How I Work

Now, this is downright spooky. In this morning’s email, I received questions from two separate people asking me where the post (below) could be found, since it helped them in their own writing process. It was part of my former blog and I was going to simply send the inquirers to that link, but then a third email asked that age-old question “Where do you get your ideas?” So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and move the whole post from the former blog to this new one. Hope it gives you a little taste of the writing life.  So, here it is:
First, I lounge around thinking of ideas. I take “creative naps.” I watch tons of movies and read a lot. Being witness to someone else’s creativity always gets my own creative juices flowing. I watch the news and read the newspaper. I walk around staring at the sky and pondering various ideas. I talk to John or a writer friend, thinking through plot points. All of this takes weeks, sometimes longer. Then I’m ready to start putting things on paper. (Here I am, pondering)
I always have false starts. That’s painful, because I know whatever I start writing is going to ultimately be thrown away. I wish I could skip the first draft and go directly to the second, but that first one seems to be necessary to get the initial bugs out. All during this phase, I’m working on the characters by talking to them and having them talk to me. I peer into their purses and their bedrooms. I have them write down their feelings in first person. I want to know everything about them.
By the time I’m done with this stage, I usually have about twenty double-spaced pages. Then comes the part I love the most. I call this the “dining room table” phase. I use a paper cutter to slice the manuscript into sections, which I lay on my dining room table. Then I study the story bit by bit, and I can see what’s missing, which is usually quite a lot.
Using pieces of note cards, I jot down scenes and missing bits of information. I intersperse these cards with the pieces of manuscript on the table (usually by this point, I have to use the buffet and coffee table as well). I move all the pieces of paper around until I’m happy with the order they’re in.
Finally, I tape all the pieces of paper together in order!
Then I write the proposal, which by this time has become a very sketchy first draft of the book, anywhere from thirty to as many as seventy pages.
I’m exhausted just writing this process down. I wish there were an easier way. The other day, I heard Philip Roth being interviewed on NPR. The interviewer asked him if, when he was writing his first book, he had any idea what he was doing. Roth said that even now when he starts a book, he has no idea what he’s doing. As I start my seventeenth novel, I understand exactly what he means. Every book is a new adventure and a new challenge.


  1. Margo on July 31, 2006 at 10:34 am

    Diane…the process you go thru to write a novel is absolutely fascinating to me…I remember e-mailing you after reading HER MOTHER’S SHADOW and wondering if you had planned the ending in advance (I won’t give it away to new readers)…I finished reading the 3rd book in the KEEPER trilogy at 2:30 in the morning and was left breathless!!…I believe you said that the ending came as a surprise to you too as you were writing it and I remember thinking, ‘what an adventure, to be able to write like that’!!…how fortunate we are to have such wonderful books to read by such a gifted writer…

  2. Diane on July 31, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    You’re right, Margo. The ending of HER MOTHER’S SHADOW was a big surprise to me. It was one of those magical moments in writing, when the characters suddenly tell you what’s REALLY going on. The author is always the last to know. LOL.

  3. Linda on August 2, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    I’m sure that you have been the guest of writers’ groups who have read your book. Do you prepare for discussing your book by rereading it, or do you always remember it well enough? Also, do you provide them with questions that you want to be asked? Thanks

  4. Diane Chamberlain on August 2, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    hi linda,
    nice to see you here! i know you’re meeting with lots of groups regarding your own new release. hope you’re having fun.
    to answer your question, i skim through a book if i know it’s going to be discussed just to get the characters back in my mind. that’s because i’m usually one or sometimes even two books ahead of the most recent release and my mind has moved on. what really throws me is when people in an audience bring up older books. brain fog kicks in and all the little brain cells scramble around, trying to recall the story. sometimes i just ask the audience to help me out. it always amazes me how my readers remember more than i do about my own stories!

  5. Krysia on August 4, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    That’s how my speeches would look before I got em memorized. I think some of my design projects looked that way too if I remember correctly.
    I usually write in Composition books. I’ve got about 5 or 6 big and small ones lying around with various stories or the continuation of the one I am writing.
    It’s pretty kewl how you do it, hopefully one of your ideas hits and a new book comes soon after.

  6. Diane Chamberlain on August 4, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    what are your speeches on, krysia? do you memorize the whole thing and work without notecards? someday soon i’ll describe how i make speeches, too. i LOVE speaking to an interested audience. so much fun!
    and what kind of design are you doing? it sounds like you have your fingers in lots of different pots!
    as for my ideas hitting–a decision has finally been made (i think!) and i’m off and running. i’ll be posting about it later today.

  7. Krysia on August 4, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Well all that was for my sophomore year in college. My speeches ranged from Extra terrestrial to sports. Our proffessor liked us to memorize our speeches and usually if I know enough about it I can go without my notecards. It’s about the only thing I could memorize. My designs were also for a class. One I designed a skate shop from the design of the building, to the business plan to the designs for the clothing and products, I also designed abistro/club I’d eventually like to open. I’m planning on going back to school online for a degree in Animation. I usually have 965,000 things going through my head (that’s an estimate) at any given moment. I’ve been known to change subjects 4-8 times in a single breath (drives my friend nuts). That is why I like writing, I can put most of it down on paper, I am currently writing 3 different stories (1 I’d like to animate) and reading 3 different books. It’s tiring but keeps my mind busy and wake. Good luck on the book!

Leave a Comment