The Writing Process and Jim Hines

Well, my plot to take over the world get Jim Hines nominated for the best fan writer Hugo has come to fruition. Now, of course, what remains is to get you to vote for him. In the interest of providing you with yet again another example of why you should, I refer you to Jim's entry today, which is about himself and privilege. That's why we love you, Jim.

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Jim was also very kind about volunteering to be my next interviewee for the writing process interviews that I am doing. You can find more information about Jim and his work at his website. A very versatile writer, Jim has authored the comedic Jig the Goblin books, and the fairy tale princess adaptations beginning with The Stepsister Scheme. His new series, Libriomancer begins in June.

And, Jim Hines is the poster child for all of you who say you can't find time to write. Read on...

Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?

Jim: I have a fairly regular process, though it’s messy. I start with an outline, because my brain just can’t hold an entire novel. I’ve tried. It’s ugly. So I get a 3-4 page outline, then start writing the first draft. Around 20K-30K words, I realize the outline is utterly messed up, and throw it away. At that point I have to stop and write up a new outline. (Small brain again.) This usually repeats at about 50K words, so by the time I finish up a first draft, I’ve crashed and burned at least three times. Most books require about four complete rewrites, though after the first draft, I don’t have to stop and redo the outline quite as often.

Tamago: I know that you used to write mostly at work over your lunch hour. Is this still true? What do/did you like about this writing technique? About how long is a writing session for you? Do you get a certain number of words per session?

Jim: It’s still true. I write for about an hour during my lunch break, and on a good day, I can get through close to 1000 words. I think the biggest advantage to this schedule, for me, is that it’s a regular time when I know I won’t be interrupted. Occasionally one of my coworkers pokes his or her head in, but most of them know and respect what I’m doing from Noon to 1:00 every day.

Tamago: Where do you get feedback regarding your drafts? First readers? A writing group? Editors? Agents? Your own intuition?

Jim: I have no writing group, and I don’t let anyone see the first drafts. Partly because they’re so broken, and partly because at that stage, I can see what’s wrong with them, and I’ve already got ideas for what I need to fix. I don’t start looking for feedback until I get close to the final draft. With Libriomancer, my latest, I sent draft 4.2 out to some writing friends, a few chapters at a time. They pointed out some flaws and helped a lot, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen until close to the end of my one-year novel-writing process. My agent and editor both weighed in with suggestions as well.

Tamago: In general, how many drafts does it take for you to write a book?

Jim: On average, call it four major rewrites. I’ll also go back and swap things out or make some smaller changes, which is where I end up with things like my current draft 1.3 of the sequel to Libriomancer.

Tamago: Do you discuss your initial ideas and drafts with others? Why or why not?

Jim: I’ll talk to my editor about it a little. She has to know what I’m doing, since she’s the one writing the checks. But for the most part, I keep it to myself. In part it’s because so much can change from idea to final book, and I don’t want to tell people I’ll have lightsaber-wielding wizards fighting sparkling vampires and then end up cutting that out of the book. And partly … I guess I just don’t want to share everything until it’s finished and as good as I can make it.

Tamago: When do you feel mostly confident in a draft (ie when do you think it doesn't suck, and maybe you can publish it?)

Jim: That usually doesn’t happen until draft four, after I’ve been working and rewriting for at least 10 months or so. My first drafts are crap.

Tamago: How do you keep track of changes you want to make in your draft?

Jim: For major things, I’ll make notes on the outline. Smaller things get written right into the draft, usually in so I can find them easily. I’ll also have characters talk to me right on the page if a scene just isn’t working. That was particularly fun with the goblin books, because goblins are very blunt and to the point.

Tamago: What has been your favorite project to date? Why?

Jim: That’s usually going to be whatever project I just finished, so in this case, I’d say Libriomancer. Part of being a writer – of being just about anything, really – is that you’re constantly striving to get better. So in theory, I’m becoming a better writer with each book. I know I’m taking on more challenging ideas and stories. I’m currently looking at a five book story arc, and it scares me … but getting through the first book and making it work is an awesome feeling.

Tamago: When, if ever, have you felt comfortable in your writer skin?

Jim: I’m generally pretty comfortable with that part of my identity. I’ve been writing for 17 years now. I’m not the best writer in the world, and I’m not the most successful, but I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished and what I’m continuing to do. This is something that’s important to me, and it’s been a core part of who I am for a long time now.

Tamago: After the initial break-in moment (your first book, agent, or assignment), what are the moments/accomplishments that you feel define you as a writer?

Jim: That’s a hard question, and I’m not sure I can point to any particular time or accomplishment. I’d probably say things like conventions and booksignings, events where instead of being a writer-and-father-and-state-employee-and-D&D-geek and so on, the writer steps up to the forefront while the rest of them hang out in the back seat and spill French fries all over the floor.

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I hope you enjoyed Jim's interview. Now, if you're going to World Con, get the world out on the vote, and vote for him for Fan Writer!

About Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump is a writer tamago (egg) trying to publish for the first time. Watch her try to break out of the shell of the unpublished writer!

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