Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Guest Blogger Heidi Rice

Today y'all get to meet another of my cool new friends in the Modern Heat line...give a big Playground welcome to Heidi Rice!

First off a big thank you to Problem Child for inviting me to blog with you lot, and not minding that I delivered my copy about a nano-second before it had to be up.

Now, what to blog about, especially as my sneaky fellow Mod Hotters have gone and stolen all the best topics such as nicknames and sexy guys. FYI Kate, if you can have the vaguely creepy David Duchovny, I’m definitely having John Hamm, that retro-sexy, chain-smoking misogynist from Mad Men (which also gives me an excuse to stick a photo of some prime tottie into this blog for visual stimulation purposes).

As I’m currently sweating over Book Five which, as per usual, is turning out to be a total nightmare, I’ve decided I’m going to dip my toenails into the whole Pantsers vs Plotters debate (not quite as exciting as Antonio Banderas in a tight T-shirt, I’ll grant you). Or rather pose a question that has been keeping me awake nights recently.

Can you change the way you write?

I’m sure most of you are probably saying at this point, of course you can you ninny, what are you on about, don’t be so self-indulgent? But see, here’s my problem. When I wrote my first two manuscripts I spent years on them, dipping in and out when the mood struck, letting Madame Muse take her own sweet time about supplying me with inspiration and generally living with my characters for months before I ever put anything on paper. Then I got the Call from Bryony Green at Modern Heat, all fabulous and thrilling and the rest of it, but then the WOW factor wore off and I thought, oh crap, I’ve got to do it again. And my lovely editor said, very casually, ‘Oh, we’d like two or three books a year, but if you think you can manage more that’s great!’ Eh, more? What?

So here’s the deal. I have managed to write a few more, and I’m really pleased with how they’ve all turned out so far. The Mile High Club (aka The Millionaire’s Blackmail Bargain in the US) got a RITA nom this year (cue Heidi in her posh frock in Frisco looking very chuffed indeed), The Tycoon’s Very Personal Assistant is out now in the US and Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposition will be out in November in the UK. But crikey, I’ve found my process means writing every book is like getting blood from a stone, a lot of blood from a very unforgiving stone. And it gets harder every time (or seems to). And I know I need to change my process, find a more efficient, professional way to get those books out, but so far, try as I might I can’t seem to do it. I thought I’d cracked it with Book Five, even got all cocky on my blog after I’d written a workable outline, but then a week from deadline I was writing my Black Moment and realised I didn’t have one, cos my heroine had whimped out in Chapter Five and I hadn’t even noticed.

What’s my process? As you’ve probably guessed I’m a total pantser. I kick off with an opening hook — maybe it’s a girl stranded in her underwear in a deluxe Vegas hotel being interrogated by the super-sexy tycoon that owns said hotel, or a London magazine journalist who’s hard at work one Friday when the one-night stand from three-months ago she never wants to see again comes striding into her office and demands she has a pregnancy test — but usually that’s all there is. Then I have to find out who the hell these people are. What drives them, what scares them, what they want or think they want, what they don’t want and to do that I have to write their story, see what works, see where they lead me. And quite a lot of the time they lead me up a blind alley, or paddle me up a creek, or just drop me off a cliff and wait for me to go splat (and I’m not even going to mention the Elvis Impersonator who popped up in the first draft of Tycoon and had to be kicked right back out again).

So I’d like to ask you all — and this includes unpubbed writers, because I’m thinking if you can get the process thing sussed and working for you before you get published that’s a huge step forward right there — What’s your process? How does it work for you and how has it evolved? Have you ever tried to change it, or modify it and has it been successful? And then I’m going to be totally self-serving and pinch some ideas that might help me get my own process a bit more sorted.

And to encourage you to divulge all your secrets and help make me much more successful (and get me breaking that three-book-a-year barrier at last), I’d like to offer one commentator a copy of The Tycoon’s Very Personal Assistant (completely devoid of any pushy Elvis impersonators or visible blood stains, I promise).

Visit Heidi on the web at

Oh, Heidi's put a challenge out there today...and can I just say I can't wait to hear what everyone else has to say!


Instigator said...

Heidi, I'm with you (and we're so glad you joined us today!). I am a pantster to my very the detriment of my books. I'm thinking the fact that I write with no plan (and used to write my scenes out of order) could have contributed to my 3 rounds of revisions on my first sale.

