Interview with Austin Boyd
1) What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every day? Do you have a word- or page-count goal?
I have children at home, and I’ve found that writing at night after work takes me away from them… so I adapted to a new routine that most people consider insane. I get up at 4:00 or 4:30 AM and write until 6:45, when I stop to get ready for work and take the kids to school. That way I’m writing when everyone else (sane people) is asleep.
I write every day. I love it, and it’s easy for me because all these ideas are bubbling up all day at work, and I look forward to the morning to release those ideas. I develop an outline for each novel, and with that, I can rise each morning and pick up on the scene for the day. I have word count goals of around 2,000 words a day, based on writing six days a week.
2) How long did it take you to land your first contract?
I began writing my first novel in 1996 and signed a contract with a publisher in May 2005. In those 9 years, I spent 7 of the years writing without a great deal of insight into the necessary discipline or skills of the craft. Eventually, I decided to invest in myself. I hired a freelance editor (Linda Nathan, http://www.logosword.com/) to critique my work and show me where I needed improvement.
After $5000 worth of reviews (using a second mortgage) over the course of two years, Linda and another editor, Heather Szott (http://www.hawkeyeediting.com/) contracted with me to locate an agent through their proposal submission service. Once an agent was in the mix, it was only a matter of a few months until we had a publishing contract. I was blessed to sign with a strong agent who had broad ties in the industry.
3) Are you a plotter or seat-of-the-pants writer?
I’m definitely a plotter (e.g., plodder). I’ll spend 50 to 100 hours in the research phase, and then I use the combination of two excellent methods that I learned from Davis Bunn and James Scott Bell. Some of it you can find in Jim’s excellent text Plot and Structure. Using a synthesis of their processes, I build a plot arc, then break the story into three acts, then into seven segments, then into forty to fifty chapters, and finally into about 3 to 5 scenes per chapter. As I do this expansion from small to large using the plot arc as the guide, I match character arcs for each of the major characters against locations in the plot where their activities need to occur. That leads to action for each scene, and by the time I am done, I have a 30,000 word outline with the POV, setting, key dialogue and action for each scene. When I get up early each morning, and need to pick up a pen or hit the keyboard, all I have to do is reference the next scene in my outline… and I’m immediately back in the groove.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block in my process. The outline phase takes me around 100 to 120 hours. Then I spend about 350 hours actually writing the book to a first draft. By the time the first draft is in the bag (about 12 weeks of actual writing after the outline) I have 500 to 600 hours in a book. Edits take another 300-400. Using this process, I’ve done three novels in 18 months while holding down a 50 hour per week job. I don’t recommend repeating that work load, though… it was punishing for me and the family… I take a year per book now.
4) What is your greatest challenge when writing a story?
Two challenges. Word count and writing real women characters. For word count, my editor tells me the planned word count target, and I usually write 10-15% above that target. I trim and prune and do what I can to get the words reduced after the first draft, but that’s never enough. Then I bring in my “word gardner”, Linda Nathan of Logos Word Designs. I give her my word target for each chapter and she whips through the text with a digital highlighter, recommending additional pruning. Her extra set of eyes helps me make decisions about which words I’m wedded to that I need to eliminate. I can accept or reject her recommendations.
My second challenge is writing a believable woman character. To prepare, I watch lots of chick flicks, and watch other women (wife, daughter) when they are watching chick flicks. I do everything I can to observe and understand women and girls for character development, but a guy can get just so far with that approach. So, I found another trick. I have about 30 women who are fans and friends that have asked to read my drafts. I shotgun my first draft to all 30+ ladies and they read with a particular eye on the women characters, making comments on what works and what does not. I follow their advice to the letter (most of the time). That’s worked so well that I’ve gotten numerous comments about how realistic the women were, and how much my female fan base appreciates that realism. Writing a novel is a team effort, in my opinion.
5) What advice would you give an aspiring novelist?
Invest in yourself. Put some money into yourself to improve your skills, to pump up your marketing and to improve you proposal development. Hire a freelance editor and use that editor as a trusted sounding board for what is working, and not working, in your writing. Hire a publicist once you get a contract and use her to set up blog tours, signings, speaking engagements, book store visits, and TV and radio interviews. You might half to spend a third or half of your royalty check on a publicist and a freelance editor… but you’ll be money ahead once those books start to sell, and people wonder why. They’ll sell because they are quality books (the editor helps here) and because people are hearing about them (the publicist is at work.)
6) In a sentence, what do you want readers to walk away from THE RETURN with?
Always trust that God will provide for your every need, just as he did for John Wells and his wife Amy.
Thank you, Austin, and keep up the great writing!