In this post, we share 12 tips from legendary American author Nora Roberts on how she writes.
Nora Roberts, born 10 October 1950, is an American author of more than 225 romance novels, including The Liar, Sacred Sins, and The MacGregors trilogy. She also writes as J. D. Robb for the In Death series. More than 500 million copies of her books in print. Her latest novel is Legacy.
Every Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb title released in 2020 hit the New York Times bestseller list, continuing a streak that started in 1999. Her novels have spent a combined 220 weeks (nearly four years) at the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. (Click here for more interesting facts on the author.)
She was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.
We found this post on Nora Roberts’s blog on how she works, and we wanted to share some of her tips with you. We’ve taken some of the best snippets, but click on the link if you want to read the full post.
Nora Roberts On How She Writes
1. Write Every Day
Roberts believes in writing every day. She says:
‘I write every day. It’s just my job, and I’m very fortunate to love my job. Not everyone is half as lucky to be able to make their living doing something they love.
Every day is, at this point in my life and career, mostly a regular work week. I will, if necessary or I just feel the need, put in a few hours on the weekend.
I am disciplined–that’s my wiring. I have a fast writing pace–also just wiring.’
2. Don’t Miss Deadlines
She is a great believer in sticking to deadlines. She says:
‘I don’t miss deadlines. In the normal course of events, I work six to eight hours a day. Some of that is staring into space–writing requires this, or mine does. Some of it’s spent looking stuff up because how do I know until I know? I don’t use researchers because they’d annoy me, want to talk to me, expect me to be able to tell them what I was looking for. And again, how do I know until I know?’
3. Work By Yourself
Roberts works alone. She adds:
‘I do not, never have, never will use ghostwriters… My work is my work, start to finish. If my name is on the book, I wrote it…I don’t use ghosts, co-authors, I don’t have collaborators… I don’t brainstorm with other writers, with my editor, or my agent on storylines. It’s not my wiring. I love my agent, my editor, and respect them just as much as I love them.
If either or both of them insisted we brainstorm, I will be forced to kill them until they were dead.’
4. Stick To A Routine
Routine is extremely important. She goes on:
‘I’m an early riser (wish I wasn’t, but wiring). I fiddle around with email and whatever for awhile in the morning… But I’m usually in work mode by 8. Sometimes before, sometimes later, that’s just usual.
I work. Stare into space, wonder WTF should happen next, look stuff up, and somehow by around 3 (sometimes earlier, sometimes later) I’ve actually written a decent chunk.
Then it’s time to go workout. 90 minutes, daily. That’s my routine, and I’m a solitary woman who thrives on routine.’
5. Use The Three-Draft Method
Roberts explains the way she writes like this:
‘I work on a three-draft method. This works for me. It’s not the right way/wrong way. There is no right or wrong for a process that works for any individual writer.’
A. The First Draft
‘The first draft, the discovery draft… is the hardest for me. Figuring it all out, creating people I’m going to care about enough to sit here with hours every day in order to tell their story. Finding out information about the setting, the careers involved, and so much more.
I don’t outline. I have a kind of loose mental outline, then I sit down, get started and hope it all works one more time.
I don’t use visual aids, don’t have colour-coded note cards. I scribble notes, then irritate the crap out of myself because half the time I can’t find the one thing I scribbled down I want now, right this minute.
Outlining, visual aids, note cards–not wrong. In fact excellent if any and all work for that writer.
I don’t know how long it takes me for that first draft. I don’t care. Am I getting the story out, are these people interesting, layered, human, am I putting myself, and therefore the reader, into the setting?
Setting, pacing, character development and evolution, connections, relationships, transitions, conflicts, beats, hills and valleys, dialogue, description.
… I don’t go back in the writing of that first draft, fiddle and fix, I just plough on, get the story, the people, onto the page, taking it on faith (and through a lot of experience) that I can fix what’s wrong, shine up what’s right later.
Get it out, get it down, put the words on the page. Every day. Hours a day.’
B. The Second Draft
‘And when the first crappy draft is done, I go back to page one. Now, second draft, fix it, expand it, get rid of it, work more thoughtfully on the language. Is it all holding up? Does it make sense? Is it a good, solid story? I can do a chunk of a second draft every day. This is for me, the easier part of the process. It’s fun to fix things up, to play with the words, to add more layers.
It still takes time, but it’s the happy middle of the work. Look what I did there, that’s not bad. I’d forgotten about that. Aren’t I so damn clever? Or–oops, that sucks. Must fix.’
C. The Third Draft
‘When I finish the second draft, it’s time for the third, the last, the polish. Not as big those daily chunks now. This is what I’ll send to that agent and editor I love and respect. I need to make it the best I can. I might find spots that sag, so I try to shore them up. I might find I’ve taken a quick angle that works–maybe add to that–or doesn’t, change it until it works…
This is also where I spell check. My spelling is miserable, so I’m grateful for the technology. Except when it doesn’t work. What do you mean Word Not Found? It’s a damn word!
When I feel this is the best I can do, I send it off, make a wish, then definitely have an alcoholic beverage.’
6. Stop Making Excuses
She does not believe in making excuses, saying:
‘Someone asked me once, in a Q&A what three pieces of advice I had for other writers. Here they are:
- Stop making excuses and write.
- Stop whining and write.
- Stop f**king around and write.
I take my own advice.’
7. Write Four Books A Year
She writes a few books every year:
‘It’s being winged around I write five books a year. It’s actually four. Two Robbs, one stand-alone Roberts, one portion of a trilogy. That’s a lot, but the pace and process suit my current life.’
8. Be Prepared To Give Up A Lot To Write
Roberts does not do much else. She explains:
‘I’m able to produce a lot of books because I work every day. Because I don’t go out to lunch or dinner, or to events, go shopping, have hobbies or socialise all that much. I don’t want to.
I like home. I like my space. I have plenty of people living in my head for company.
I don’t spend a lot of time, sometimes none at all, on social media. It’s a time suck. My time’s valuable to me.
And routine is my god.
Get up, fiddle, write, write, write, workout, engage with my husband, make dinner, maybe have the kids over for dinner a couple times a month and enjoy grandkids.’
9. Do Something Else On Weekends
But on weekends, she’s prepared to do a little bit more:
‘I garden in the spring and summer, bake bread, but that’s weekends.
I make soups and breads in the fall and winter, again, that’s weekends.’
10. Think About Writing All The Time
The author believes in letting an idea simmer – even when she’s on holiday:
‘When on vacation I’ll write here and there. Because I miss it if I don’t… And I think about the book all the time. In the shower, in the workout, in the garden, in the kitchen. I can work out plot points while kneading bread dough.’
11. The Three Ds Are Important
‘There’s no secret, no formula, no magic spell.
It’s called writing, regularly, consistently, daily. It’s discipline and drive and desire. The three Ds I also tout when asked. Talent’s great, but without the three Ds, it’s hard to produce.
Fortunately for me I have them, and I use them.’
12. Love What You Do
And most importantly, Roberts says:
‘I love my work, even on a bad day, I love my work. Being a writer is a gift I’m grateful for, even when it’s a bad day.’
Read the full blog post here: Nora Roberts’s blog on how she works
The Last Word
We hope this article with its tips on how Nora Roberts writes helps you to write your stories.
Source for image: Nora Roberts Facebook Page
TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.
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