Question of the Month: Focus

by Susan Henderson on October 7, 2013

How do you keep your focus and momentum on long projects?


This is a picture of how the new book is coming along. (I’m big into bulletin boards!) Each weekday (because I’ve learned to take weekends off), I pick one chapter or theme or knot to tackle. I do many of my edits while hiking, talking my ideas into the voice memo on my phone, because my #1 motivator is getting outside and moving. And no matter whether my edits for the day are great or terrible, I always move on to something new the next day because my #2 motivator is seeing progress.

If this looks especially tidy or easy to you, that’s because I’m sharing only the tiniest glimpse of my writing process. Right now my energy is directed at these book edits. But sometime I’ll share more of the chaotic and nerve-wracking aspects of writing and revising, how some days it’s like untangling necklaces and other days it’s like blowing things up and seeing what survives among the ashes.

Okay, your turn. What tricks and motivators do you use to stay sharp, creative, and productive?

Many thank you’s this month: To Jamie Ford for mentioning my book in the Barnes & Noble Review! I hope you’ll check out his latest, Songs of Willow Frost… #11 in this week’s New York Times Best Seller list. To The Book Blogger and Read A Book for writing nice reviews of the Dutch translation of my book. To Jessica Vealitzek for listing my book as one of her favorites of the year. And to Corey Mesler for placing my blurb of his newest book right under one of my great writing heroes:


Thank you to Cathrine, who took this picture in a Norwegian bookstore:


 And I’ll end with this: My husband’s band, Bad Mary, just released its first video. Now you can see some of the fine people who jam in my basement each week…


Question of the Month: Drafts

by Susan Henderson on December 3, 2012

Tell me about your editing process, and where are you in your current project?

In May, I completed what I called a first draft of my new book—that initial dump of all of my ideas that resembled the shape and length of a novel.

Since then, I’ve been structuring, cutting, moving, shaping, developing themes and emotional layers, adding and subtracting characters, simplifying some things and complicating others, panning in, panning out, balancing the length and pace of the chapters. All the while, I’m reading, reading, reading to train my ear, to keep the bar high: Camus, Baldwin, Steinbeck, Brontë, Gaiman, Stoker, Irving, Wharton, Dickens, McCullers. I’m nearly done with this second draft, and I like what I see.

Though I’m close to my next milestone, I still haven’t, and won’t, show my manuscript to a single soul. I’m enjoying this time of creating and dreaming alone. I love marking up a chapter, editing it until all the marks are cleaned up, and then starting again. I imagine two more drafts before I send it to my agent for feedback—the third draft where I pay attention to the individual sentences, concentrating on language, imagery, and rhythm; and the fourth where I spend a few weeks living in the town that inspired my setting. (More on that later. No reason to go on about the fourth step when I still need to nail the second.)

So how about you? Want to say where you are in your current project or anything about your process? I’d love to see how you work.

In other news, I’m interviewed at length in a new book written by Chuck Sambuchino and published by Writer’s Digest Books. CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM is an incredibly fascinating and helpful book about how the publishing industry has changed and how writers can best adjust to the new expectations. I found myself underlining and dog-earing lots of advice, and there’s enough diversity of styles in the book to suit different personality types. I particularly like the interviews with Cal Newport and Lissa Rankin. Definitely worth picking up!

I’ll close with some thank you’s: Suder BlogEsmee-Jacobs, Girl Called BelovedRhody Reader, True STORIESBitch Media, and The New York Times. I appreciate the press!