However, my wonderful editor is trying desperately to break me out of bad habits. She convinced me (along with revision hell) to write my scenes in order...a step in the right direction. And then on my next book she asked for a chapter outline so that I would have to put something on paper for those chapters in the middle and end that usually sink me. And then I went from a 5 page synopsis to a 9 to 13 page syn. And I'm slowly working my way into being a panster with a plan.

Everything is subject to change when I actually start the writing but at least if I get stuck I can go back and use my outline and syn to try and get back on track. And there is the fact that my editor doesn't have to worry that aliens will land in chapter 14...


Smarty Pants said...

Welcome, Heidi. I have to say I am one of the few plotters around here, although my project usually doesn't end up the way it starts out. My process is far from perfect, however.

When I get an idea, I brainstorm a little to flesh it out, then think on it a while. I write a 5 pg synopsis to give myself an idea of how the story flows and make sure there aren't any major holes. Then I use the synopsis to develop a chapter by chapter outline. If I don't, I'll stop in chapter 7 because I have no idea what I'm doing. As I start writing, the outline shifts around, but I always keep an eye on where I should be, what's next, etc.

It's been helpful. Not sure its anything to help you crack the 3 book a year barrier, though.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Heidi,
I am not a writer just a reader of many, many books, so I will not be of any help to you except to read your publication which I would love to do. Good luck with your writing and I do look forward to reading your book.

Problem Child said...

You'll find many friednly pantsers around here, Heidi. (But with a RITA nom, I'm thinking your pantsing is working for you :-))

Angel said...

Heidi, welcome to the playground!

Well, I have to admit I'm the only other plotter around here, though like SP, my books morph a bit during the writing process. Like you, I always feel like I'm drawing blood with the first draft (hate that stage).

I start with brainstorming, and as a plotter, I tend to take a bit during this period. Lots of plot notes, I use Story Magic to help me delve into my characters, and I create a paper collage to inspire me during the process (and help me remember everyone's hair/eye color). :)

I feel like it takes forever to get through that first draft, especially compared to some of the Speedy Gonzalezes around here. Then I have to go back and do revisions. And then more revisions. So I feel like it takes me forever to get a category book done (can't imagine tackling a single title, though my manuscripts have started coming out longer than before).

Then I revise some more after critique partners have taken a lookie. I do better with deadlines, and since I'm not published in book length yet, I find ways to make artificial deadlines for myself. Writing challenges are awesome, and I use contest entry deadlines too. That helps keep me consistent, whereas for several years I would wake up and realize I hadn't written in a couple of weeks. Yikes!

As a plotter, I'd say a synopsis really helps, as long as you remember it's fluid, not set in concrete.


Angel said...

Part 2:

As far as changing your process, I think it is totally doable. When I first started writing, all my first drafts were done in longhand, then I did my first round of revisions as I typed it into the computer. This made a long process stretch into infinity, as you can imagine. But last year, I finally reached the point where I could compose straight onto the alphasmart.

I started with some shorter pieces, and am now working on my first book length work done this way. Let me just say, I'm thrilled! There are still some pitfalls to work out, and I return to hand writing if I get stuck (it seems to get the brain moving again), but it's working and that's all that matters.

PC has a great workshop on Process that helped me understand mine a bit more and find things that would work even if tweaked a bit. Other just might be trial and error. Frankly, I'm happy to just have a process at all. :)


Lynn Raye Harris said...

Heidi, I heart you. Seriously, you have spoken straight to my heart today. (Congrats on that RITA nom, btw!!!)

I am on the 2nd round of revisions on my Presents targeted book. And I'm sure my lovely editor is wondering how in the hades they ever chose me as the contest winner. Because the story turned out nothing like the 2 pg synopsis I sent her. And it morphed again after the first set of revisions.

And now I'm staring at it and terrified I'm screwing it all up again as things take a turn in the 2nd round. Is she going to kick me to the curb when she reads this version?

I'm a pantser, and I need to find a way to plan better. One of the things I did, just yesterday, was pull out an old Jane Porter workshop I had sitting around. And she mentioned brainstorming 20 things that could happen in your book. It could be as simple as the first kiss, first love scene, etc.

But if you have that list of 20 things, then the idea is it can help you when you get stuck or feel lost. Because you know these things could happen (and some of them MUST, like the kiss) and you therefore have a template.

I might be too late to try it with this book, but I'm already thinking of the next one in these terms. Because, like you, I typically start with a character in jeopardy and some kind of question. And then I wonder what in heck happens next.

I envy the plotters sometimes. *sigh*

Kathy said...

