When I was in New York for the RWA national conference in July, I got a chance to see two of my writing idols: Jenny Crusie and Nora Roberts. It’s hard to imagine two writers whose philosophies are more different.
Jenny was the 8 Ladies’ instructor in the romance writing certificate program at McDaniel College. I give her 95% of the credit for my Golden Heart win. Jenny is a firm believer in Calliope, the Muse of Writing. Well, she actually refers to her muses as The Girls in the Attic. In Jenny’s view, the Girls are responsible for the inspiration that allows us to create story worlds. She says, “Whatever you do, don’t get in the way of the Girls.”
Jenny has published 15 books and is a legend in the romance writing world. Her books are brilliant and witty, with characters you want to hang out with far longer than the story lasts. Her most recent book came out in 2010 and she has legions of fans who are eagerly awaiting the next. She made time to meet with the McDaniel alums on Friday evening. Next to winning the Golden Heart, my favorite memory from the conference is of sitting at the hotel bar with the smartest writers I know, talking about the craft and business of writing.
I didn’t get to actually meet Nora, but I did sit in on a Chat with Nora session, where everyone got to ask questions. Nora has published 250+ books over the past forty years. Growing up, she attended Catholic school and the nuns’ rulers drove home the value of hard work. Although she is worth approximately $150 million dollars according to the website, The Richest, she still writes 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year. (She vacations the other two).
Her view of the writing muse is the polar opposite of Jenny’s. Another writer once came to her husband’s bookstore for a book signing and tried to engage her in a conversation on the topic.
“How do you summon your muse?” he asked.
“There is no f*cking muse,” Nora replied. “You just sit there and you write until you have a book.”
When my turn came to throw out a question, I asked, “Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish, one you just couldn’t figure out?”
“No!” She was outraged. “If that happened, the book would win.”
There’s no question this approach works for her, but looking at this continuum, I’m closer to Jenny’s end than Nora’s.
How about you?
That is a good question. I think, because I have a dayjob and because my writing is still at the beginning stages, I am more about the muse. If I were depending on writing and still at the beginning stages, I would be more about the work ethic. I think (and this might be all writerly imagination and embellishment) that Jenny had a lot of words under her belt before she gave up the day job and started writing.
And now for a tangent. There’s this art of flower arranging, and you can put a bunch of flowers on spikes according to certain rules and wind up with an arrangement. And it’s cheerful and wonderful, and it’s going to die in a few days anyway, so it doesn’t matter. But then you get an ikebana master come in, and s/he turns three flowers a quarter turn, takes out your white flowers and cuts the stems by 10 cm and re-inserts them, and fluffs up the baby’s breath that was smushed together. And . . . wow. It’s so different. It’s so right.
And that’s all I can articulate about that at this point. Maybe later, my muses will digest it and spit it out in a more direct form.
What we all need, of course, is a muse with both taste AND a work ethic. I think Nora and Jenny don’t need to depend on their muses for those two items.
Nora said in her chat that every writer, no matter how successful, needs a good editor, because we are too close to our own story to see what it needs. Sounds like the fiction equvalent of an ikebana master.
I think you’ve got a point about depending on the income for food and shelter. Without that driver, it’s easy to let this turn into a hobby.
We owe a huge debt of thanks to both ladies – Nora for giving the money to McDaniel College to fund the Romance Writing Program, and Jenny for teaching it. We were so lucky to be able to see both of them in person.
I think my writing style is closer to School of Jenny, and my process is more School of Nora (no outlining, sit in the chair and type till it’s done, finish what you start, rinse and repeat). That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway, and If I achieve a fraction of what they have, I’ll be a very happy writer.
Achieving a fraction of what they have–very true!
I used to think I was more Nora, but while I have the discipline to sit my butt in the chair, I don’t seem to accomplish very much until the characters start talking. Fortunately, that seems to be occurring with Book 2 (dammit, I need a title). And the appearance of my muse definitely correlates to how much focus I put on the book.
I’m a mix. I need some input from the Girls in the Basement, but then I can beat it into submission. And I don’t sit in the chair 6 hours and day and write (mainly because I’m in a chair 7 hours a day for the day job).
Same here. Oh, for the luxury of being able to write full time….
Jenny probably writes as much as Nora, but it sounds like a lot of what she writes just doesn’t wind up in published books. Bet Me was rewritten from an earlier draft—and then revised a million more times. And we’ve seen from her blog how many versions she’s done of some books that still aren’t finished. She and Nora have different personality types, and they approach the work differently, but they both write great books. I find that very reassuring in looking at my own processes.
Did this come across as a criticism of Jenny? Because it absolutely wasn’t intended that way. The way I figure it, your process is your process. Given a choice, who wouldn’t churn out a bestseller every couple of months? Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that choice. I think Jenny’s books are brilliant and they take the time they take.