The Writing Process

This is where the mystery of “How does she do it?” (you know, for all the millions of you out there that are wondering) gets revealed.

Some are oldies, but goodies.  Some are brand new posts so keep checking back!

In honour of my (semi) new blog, here is a note from Natalie Flemming who was also once inspired to start a blog:

Natalie’s Nook- Day 1- Entry 1

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Here I am, Natalie Flemming, a blogger.  I never thought this day would come that at a single touch of a button I can share my thoughts, my feelings, my accomplishments with the world!  I mean, who knows who could be reading this right now?

Johnny Depp, if you are reading this right now, I love you.

At first when Mum suggested I do this to get myself out there I thought she was crazy (actually I thought she only suggested it so she would know what I was doing everyday), but now I think she might have been on to something.  Look at that girl who wrote the blogs about that chef and now has a huge book deal.  I can’t remember her name… but the fact is she’s famous isn’t she?

And now everyday I will write witty, comical things and someone will make me famous.  (Please note if you are a talent agent I have not specified what I would be famous for- I am very versatile- like Jennifer Lopez or that girl from the telly that does all the infomercials.)  I really can do anything- except perfume lines (I’m allergic).

And group singing- I would prefer a solo career.

And nudes- not that I don’t have the figure for them.  For religious purposes.

On second thoughts, if you would like to make me famous you can just blog me the details and I will blog you back.

Wow, one entry down.  Just my whole life to go now!

Upon This Rock I Will Build My House

Originally published on January 21, 2011, edited and republished on September 23, 2013


One morning not too long ago, when I was feeling particularly naïve, I told my husband, “I am going to build Ava a beautiful wooden doll house for Christmas.”

My husband had his usual reaction, “Does she need a wooden doll house?”

And like I said to the wii remote in the shape of Elmo the day before, “Of course she needs it!  She will have it forever and always take care of it!”  So, I got in the car and set out to get the supplies for the most beautiful dollhouse.

Well, three hundred dollars later (JUST FOR SUPPLIES!) I sat down to make my daughter a Christmas present.  The lady in the shop told me it would take forty hours to make.  It took me two hundred.  But, as you can see from the picture above, it is beautiful.  And it was also a very useful experience.  As I was painstakingly sanding, painting and assembling every piece of siding together (don’t even get me started on the balcony…) I was thinking to myself (as you do when you have been trapped in the same room every night trying to prove your husband wrong) that building a dollhouse is not unlike writing your novel.  How you say?  Well, let me tell you…

Getting Your Pieces in Order

When I opened the box and looked at the pile of wood and the instruction manual (with no pictures and the dimensions as the only description of the pieces!) I had to sit down and figure out what was going on before I started.  Like writing a novel, you should always sit down and think about what you want to accomplish before you start.  Now, I know some people are able to just sit at the computer without any idea where they are going, but I would argue that you still need to have a general idea of what the story is about.  You need to know who your character is and you need to know what you want the conflict in the story to be.  Yes, you can start writing with a vague notion of what is going to happen, but I promise you that the more you know about your character’s background (their past, their wants, their needs, their motivations) it will save you time on your editing and it is will also help with writer’s block.  Of course you don’t need to write a detailed outline of your character and where you want the story to go, but as I found out with the dollhouse, the better described your instructions are from the offset, the easier it is for you in the process.

The Foundation

This part is also involved with your planning from the offset.  Once you are done your novel and you begin the query process there is going to be one question on everyone’s tongue, and no unfortunately it is not, “How do I sign you as my client?”, but rather, ”So, what is your story about?”.  And sometimes (alright, more often than not) we get through our speech about our novel and when we are out of breath and smiling from remembering our brilliant work they utter the words that all authors dread, “And?  Is that all that happens?  What makes your book different from the book on the exact same subject I received yesterday?”

When constructing my daughter’s house I spent more time on the foundation then was perhaps necessary just to get the house constructed, but I knew that if this was wrong the whole house would be wrong.  You spend a lot of time on your manuscript, mine is like my second child.  Make sure that when you start writing you know what you’re writing, that it is enough to sustain the reader’s interest, and that the conflict is compelling enough to push the story and characters forward.

The Construction Has Started

I’ll admit that when I started I was an idealist.  I remember walking in with the huge box in my arms and when my husband raised his eyebrows I smiled and asked, “How hard can it possibly be?”

Apparently extremely difficult.

