top of page
  • Writer's picturejesseverlee

Writerly Would-You-Rather

There are certain questions that writers get asked (and ask each other) all the time. There's an argument to be made that they're a bit overplayed, but honestly, I think that examining the answers to them can be really helpful for helping you understand yourself! They're also great icebreakers if you find yourself chatting with writers. Most writers I've met really like to talk about these things once you get them started.

I'm going to answer some of the most common writerly either-or questions I tend to get in interviews or conversations. I hope you find something useful either in my answers, or in examining the ways you might answer them differently.

Outline or Wing it?

Wing it. I am a pantser all day long. Though I've had to learn to put proposals and outlines together as part of the work flow of traditional publishing, all but the first third of that outline is pretty much a guess. I have a lot of bad ideas, false starts, scenes that suck, and pacing that was misjudged when I make my initial plans.

I love being asked how I "came up with the idea for The Gentleman's Book of Vices" in particular, because it turned into such a tidy little concept by the end that I think it looks planned from the outside. But the real answer was that I wanted write a story that opened in a Victorian Era gay bar. That's it. That's literally all I had before I started the first chapter. The rest of it was built piece by piece:

We need some drama, so Jo has a piece of paper. What's on the paper? It's a pen name. Why's it secret? The author writes erotica. Why does Charlie care? He collects it. Etc.

And then I somehow edited this chain of free-association into the coherent story it is today. Which brings me to...

Draft or Edit?

Edits. Always edits. I used to say it was lucky I like editing since I write without an outline, but frankly, even when I try to follow an outline, I end up rewriting half the thing anyway. Drafting is exhausting to me. It can be a lot of fun--I especially like writing in all the comedy and one-liners and such in the first draft; it feels like improv--but it's hard for me, and I start editing as soon as possible.

In fact, I usually have the best luck if I edit as I go. Not nit-picky stuff--that can stall anyone's forward progress--but if I ever find myself with friction in a scene that I can't seem to get past, I go back and make sure I didn't take a wrong turn somewhere. Usually, I did.

There were a few scenes in Vices that had to be edited substantially as I went along, that could have spoiled the whole thing if I'd just pushed through with my original ideas. I found myself getting stuck anytime Charlie and Miles argued during the first draft. So before I even knew how the book would end, I went back and found a way to make them not argue at all until things fall apart in the third act. I think part of their charm as a couple is that, though they're very different, they get along really well almost from the start. It also makes their dark night of the soul that much darker. What I discovered through mid-draft editing was that they had enough going against them externally, and that their story flowed much better if I set their ease together against that outside difficulty.

Drink Coffee or Tea?

I love both! I start the day with my very particular coffee (pour over V60 style with freshly ground beans from The Nervous Dog coffee shop, cream and a little sugar), but it's got too much caffeine for later in the day, so I switch to sweetened black tea or herbal teas in the afternoon.

Write at home or at a cafe?

Depends on what I'm working on. Drafting is more fun out in the world, because there are new people, new sights, new sounds for inspiration. It also makes it feel more special, which is helpful when I'm struggling through that first draft.

Editing is usually best at home, preferably all alone, because I always read my work out loud. And not just the prose! I have an acting background, and will verbally act out the dialogue as well (I do the Lucky Lovers books both in American and my best attempt at British English) to make sure it flows properly. If I can't make a line of dialogue sound natural aloud, I will change it.

But for obvious reasons, I cannot do this in a coffee shop.

Stick to one Genre, or dabble in a few?

Right now, I'm sticking to Historical Romance. I have also written fantasy (epic, urban, and YA) but I don't have any plans to return to that, mostly because I got tired of having to re-write the rules of the world every time I sat down to a new project. If I were going to dabble in another genre, it would probably be straight-up literary fiction because I am insufferable that way, though contemporary romance isn't off the table. Either way, I'm not itching to branch out much at this time. In fact, I'm finding a groove and a rather like it!

Social Posts or Public Speaking?

Public speaking! It's that acting background, as I mentioned before. I also taught Lamaze childbirth classes for like 5 years (part of that eclectic resume mentioned in my bio), so I am comfortable getting up in front of a room and talking about literally anything. I love it and I find it so energizing! On the other hand, anything on the internet gives me a lot of anxiety. As a speaker, I feel very in control of the room and how I come across to the people I am speaking to; online, I feel like I just float something out into the world like a loose balloon and hope it lands right. As such, I'm prioritizing face-to-face author events (in person, online, podcast--anything with that real-time connection) over an especially robust social media presence. I love following authors who are great online, but we've all got to play to our strengths, and I know what mine are!

So that's a little about me as a writer! I think these questions are very helpful to think about when making decisions about the sort of writing life you want. This year, I am really trying to bring my daily life into alignment with these truths about my process. If you're a writer, how do you answer some of these questions? If you're not, what are some of the would-you-rathers that come up in your life?

16 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Jan 19

A coffee person all the way for me. Nice insights. Thanks.

bottom of page