Writers and readers often ask me my method of writing a book. And I always say with great assurance, “It depends.”
You’d think I know the best way to write. I’ve completed sixty-one full-length books — that includes the two that I wrote that weren’t published, my newest suspense thriller, WRONG ALIBI, and the next book, POINT LAST SEEN, which releases June 21 — and most of the time, I’m sorry to tell you, I’m still faking it. But there has to be one best way to write a book. Right? Right?
The incident that really made me start pursuing the question of the ultimate best way to write came when I was working on book 34. I had a tight deadline, and when I got to chapter six, I had to develop the relationship between the hero and heroine. These two had a dark and dramatic past, and at that moment, writing all that angst didn’t appeal to me. I was willing to write anything else — sex, action, drama. So I stopped writing for almost a week, trying to muscle through my reluctance, and I didn’t have a week to spare before deadline. I finally thought, “This is ridiculous. Write what you want to write.”
So I wrote the last five chapters, with a capture by the bad guys, a chase, a fight to the death, some fabulous make-up sex, and a great cliff-hanger. It was a lot of fun, and I still didn’t want to write that old relationship angst in chapter six, so I went to chapter twenty and wrote more great sex, then chapter 21 … by the time I was done, I had finished the second half of the story. So at last I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. All I had to do was write from chapter six to chapter twenty, and I had a book. So I pulled up my big-girl panties, went back and wrote the developing relationship.
I wrote book number thirty-four backward.
I know that doesn’t make sense to you. It didn’t make sense to me, either.
In pursuit of the one best way to write a book, I asked some pretty successful author/friends for their methods. These women are top four New York Times bestsellers with long-term careers each spanning more than twenty years, so let’s assume they know what they’re doing.
— Susan Mallery writes twenty pages a day, and to do that, she works from a detailed outline that outlines every chapter, every scene. When she sits down at the computer, she always knows what happens next.
— Kristin Hannah writes with a pen on lined yellow sheets. She writes a synopsis and then says she mostly ignores it.
— Jayne Ann Krentz (who is also Amanda Quick) starts with a concept and says her best ideas don’t occur until she’s actually into the book. She writes three books a year without knowing where she’s going to end up.
— Julia Quinn uses a character-driven synopsis…and incentives, like massages and cruises.
So you have four incredibly successful authors who write their books in different ways.
What about me? Do I always write books backward?
No, no, no. As I’ve progressed through my writing career, my method of writing has changed. My first, second and third books were written solely on inspiration. The first two were pretty awful, but the third one sold. After I sold, I worked with an editor who wanted to see a synopsis, so I started plotting before the book was written and I discovered I liked working that way. It diminishes the terror of not knowing what comes next.
But the more I knew what I was going to write ahead of time, the less linear I became. Obviously. If I was on a plane in the middle row with somebody reading over my shoulder and I needed to write sex, I’d write in all caps THE BEST SEX IN THE WORLD HERE and jump ahead. I not only knew that I needed to return to the scene and what I needed to write, but I had the satisfaction of annoying the guy in the other seat.
And remember book number 34? The one that I wrote backward? That book is called TOUCH OF DARKNESS. Great reviews, not one reviewer or reader said the book read as if it were written backward, and it was a New York Times bestseller.
My nineteenth book, IN MY WILDEST DREAMS, was my first book to hit the New York Times bestseller
list (sometimes overnight success takes time.) My first published book, CANDLE IN THE WINDOW, hit the New York Times list when it was re-released. WRONG ALIBI got a Booklist starred review (“Fiendishly clever.”) and E! Magazine said, “If Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley are on your Mount Rushmore of suspense writers, Dodd’s latest release definitely needs a spot on your shelf.” I’m not bragging (maybe a little); I’m giving you my credentials.
Nor am I saying you shouldn’t learn your craft. You should take writing classes. You should read books about writing. Most of all, you should ruthlessly edit your own work.
But the number one rule for a writer is PUT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE.
On any given day, successful writers write the best way they can, and if what they’re doing doesn’t work, they adapt. These are the writers to emulate.
That’s the one best way to write a book. Just … write it.
More words of wisdom from an author who has celebrated the first thirty-two years of her writing career. Yes! It’s me!
My printable book list sorted by genre/series/in order.
My “Books by Series” with links to excerpts and buy links.
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