Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

You Can't Fix a Blank Page

Eileen Wilks is one busy author. In the past ten years, she's written twenty nine novels. Her world? Romance, the most popular genre in America. And not only here: Eileen's books have been translated into twelve languages. She recently emailed us about how Visual Thesaurus helps her work.

"The Visual Thesaurus isn't just a fun way to avoid writing, or other productive work. (Though it is that, at times.) Yesterday I used it to come up with a title for my current book-in-progress. My editor emailed me that she'd be cover-conferencing the book next week, and did I have a title yet? Well, no. I had some ideas, all bad. I took a few key words and started plugging them into the Visual Thesaurus, following one link or another, backtracking, and eventually -- boing! I hit pay dirt. Thank you for a wonderful tool. I wouldn't have arrived at 'Blood Lines' without it."

You're most welcome, Eileen.

Eileen also gave us an idea: We wanted to find out how she does it -- what are her secrets for being so productive a writer? And what advice does she have for those of us struggling to write, whether it's our first book or first marketing brochure? So we called Eileen at home in Midland, Texas, to find out. We hit pay dirt, too:

VT: What do you tell people who want to writer better?

Eileen: I find people often think that somehow they're going to sit down and write something that's really good right off the bat, or they're not writers. It takes time to acquire proficiency. Take my hobbies. I'm just now learning to do woodworking. It's really not much different from learning to write. I started out with this huge fear of power tools -- just like a lot of people's fear of grammar and all that sort of stuff. So I took an adult education class and got over my fear of power tools. I now own a jig saw and a drill -- I love the stuff. I still haven't done it enough to be especially expert but I can make some things that look pretty cool. And I have a great time doing it. It's the same with writing. If you want to be proficient you have to do it consistently and accept the fact that you're going to start at a beginner's level.

VT: How do you improve your writing?

Eileen: The writer Nora Roberts likes to say that she can fix anything but a blank page. That's my motto. It's real hard to fix something when you've got nothing done. You have to start with the first draft. And sometimes it's junk. One of the things that I have to do over and over again is give myself permission to write junk. I'll think, I don't know how to do this. I have these thoughts all the time. So I'll say, okay, I'm going to write some junk for a while until I get a handle on it. I go ahead and give myself permission to write badly. I find that after a while I come up with some pretty decent stuff, stuff I can work with.

VT: Do you have any writing rituals?

Eileen: I never completely figured out my process. But I have to have my coffee. I'm convinced coffee is the food of writers! I don't think my writing really comes from coffee, of course, but since I think it helps, it helps. A lot of writers have something they believe helps them -- and if they believe it, it does. Morning is the best writing time for me. I'm very much a sit down at the desk person. I like to have a journal open when I'm writing to make little notes to myself. I also use it to keep track of myself, a kind of accountability thing. I jot down when I started writing and what page I started on. If I check at noon and see, well, I've written one page -- I know I better step it up. Accountability helps. I found I can spend an enormous amount of time getting one paragraph right.

VT: How do you keep it fresh after 29 books?

Eileen: I found it necessary a couple of years ago to switch what I do slightly. I'd been writing straightforward romance novels for Silhouette. I loved doing it but was getting burned out -- too much of the same thing for too long. So now I'm writing "paranormal romance," which means I can have werewolves and witches and all kinds of fantasy elements, the sort of things you find in sci-fi. Switching my focus slightly to a different aspect of the genre made a huge difference. It's keeping it very fresh. I feel real excited and inspired about what I'm doing.

VT: How many hours a day do you write?

Eileen: I put in six hours a day on average but some days it's four and some days it's twelve. I write six days a week. It takes me six or seven months to write a book.

VT: What do you do when you're done writing?

Eileen: I go to my project room and paint and do woodwork. I find it very refreshing to do physical things after I've spent a lot of time with people who don't exist!

VT: Parting words?

Eileen: It's a funny thing for me as a writer to get used to the idea that people think what I do is something exotic or unusual. I can't imagine not writing. I guess that makes me among the blessed in the world: I'm doing what I love to do.


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Comments from our users:

Saturday June 10th 2006, 1:26 PM
Comment by: Beverly G.
I found the article quite interesting, especially the comments from Nora Roberts. How difficult she found not being able to fix a Blank page. I guess she means to Write and Write well, one must actual Write.
I found Eileen's comment about giving herself permission to Write junk troubling. Even though, I have problems sitting down and writing down my thoughts, I have always wanted to Write and sometimes I may Write a few sentences or paragraph only to return to it, and not recognize one word (smile). No, really, the paragraph looks foreign and makes no sense. I then take my time and find that expressing my thoughts are becoming easier. Thanks.
Monday September 25th 2006, 9:49 AM
Comment by: David D.
Giving yourself permission to write "junk" is obeying one of three cardinal rules of human communication (see The Pragmatics of Human Communication by Watzlawick, et.al.). No one, not even God, can command a spontaneous response. Doing so only blocks us from performing at our best and freest. Writing with freedom, even abandon, is truly spontaneous; but, then, so are a lot of other things we do.
Monday October 30th 2006, 4:32 AM
Comment by: Angela Geok Kee L.
Eileen, I find your article inspiring as I am in the midst of just starting to write (hopefully my first book!) I am into 10 pages of it already. It is story of my Life with all the Love poems, the emotional sad sloppy stuff and some happy moments......Not sure if it will become a best seller! Anyway....I'm giving permission to myself to write junk...to quote you! Angela LeeGK

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