Hi Heidi! Thanks for coming to play and bringing along one of the Mad Men too. :)

I'm a Half-Breed. I plot out everything (as an historical writer, I have to). I make time-lines but haven't been able to master Story Magic yet. Lately, I'm realizing that I'm overly ecstatic about just writing, freeing myself to create on the page as I go. Here's where my panster gets its kicks. Who would have thought? I'm a Half-Breed and loving every minute of it.

I guess what I've learned is to let the system ride. Spur yourself on when excited about an idea, then back off when the writing goes slow and plot some more. Timelines are good. They help you keep track of where you're going and where you've been and where you want to go, and for an historical writer, so important in getting facts right.

Kudos on the Rita nom!!! Sounds like you're doing phenomenal. :)

wd verif: zvuts

Playground Monitor said...

Process? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry, I had a bit of a breakdown there.

I have a book I've been working on for 3-4 years. I have a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline of it. I think my mind believes it's already written the book and doesn't want to mess with it anymore. I had that happen with a short story I started last year and finally made myself finish back in July. I tossed the outline and let the heroine have the reins and it ended up being 10K words.

I think I need something in between.

I read the first chapter of "The Millionaire's Blackmail Bargain" last night and I believe it's going to be a fun ride. Of course the original title - The Mile High Club - sorta gives me an idea of what might happen. ::wink, wink::

Welcome to the Playground!

rebekah said...

Right now I'm trying to write my first book and I kind of feel like a fish out of water. I already have the idea and outline of events I think should happen and doing lots of research. More or less I guess I'm just an avided reader with a dream and lots of imagination. Thanks for the great post.

Rebekah E.

Sherry W. said...

Hello Heidi,
Congrats on the RITA nom and I am looking forward to reading TTVPA. It's always interesting to find out published authors had the same problems I'm having now. Pantser vs. Plotter? I have no idea what I am but for now let's just say I'm a 'Fly Girl'. My first chapter has changed as much as the wind direction. I have thought so much about my characters they are beginning to be real! Now if they would just settle down 'we' can get this thing written. :D

Heidi said...

Wow, thanks for all your responses so far. And cheers to PC for sticking up that 10-year-old picture of me (bless you - I look so much less decrepid in it ).

Now, I have to admit I love hearing about other people's processes because I always think, ooh maybe I should try that. Doesn't always work but it's so great to have new strategies when you hit that old brick wall.

Instigator: Your comment absolutely struck a chord with me, gosh I think we may be evil twins. I too started writing my scenes in order by Book Three (Tycoon), and I finally got up the guts to do a chapter outline on this current book (which finally went to my ed last night, only two and a half months late!). Haven't braved a synopsis yet because I hate them with a passion, but may have to try that next. Definitely food for thought. Am thinking now I've just been a total coward about it.

Smarty Pants: I'm well impressed with plotters. Something about the idea that you can do your outline, then if you get stuck you can go back to it and everything's where it's supposed to be so you can kick start yourself. See, I did mine, then I got stuck and went back to the outline and discovered that I'd actually derailed about eight chapters before that... Oops.

Robertsonreads: I love readers, thanks for joining in and do let me know what you think of my book if you read it on

PC: Merci beaucoup! yeah, the RITA nom was pretty special, I'll be basking in that golden glow for several decades I think...

Angel: I'm totally with you on the Single Title thing. I thought I wanted to write one, until I discovered how darn hard it is doing 50,000 words. And actually I'm starting to think that I do like the tightness of category, that business of crafting a story that kicks straight into the conflict and the space for description and background, etc is strictly limited. Describing The Waldorf Astoria, or Big Sur, or The Las Vegas Strip in a single sentence can be a great challenge... And hey, Nora wrote a few thousand of them before she went to ST right. So I probably shouldn't consider it till I'm about 102. Deadlines certainly worked for me before I got published. I did a fair few contests for that reason, so I'd have to force myself to revise and polish. Sounds like you've got a very solid process for when you do get published which will come in handy, let me tell you. And I here you on the synopsis thing, but I'm still hiding behind the sofa on that one...

Lynn-Raye: Hugh congrats on scooping the Instant Seduction contest — that's an incredible feat given all the entries they had. And good luck with the revisions. I had some monster ones on The Tycoon's Very Personal Assistant (basically had to rewrite the whole last two-thirds of the darn thing). But funnily enough I think I really learned from the experience. With the book I just handed in I spotted some of the same mistakes before sending it off (er, conflict? What conflict?), so hopefully they won't be such major revs this time around (at least, that's the plan, hope it isn't going to come back and bite me on the butt!). The thing to remember too is that with revisions, they wouldn't ask you to do them if they didn't think the book was worth it. And thanks for the heads up on Jane Porter's workshop will definitely check it out. Met Jane at the conference and was bowled over by how articulate and savvy (and gorgeous) she is. I want to be her.