When  raising the walls and carefully adding every piece of siding I was thorough.  I knew some of this work would never be appreciated and that in the end it would probably look the same as the person who had spent forty hours putting it together, but I didn’t care.  I needed to take that long.  When you are writing your manuscript you might be writing in back story that people will never see, witty comments that you spent hours thinking of that no one will ever laugh at.  My manuscript was complete at 75,000 words but a wonderful editor I was working with wanted me to trim it down to 55,000.  EEK! I know.  And as I am trimming out word after word I keep thinking that all my hard work and the time it took me to write those words are lost.  But are they?  After finishing with the axe, I read back through my manuscript before resubmitting it to my editor and I noticed that the sentence makes sense without the four lines of back story before it.  Taking out that character has put a greater focus on my heroine and it is her story- she deserves our sole attention.  So yes, perhaps no one will read every word you have written, but in my case I have learned that the time it took to write those words was not wasted.

The Final Touches

The paint, installation of the windows, staining and installing (individually might I add!) 864 roof shingles is the hard part.  It is the finicky little work that hurts your eyes and just makes you think you are never going to finish.  I would look at the door I just installed and squint my eyes because it just didn’t look straight.  The level said it was straight but my eyes were telling me something else.  My husband came down and said it was straight but his eyes were wrong as well.  Though, he did point out one of the windows was upside down and I had to throw him out the room in denial (then secretly fix it when he was safely upstairs).

When your manuscript is done and you are taking the red pen to your beloved piece of art it can be daunting.  Sometimes you need to take a break, for a week, a month, even a year sometimes to get perspective.  You have to ask others to help you gain perspective and sometimes they tell you things you don’t want to hear.  Listen to them.  If it hurts your feelings and you just can’t face it right then and there, then write it down.  When some time has passed you will want to look it over and evaluate it.  Sometimes they will be wrong, but more often than not they will be right and you can make your changes accordingly.  Remember, you asked them to look at your manuscript for a reason- you value their opinion.

The Finished Product

When Christmas morning came and I brought my  Ava’s beautiful dollhouse upstairs I had the biggest smile on my face.  I loved it, I had worked hard for it, and I was so proud to give it to her.  When my nearly two-year-old came down the stairs she gasped, opened her eyes wide and pointed at the house I had built for her.  I smiled from ear to ear as she squealed and ran to the house, but as she got closer she walked right around it and picked up the little ducky she had left on the table the night before and started kissing and hugging it.

To say I was crushed would have been an understatement.  Later my husband graciously showed her the dollhouse more carefully and she did show some interest but the duck had won the day.

As we clutch our edited, polished manuscript in our arms and gently hand it over to agents/publishers with stars and money signs in our eyes, we are crushed when the rejections roll in.  Trust me, I know, 146 rejections are a lot on someone’s self-esteem.  But the truth is, perhaps they are not ready yet.  Perhaps we are not ready yet.  Perhaps our work just isn’t ready yet.

I know my daughter will grow to love that dollhouse and one day perhaps she will even give it to her daughter.  I know now that she was too young to receive it but I was too impatient to wait.  I had put my heart and soul into it and I wanted her to notice, I wanted her to be ‘wowed’.

So, after all your hard work is done and you are ready to share your labour of love with everyone, you might be in for the hardest part of the whole journey- waiting.  It will be hard, you will question whether it was worth it or not, but please if you take nothing else from my experience remember this- it is.

-Emily Harper

*I must send out a big thank you to my sister-in-law Laura.  Without your hard work and calming presence, Ava’s beautiful dollhouse would still be a work in progress.

UPDATE: After reading this post again, I cannot believe all the things that have changed in the course of two years.  I decided to step away from the publishing house I was working with, not because they weren’t fantastic, but because my story was no longer my story.  I could have done exactly what they wanted- and I was getting close- but it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.  So I waited, until the time was right, and it finally is.  I’m so excited my book (not the original one I had written, a much better version!) still has all the things that I loved about it wrapped up inside of the neatly polished piece I am proud to call my debut novel.


2 thoughts on “The Writing Process

  1. Wonderful advice brilliantly delivered. Can personally relate to your analogy of building a doll house and writing, though my building experience runs along the lines of being more life sized. 😉 You’re absolutely right about the writing process. I’m curious to know if you are strictly indie publish or self publish (my apologies for not knowing the difference) or if you’ve chosen to stick to traditional publishing, or a bit from both.

    Lastly, recently (read: yesterday) stumbled upon “White Lies” which is how I came to learn of you. Marvelous book! Began reading it last night and am half way through. It’s your fault that I stayed up way too late and missed out on some precious sleep, but it was so worth it. Looking forward to reading much more of your work.

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