TNBBC Presents-- Audrey Niffenegger Author Q&A discussion

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All About Audrey > Questions on The Writing Process

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message 1: by Lori (last edited Sep 24, 2009 01:47PM) (new)

Lori | 38 comments Mod
This thread is for any questions about the writing process -in general- that you would like Audrey to answer.

For example:
What made you become a writer?
Who or what are your main influences?



Mandy Not about the writing processes for the books you have written per se but writing processes earlier in life.

When you did writing assignments at primary school and high school, e.g. essays, short stories, poems, book reviews, et cetera, did you get good marks?

Would you write in your free time as a hobby when you were younger?

When did you know you would be a writer?


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Mandy wrote: "Not about the writing processes for the books you have written per se but writing processes earlier in life.

When you did writing assignments at primary school and high school, e.g. essays, shor..."


I always got good marks in writing, it was math I was terrible at. I wrote constantly when I was a kid, I wish I could harness that boundless energy now, I have become rather slow.

I thought of myself as a visual artist from a very young age. I often tried to combine my writing and art, but did not attempt a long, stand-alone piece of writing until my late thirties. So I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I didn't become an author until I was 40.


Lori | 38 comments Mod
In Her Fearful Symmetry, one of the male characters has a severe case of OCD. What research, if any, did you conduct in order to create this character and make him so believable?


Jennifer D (DawsonOakes)
Hello Audrey.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to our questions here.

I have two questions:

1) I am wondering about your writing methods/schedule. Do you write sequentially and go with the story as it unfolds, or do you have everything plotted out before you begin? Once you have a new work underway, how does a typical day look for you?

2) Do you ever hit a point in any of your writing where you can see the story going in more than one direction? If so, how do you decide which path to go down?

I guess that is more than 2 questions, sorry!

I adored The Time Traveler's Wife and I am greatly looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry, once it is released. You are such a talented writer and story-teller.


Carol Thank You for your time Audrey.

I quess mainly I wanted to know how you developed the storyline of a time traveler? Did you like how the book was adapted into a film?


Mandy Audrey, when you finish writing a book is it an emotional experience for you? Do you get a few tears at the thought that those characters will no longer be needing your help to come alive in the world?


message 8: by Petra (last edited Sep 25, 2009 05:20PM) (new)

Petra Do you have a favorite location to write in, be it either a room in your home or a get-away place? One that maybe inspires you more than others?

Do you find your stories come to you fully developed or do they come to you as an idea that comes together and grows while you are writing?


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Lori wrote: "In Her Fearful Symmetry, one of the male characters has a severe case of OCD. What research, if any, did you conduct in order to create this character and make him so believable?"

Long before I began writing HFS I dated a man who had OCD. Once I had begun the book I read several books on the disease, both by people who had it and by doctors trying to treat it.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Jennifer wrote: "
Hello Audrey.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to our questions here.

I have two questions:

1) I am wondering about your writing methods/schedule. Do you write sequentially and..."


I am a rather chaotic writer. I tend to start at the ends and middles of stories, I write things out of order, I don't write drafts, and I don't keep a schedule. I tend to write better at night. I generally have no idea where plots are headed when I begin, and a typical day is me avoiding work until I cannot bear to not work.

Edward Weston, the photographer, once said that composition is the strongest way of seeing. You can adapt that to plotting: when there are options it is usually obvious what the strongest plot development will be.



Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
carol (akittykat) wrote: "Thank You for your time Audrey.

I quess mainly I wanted to know how you developed the storyline of a time traveler? Did you like how the book was adapted into a film?"


The basic story of TTW is simple: Girl meets Boy, Boy meets Girl, they get to know each other and get married, they try to have a child and eventually succeed, he is increasingly ill, and then dies. She misses him. They reunite briefly when she is very old.

In this story it's the presentation, the point of view, the detail and texture that make it complex. So when I worked on TTW my job was to figure out the best way to order the story so that both the characters and the reader discover what's happening in the most surprising and satisfying way possible.

I haven't seen the film, I don't usually comment on it, but thanks for asking.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Mandy wrote: "Audrey, when you finish writing a book is it an emotional experience for you? Do you get a few tears at the thought that those characters will no longer be needing your help to come alive in the w..."

I hate beginning things; I love to swan around in the middle of a big project for as long as possible. So at the end I am always delighted to be finished, but then I realise that I'm going to have to start again... it's a little perverse.

The characters are still in my head but they aren't doing anything new. That's one of the things that allow new work to begin.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Petra wrote: "Do you have a favorite location to write in, be it either a room in your home or a get-away place? One that maybe inspires you more than others?