Kathy, the Half-Breed: See, I do like that idea of doing some plotting when the mood strikes. That's a good one, because I think it's definitely doable. One of my problems is I don't plot, I rush in feet first and end up without a plan. I know I can't plot from the get-go, but maybe if I stick it in when I'm not looking it might work.

Playground Monitor: Yes, with you on the breakdown... See your 3-4 year book experience is exactly why I can't plot either. Plot too much and I get so bored with the characters I don't want to spend any more time with them. Or I start getting them to do things for the sake of convenience and they rebel half way through the ms. Hey, and hope you enjoy The Mile High Club and yes, it is called that for a very good reason...

Rebekah: It's great that you've already cracked the whole outline thingy (took me four books to get to that stage). But once you've got that sorted and you know your characters, beware of research (unless it's something really integral to the book), I don't do it now till I've finished the book (that said, I am writing contemporary romance) because otherwise I end up spending all my time googling info on resorts in Big Sur and the like and no time writing. Best of luck with your first ms. I didn't get mine published, but it'll always hold a special place in my heart cos I learned so much while writing it.

Crystal Lee said...

Heidi, welcome and congrats on the RITA nom. It's good to have you here.

I'm a fantasy/paranormal (ST)pantser, so I feel your pain. I tend to write slowly, with great attention paid to perfection (as perfect as it can be anyway) of phrasing, structure, etc. This is a long-standing process stemming from high school and college. Needless to say, my process is not likely to change much, although I do find it helpful to make a rough outline (very rough, so I don't feel trapped). I have journals for scribbling notes and fleshing out scenes, and I am very, very fond of jotting phrases, words, names and ideas on sticky notes. This is particularly fun while world-building. I like to think of my process as flying with invisible wings...

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Heidi, you definitely make me feel better. I rewrote the last half of the book last time, basically. This time, it's not as much, but there's still some rewriting going on. It's a matter now of finding that emotional driver for each scene and hammering it home.

Thanks for the congrats! And, oh yes, Jane is disgustingly beautiful and every bit as nice as she is gorgeous. :) You have to get in line to want to be her, LOL! I don't think I've ever told her, but she's definitely one of my inspirations. :)

Heidi said...

Sherry: I'd hazard a guess that you're a pantser, and with that in mind I'd say, don't wait for your characters to settle before you write your story, because if they're anything like mine they won't unless you wrestle them to the ground and hog-tie them. Which, translated, means write their story, see where they take you and beat them into submission when they take you off in completely the wrong direction. Okay, now I sound like a complete sadist, but you get my drift, right?

Crystal Lee: I loved that phrase 'Flying with Invisible Wings', it sounds so serene somehow. I feel a lot of the time I'm flying without wings, or maybe flying backwards with my invisible wings. I like the idea of jotting notes down too. I've just bought myself a Moleskin Notebook (got that idea from Fiona Harper at The Pink Heart Society) now all I have to do is remember to write in it.

Lynn: Sounds like you are almost there. I know just what you mean with the revising thing. I have to say I was gutted when I got the revisions for Tycoon because they were huge and scary (we're talking five pages of single-spaced type here) and I thought, crap I've already written this story how am I going to write it all over again. But my editor Bryony did a great job of pinning down exactly what was wrong and how to fix it (Get rid of the Elvis Impersonator was a major theme at this stage). And I think, because I stuck to what she wanted, I proved that I could do it, to myself as well as her. And being able to listen to what they want and give it to them is a major part of the job, so it's important to learn to do it. Even if it is excruciating at the time (which I can say it certainly is). Best of luck with yours, but it sounds to me like you're polishing and tweaking now, not doing major rewrites, which is to be expected when you've already done some serious rewriting.

Problem Child said...

Boy, it's a quiet day on the blog...or is it just me? :-)

I also like being called a Fly Girl--much cooler.

Nicola Marsh said...

Sorry I'm late but just sent off a manuscript this very minute so quickly doing a fly by!

Let me say I'm in absolute awe of all the pantsers out there.

I'm a plotter, definitely have to have some idea of where the story is heading before I start it.

That said, my process has changed.
I used to like having a clear direction for each chapter, particularly if I got stuck in the sagging middle where I'd resort to trusty pen and paper, but these days, find myself just going with the flow as I write.

So I'm a pantser in that regard!

I love hearing about everyone's writing processes. It's intriguing!