writing books that you yourself would read for pleasure if you hadn’t written it. That’s the way I feel about the latest novels I’ve written. If you love to write for the young adult age market, like I do? Then read a young adult book here and there. If you write mysteries? Read a mystery from time to time, especially by an author you’ve never heard of. Seek out books to read for pleasure in the genres and age markets you write in and write for.
6. You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job.
You have to always find time to write, simple as that. We all get super busy in our lives. Many of us have day jobs. Many of us have kids and pets and responsibilities. And even though a day has a lot of hours… it really doesn’t, am I right? You wake up in the morning and think you have all the time in the world, but then suddenly you’re making dinner and you’re exhausted and all you want to do is put on Netflix. Suddenly the idea of writing 1,000 words or more for the day seems almost impossible.
But if you want to be a writer, you need to find the time to write. Find the time that works best for you. If you’re a morning person, write after you get up. This works well because then you have the rest of your day to do everything else, and no matter how busy things get, you still got some writing done for the day. I used to like writing at night, but the problem with doing that is you’re more likely to put it off until the next day. When you do it first thing, it usually gets done.
What helps is treating writing like it’s a job. You don’t show up late for your job, do you? You don’t skip your real job for a day. Even if you’re not making a dime from your writing, the way to get it done every day is to show up and treat it like a job. You should feel that way about it, even though for the most part is should feel like play and not work.
So please, no excuses. No delaying. Show up every day to write like it’s your job… and the pages will stack up eventually.
Are you ready to write your novel this year? My new craft book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, will help you along the way!