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Per few comments: Many people are probably still digesting what you wrote. I printed it and read through it 2X and then eagerly awaited Part 2.

I loved it that you described your writing process as a quest--a road trip of discovery. I've read that some writers need to plan out every detail of their novel, before putting pen to paper, but some that I admire have revealed that they have no idea where the book will lead them, just a kernel of an idea...

It had to have been serendipidously perfect for you to be working on your novel in Deena Metzger's writing group. I just took down her book Writing For Your Life, which I read probably a decade ago, to read again. Nothing simplistic in there!


Good morning from a snowy, cold and dismal England.
Someone far more intelligent and experienced than I, once wrote that they 'vomit out the novel' in a passion of emotion and character acting, before going back to check whether they could find a story worth reading in the mess of poor grammer, and worse spelling, that had been channelled through their fingertips/H1 pencils/ thick crayons etc. One of the epiphanies of my own fiction writing was the realisation that the process was made up of two key components - storytelling and craft. You can sell books using craft alone - but as you say, you had better be a storyteller in your soul to make it a true reading experience.
I have read a number of working screenwriters who claim that they write the first draft with the editor switched off, but I do wonder if they truly can do so after so many years at the coalface chipping away with a bent spoon in the hope of finding the hidden nuggets.
Many thanks again for spending the time to share your craft. It certainly brightens my day.

Dave Thomas

I've been away all week, they took my laptop away to upgrade software for the whole time, I've had no internet access.....really the shakes were bad only in the last day or so.

As per usual I will probably comment on previous post, but again, as per usual, it will probably have little relevance to said post.

Hope you are well Billy.


Puppies. You get more responses when you post puppies.


Good stuff, as always...


Thanks, Billy. GREAT answer. Exactly the delineation I was trying to suss out, but unable to put words to. I'm sure this goes to my problem-solver nature that it will be easier to proceed now that you put words to the issue at hand...thanks!!


Wow Billy! As usual, you have given us so much with your wise words and humor! What do you think of a writer who is finishing up a screenplay and a novel---at the same time :)

Writer hugs to you all!


If you're screen writing, can't you do your discovering in the outline stage?

That's what I prefer to do. Less baby killing that way.


Thanks for the support, Patty -- and I'm jazzed to hear you've got Deena's book -- there's a font of useful stuff in there.

Hey Ray-Anne: Hope things aren't quite so grim-chilly as Spring sinks in. Love your coal-mining metaphor and yeah, for some (say a screenwriter who's busy going from gig to gig) it may be hard to slow down and get back into "for sake of the process" writing...

Hey Dave, hope the withdrawals continue to subside!

Absolutely, Binnie: puppies are clearly the way to go.

Thank you Scooter!

Blake, my pleasure, and go ahead and give me more blog-post fodder anytime.

What do I think, Deb? I think that writer ought to make sure there's time to eat, sleep and be in the world, so as not to go double draft-duty bonkers.

GoChris: Certainly an outline can lead to discoveries for a screenwriter (I was primarily focusing on the novelist's situation here). But even so, I think you find out a lot when you write in your characters' voices, on the screenplay page...

Judith Duncan

Thankyou,thankyou,thankyou ! It was so wonderful to read that having a detailed outline which supposedly solves every plot problem,kills the process of discovery.I have come to writing after over ten years of improvisational theatre.Even after completing a degree and attending many screenwriting workshops,(I was even at the Screenwriting Expo in October- I wish I had attended your workshops)I have still not been able to get my head around having every problem solved in an outline.I've felt like a bit of a mutt I guess,not a 'real' writer,cause 'real' writers can do that.I understand the need for structure and craft,and an outline ,yet I think in that first draft ,the boundaries should be wide.I've always found the writing process more messy,that first draft is where I get to discover,jumping in and out of the characters skin,laughing with them,crying with them,figuring out who they are , what they want to say and what I want to say.

Sheila West

You say some writers "didn't take thr time to write it wrong. Write it long."

Yes. I have just finished my first feature. And it's too long. But I frigging LOVE this story, and hate to cut it down.

E.C. Henry

Hey Billy got any advice for a guy going to try to work screenplay mind and novel mind simaltaneously?

Yesterday I just finished a the second of two specs I'd been working on for about 10 months. Next up I'm going to try to re-write an epic fantasy novel (my opus -- I hope!) convert that into a 2 movie, feature film spec AND write a new spec. in the vein of "Apocalyto" meets "Jurrasic Park" and "Dancing with Wolves."

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


Welcome Judith: That all sounds right to me. Messy mutt writing rules -- splashing around in the water dish...

Sheila: Long live long first drafts.

So EC, how many hours in the day do they have on your planet?!

E.C. Henry

Writers are accused of living in la-la land...

But seriously, I do have a PLAN. It just wont happen overnight. A year from now, God willing, I SHOULD have both new movies script ready to roll. But the novel... Well-p, thats a 900 + page monster. I think I've pretty much nailed the prolog, but the remaining 20 + chapters. Ug...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


My first writing education was in screenwriting, and now i'm writing a comic novel. It's a lot like a screenplay, focused on scenes and dialogue, but it really came alive when I discovered the main character's voice (took a while, many drafts trying both first and third person before it started to work). That's when my story started feeling like a novel, and I freed myself up to describe what was happening in this character's voice and from her POV. Lots of discoveries have come from that.

I was in a writer's group where people criticized my early draft, saying it was "too much like a screenplay," i.e., not a "real' novel, because there should be more description or interior monologues. (And I felt their drafts were so mired in aimless description or interior musings that they needed more dialogue and shaping of scenes to move the story along!) I also take heart from Jane Austen, who writes mostly dialogue to bring her characters to life (her descriptions of natural settings or interiors are usually spare but serviceable); but oy! the semicolons, apparently she didn't heed Kurt Vonnegut's advice when they inhabited the same dimension.

I also like John Gardner's suggestion in The Art of Fiction to meditate on your own drafts and "oonch" to the surface the subconscious motifs and thematic material that wants to be expressed (reminds me of McKee's comments on motif systems in film).

One book that's helped me a lot in the process is Stephen Koch's Modern Library Writer's Workshop, especially the chapter on early drafts and revision ("Working and Reworking"); another useful book is 'Self-Editing for Fiction Writers."

And by the way, Billy, your book on "Writing the Romantic Comedy" is one of the best teachers for anyone writing in a comic genre, whether they're focused on screenplays or novels. I especially value your chapter on The Art of Funny and the analysis of Tootsie discussing how secondary characters are reflections and functions of the main character. I keep your book handy when I'm working!


Thank you for writing this post! As both a screenwriter and a novelist (both self-inflicted titles), I definitely can relate to the anxiety that comes when switching between the two. And what you said about wringing out your first draft, discovering it, felt like, well, validation. I've come to terms with the fact that there are as many different ways of writing as there are writers, but it's still nice to hear when the method you use works for someone else too. I write my stories to discover what I want to say and to see what answers I come up with to the questions I ask. And in my first screenplay, I definitely wrote it first and storyboarded/note carded it later. I think it worked out pretty well. : )

Is that a University of Michigan 'M' in the last picture? That's where I go to school - for screenwriting.

Looking forward to catching up on all your previous posts!



Welcome Amy: Always nice to meet a kindred writing spirit. Re: the "M" I'm afraid I don't know the phot's origin; I copped it from Google image and didn't get the attribution. At any rate, good luck with projects on both page and screen.


What about screenplay-novels? Anybody want to discuss them?

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