Do you find your stories come to you fully devel..."


I prefer to write at my desk, and also at the Ragdale Foundation, which is a writers' colony in Lake Forest, Illinois.

I usually get a bit of an idea and have to grope around for the rest of the story.


Stacie When you are writing do you ever talk things out with friends, family or other authors, or just write them out and see where the ideas go?


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Stacie wrote: "When you are writing do you ever talk things out with friends, family or other authors, or just write them out and see where the ideas go?"

I sometimes talk about my work or show bits of it to writer and editor friends, but mostly I just wrestle it around by myself.


Carol Thank You for Your time and for giving us an insight into your writing process.


Rauf Neil Gaiman thanked you in The Graveyard Book. How did the two of you meet? Are you two working on a secret project together?


Meghan Do you write what you know or does something strike your fancy and you go off and research it?

It says on your website that your current project is about a girl with hypertrichosis (she's covered in hair). Is that something you're familiar with or did you just like the word and think it would be interesting to come up with a story about it?


Meghan Do you enjoy hearing what people think of your work and the conclusions they've reached from it? Or is it more like thinking your child (or pet) is brilliant and you really don't care what anyone else has to say?

I realize this is an awkward question, seeing that you don't want to offend potential readers and loyal fans. I'm just curious as I've read that many writers see their works like children and it is very hard for them to bear any sort of criticism.


Meghan On the same token, is the editing process difficult for you? When you present your finished manuscript, do you feel like this is how the story should remain, intact? Or do you think other eyes help make it stronger?


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
WHRauf wrote: "Neil Gaiman thanked you in The Graveyard Book. How did the two of you meet? Are you two working on a secret project together?"

I first met Neil at a literary festival in Sydney. He's quite lovely to talk to, and we have some interests in common (such as graveyards and comics). Neil and our mutual friend Hayley Campbell came to Highgate Cemetery and took my tour as he was just finishing The Graveyard Book; he was looking for a few final details, but he had been familiar with the cemetery for years.

I'm afraid we aren't collaborating on anything, but it's a great idea.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "Do you write what you know or does something strike your fancy and you go off and research it?

It says on your website that your current project is about a girl with hypertrichosis (she's covere..."


My ideas usually come to me as images or phrases. In the case of the next book, I had an image of a little girl wearing a white lace dress; when she turned I could see that she was covered in hair.





Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "Do you enjoy hearing what people think of your work and the conclusions they've reached from it? Or is it more like thinking your child (or pet) is brilliant and you really don't care what anyone e..."

I went through six years of art school, during which my classmates and I were regularly critiqued. That process toughens you up. By now I know that criticism won't change my opinion of the thing being critiqued, but I hope to learn something for future use.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "On the same token, is the editing process difficult for you? When you present your finished manuscript, do you feel like this is how the story should remain, intact? Or do you think other eyes help..."

I have worked with excellent editors, their work has made my work a great deal stronger. I enjoy being edited, it is a relief to collaborate after long periods of solitary writing. Even when it is hard I know it's for my own good and I'll learn from it.


Carol Of all the characters you have created which is your favorite? Same with your paintings which is your favorite,for want of a better word.


Lori | 38 comments Mod
Do you ever worry about people you know (family, friends) reading your novels and seeing bits and pcs of themselves within the pages?


Rauf Audrey said: I'm afraid we aren't collaborating on anything, but it's a great idea.

That day will come. I know it will. :D

Since you paint and love comics, I'm wondering who are your favorite painters and comic artists? And why do you love them?


message 28: by Katie (last edited Sep 27, 2009 12:34AM) (new)

Katie (HockeyGoddess) | 1 comments Audrey -- Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us! This is so very exciting, I'm grinning from ear to ear at the opportunity!!!

I'm sure you've been asked a million times, but I shall make it a million and one: what advice do you have for aspiring writers? I am so passionate about writing (and reading) and I'm always curious as to the path my favorite writers took to getting published!

You mentioned earlier that you like to write at a writer's colony. Did you find this place before TTW? I think that a writer's retreat must be quite a bit like heaven!

I'm also curious as to how you get over the dreaded writer's block. I always have these wonderful ideas, and I begin with such gusto. Then I hit a wall...it's almost like I'm afraid to muck up the great stuff I was able to get down on paper. And sometimes I have so many different ideas, I can't seem to get deep enough into one before I get swept up in another.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
carol (akittykat) wrote: "Of all the characters you have created which is your favorite? Same with your paintings which is your favorite,for want of a better word."

I am partial to characters who are surprising to me, and I change my favourites frequently. Today my favourite is Elspeth Noblin, who is the ghost in HFS.




Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Lori wrote: "Do you ever worry about people you know (family, friends) reading your novels and seeing bits and pcs of themselves within the pages? "

Oddly, people tend to see themselves in places I have not (consciously) put them, and the few times I have based characters on people I usually tell them I'm doing that.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
WHRauf wrote: "Audrey said: I'm afraid we aren't collaborating on anything, but it's a great idea.

That day will come. I know it will. :D

Since you paint and love comics, I'm wondering who are your favorite..."


In comics I admire Winsor McCay, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Alison Bechdel, Posy Simmonds, Julie Doucet, Lynda Barry, Nicole Hollander, many others.

A few favourite painters: Goya, Vermeer, Manet, Sargent, Lucian Freud, Munch, Gwen John, Charlotte Salomon.



Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Katie wrote: "Audrey -- Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us! This is so very exciting, I'm grinning from ear to ear at the opportunity!!!

I'm sure you've been asked a mi..."


The essential advice, often given, is to read. Reading is the best training; by reading widely you learn how a piece of prose or poetry works, you develop your own taste and independent judgement; you find out what has already been written. And possibly you begin to imagine something that hasn't been written yet, and you find your own work waiting for you to begin it.

Other advice: try not to publish things you aren't sure about; get it right before you put it out there.

Writers' and artists' colonies are very helpful. I originally went to Ragdale as a visual artist, so I knew that having time alone with the work and not having to deal with daily life for a while can be essential to doing the best possible work. I have also been to Yaddo, it's wonderful. There are hundreds of these places around the world (see the Wikipedia entry for Artists Colonies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_colony).

When I work with graduate students, they usually begin with short projects and build up to a year-long thesis project. Perhaps you would benefit from more structure, either an MFA program or a writing group. You might also like to read Lewis Hyde's book The Gift: The Erotic Life of Property; Robert Grudin's The Grace of Great Things, which has an excellent chapter on inspiration, and James Wood's How Fiction Works.

All of these works approach the creative process in different but rigorous ways. The Hyde book in particular stresses that "gifts" (creativity in this case) have to keep moving, they have to be "given". In other words, eventually you have to finish something and offer it to readers. If you consider writing as a way of serving the work itself and your readers it may become easier to complete things. Good luck! Persevere!






Melissa Audrey,

I recently attended the National Book Festival in Washington, DC and was amazed at the number of authors who still put pen to paper to write all their drafts of novels. One even mentioned that he typed his final draft on a manual typewriter!

I wondered if while you sat at your desk, do you physically write out your drafts and outlines,or are you more comfortable with using a computer to work on manuscripts?


Laura (apenandzen) Thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us, Audrey.

I'm 40, almost 41, and have always wanted to write a novel. Do you suppose it's possible to write a novel without any formal training in the craft of writing? My degree is in Accounting, but I always enjoyed my writing classes. I just wonder if there's any way for me without formal, intensive writing instruction. Thanks so much for your response.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Melissa wrote: "Audrey,

I recently attended the National Book Festival in Washington, DC and was amazed at the number of authors who still put pen to paper to write all their drafts of novels. One even mentioned..."


I am not a proficient typist, so in the days of typewriters all my stories were pretty short. The computer has allowed me to think and work more fluidly and at greater length.


Audrey Niffenegger | 61 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "Thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us, Audrey.

I'm 40, almost 41, and have always wanted to write a novel. Do you suppose it's possible to write a novel without any formal tra..."


The MFA in Creative Writing is a very recent invention, mid-twentieth century. Before that, would-be writers got a variety of degrees, or no degree at all; Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and many more were degree-less and still managed quite nicely.

If you have taken writing classes and read the sort of books you want to write, you are probably equipped to begin working on your novel. Remember that you don't have to write the novel all at once, it is an incremental process. And it's probably going to be kind of crappy at first, so don't let that stop you. Good luck...


Lori | 38 comments Mod
"And it's probably going to be kind of crappy at first, so don't let that stop you. Good luck...
"

Audrey, I adore that!!


Petra Lori wrote: ""And it's probably going to be kind of crappy at first, so don't let that stop you. Good luck...
"

Audrey, I adore that!! "


Audrey, I write reports for work (nothing near as interesting as a novel) and can relate to your statement. You said it perfectly and I'll remember this statement the next time I write the first draft of a report. :D




Laura (apenandzen) I won't let it stop me Audrey! Thanks for the encouragement. It means alot!


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TNBBC Presents-- Audrey Niffenegger Author Q&A

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Books mentioned in this topic

Her Fearful Symmetry (other topics)
The Time Traveler's Wife (other topics)