This is the first of a series of interviews with like-minded writers about their writing process, new works and advice for other writers. Today, I’m interviewing Devin Harnois, my good writing buddy, National Novel Writing Month co-conspirator, and beta reader. She’s the author of three published novels and stories: Darkness at Dawn, Through the Fire, and Chained, with more brainchildren on the way.
E. P. Beaumont: When did you start writing? What kind of stuff did you write when you were a kid?
Devin Harnois: I wrote my first “book” in second grade. I still have the rough draft, but the illustrated version was destroyed in an accident. (I’m still sad about that). It was about a mouse that’s in a parade and falls in love. It was terrible.
E. P. Beaumont: When would you say you started writing seriously?
Devin Harnois: The first time it felt serious was around 13. That’s when I started (trying to) write novels.
E. P. Beaumont: Why novels? Why not short stories or plays?
Devin Harnois: Because novels were books, and I wanted to write books. I’ve written some short stories, but I’m definitely a novelist. Although my novels tend to be short, ranging from novella to average sized.
E. P. Beaumont: When would you say you had the turning point from “trying to” write novels to really writing novels, and what made the difference?
Devin Harnois: Well I did finish a novel for the first time at 16. That’s farther than most “wanna be” writers ever get. Then I wrote another and another. Somewhere between that first one and my first NaNo novel I realized I could keep doing this.
E. P. Beaumont: Some people think it’s crazy to write a novel in a month. You’re not one of them. Could you talk a little bit about your experience with National Novel Writing Month? How did it change your practice as a writer?
Devin Harnois: It made me write SO MUCH FASTER! I love NaNoWriMo. I look forward to it all year. The first time I did it I thought it was crazy, but it turned out to be a ton of fun and I won (I’ve won every year).
E. P. Beaumont: What was the first year you did NaNo?
Devin Harnois: 2007.
E. P. Beaumont: 2007 through 2011, that’s five novels. How many did you finish? Finished, as in not only got 50,000 words in 30 days, but finished the story.
Devin Harnois: All of them! I admit a few were rush jobs, but all of them have a complete story arc.
E. P. Beaumont: How many novels have you written in the “off season” since 2007 (i.e. not for NaNoWriMo)?
Devin Harnois: (here’s the part where I have to find my list because I can’t remember): Marked, Through The Fire, Erik’s Tale, Taming the Darkness … that’s four.
E. P. Beaumont: When did you start writing in the off-season?
Devin Harnois: Marked I wrote in 2008, Through The Fire was in 2010. So I was a huge slacker in 2009 😉
E. P. Beaumont: 2009 was my first year of really serious full-time writing, following the 2008 NaNo. NaNo was a real rocket-launcher for me. How would you describe the fun of NaNo?
Devin Harnois: Rocket launcher is a good term. It’s like a sport for writers, with crazy goals and friendly competition. I try to come up with a really fun idea to keep myself entertained for the whole month.
E. P. Beaumont: So writing is kid stuff.
Devin Harnois: Oh yeah. The best kind.
E. P. Beaumont: How about the off-season writing? How do you have maximum fun when you’re not doing the crazy goals?
Devin Harnois: I try to keep myself entertained in the same way, but the pressure is lowered. I can go at a slower pace.
I also set my own goals. I have rough schedule through 2013 and a little bit into 2014.
E. P. Beaumont: So tell me all about the fun of writing. What does it feel like?
Devin Harnois: It’s like getting to play with an infinite toybox. I can make up anything, and everything is possible as long as I stay true to the story and characters. I love it when I’m in the groove.
E. P. Beaumont: If you were talking to someone who wanted to be a writer, what advice would you give them based on your experience, what you’ve seen, what you’ve read?
Devin Harnois: Writers WRITE. You have to do the work. And you have to keep writing new things. Don’t tell me about the short story you’ve been working on for 18 months. OMG, move on!
E. P. Beaumont: What about finishing things? What would you say to the person with 8 works in progress?
Devin Harnois: Some writers work better with multiple projects going on, but at some point you have to finish something. Starting is easy. Finishing is the hard part and that’s one of the things that separates a wanna-be writer from a real writer.
E. P. Beaumont: Now let’s talk about the grim part… editing.
Devin Harnois: I hate editing.
E. P. Beaumont: But how do you do it? Disclosure here–I’ve beta-read your first drafts, and the subsequent drafts are different (and better)!
Devin Harnois: I do a first pass edit, which isn’t so bad. I add and fix and delete to make the story more what I meant it to be. I usually leave myself notes as I go to add or change things so it doesn’t slow me down when I’m working on a first draft. Then the edited version goes out to my beta readers for comments. When I get the story back, I look at all the comments together and figure out what changes I want to make. That edit is harder for me, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. When I’m done with that, the third draft goes on submission or to a hired editor.
E. P. Beaumont: How much time does that take, compared to writing?
Devin Harnois: If I work hard, I can get an editing pass done in two or three weeks. Writing a first draft takes me about 5-8 months (except NaNo)
E. P. Beaumont: You’re a swift and ruthless editor, then. And you hire professionals to finish the job. Dang. Just made you sound like a hired assassin. 🙂
Devin Harnois: LOL. I think a professional editor is essential for longer works (novellas, novels).