Guest Post: Writing as Art, or why not to draw the perfect nose

Rebecca Brooks has just had her first romance (M/F), Above All, come out from Ellora’s Cave. Since she is a new Internet friend who falls into the category of seeming unlikely to write romance, but is in fact incredibly typical of the accomplished authors we meet in this genre, we thought we’d open the blog up to a process post from her. Also, her book has a lot of Brooklyn in it (as do I!) so we had to share.

Above-All-CoverAbove All

Reeling from a sudden breakup, Casey Webb leaves Brooklyn, drives north and settles in a sleepy mountain town in upstate New York. She’s convinced she’s happy being alone—until she reads the acknowledgments in her ex-boyfriend’s hit debut novel, thanking his new girlfriend “above all”.

Good thing Ben Mailer is in town. The hot, young Brooklyn-bound chef offers the perfect distraction, and soon Casey is having the best sex of her life—on a mountain, in the lake, all over her cozy cabin. But as their weekend fling turns into something more, the demands of Ben’s family and budding career make moving to her idyllic town impossible.

Now Casey must decide what she can’t live without—her life in the mountains or the man she wants as hers. Smart, sweet and blisteringly hot, Above All is about getting lost…and finding yourself right where you belong.

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Writing as Art, or why not to draw the perfect nose

by Rebecca BrooksRebeccaBrooks

When I was in high school I took a lot of art classes, which probably explains why the heroine to my debut contemporary romance, Above All, is an artist, and why I can’t help thinking of how to write in terms of how to draw. I had an incredible drawing teacher, Bob Freeman, whose voice I still hear in my mind when I’m working. He used to stand back from a model or still life and squint, holding his pencil in front of his eyes to see the slope of a model’s shoulders or the line where a flower petal curled over the lip of a glass.

The first thing Mr. Freeman did was look at the scene as a whole. Squinting allowed the details to blur so he could see the big picture—the lightest lights, the darkest darks, the major components working together. He’d build up the drawing layer by layer, starting with loose, general lines and gradually adding more complexity. Looking at the finished product, you’d never know that all the gorgeous details started off so simply, as blocks of light and dark.

As drawing students we would protest this slow and seemingly backward method—why spend all that time making marks that don’t even show up in the finished product? Why not get the image right the first time around?

But say you’re drawing a figure. You could start by drawing the most incredible nose in the world—perfectly sculpted, all the right shadows and lines, that quintessential noseness leaping right off the paper—but what if the nose turns out to be too big for the face? Or it’s in the wrong place on the paper? Or the darks are too dark compared to the rest of the picture? You’d have to erase that perfect nose and start over again, or risk your drawing turning out completely wrong.

I write in the same way that Mr. Freeman taught me how to draw. Before I put anything on the page, I give a good long look and come up with a game plan, an outline that tells where all the major components are going to go. Then I do a quick, messy first draft, taking a few months tops to get everything down. This draft isn’t pretty, but it gives me something to work with. I can see the parts that aren’t working and need to be overhauled. When the big pieces have finally slid into place, I have a better idea of what still needs to be sculpted, layered, made richer and more complex.

Not drawing the perfect nose has taught me to keep an eye on the whole of the story along with its composite parts. I try not to belabor any one part too soon—I don’t want to spend all day crafting the ideal phrase only to discover down the road that the entire scene needs to be cut. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not important to write carefully during every stage. No time writing is time wasted and it’s okay to work hard on something that ultimately meets the chopping block. But for me, it’s important to keep up the momentum without worrying about little things like the perfect comeback or the exact choreography of a scene. I really think of writing as revising, filling in details layer by layer until a book begins to appear.

When I started Above All I was squinting at the story, trying to figure out how the big pieces—character, setting, plot—were going to work. Along the way I discovered more about Casey and Ben and their home in the mountains of upstate New York. Some of the revisions I made surprised me—I’d had no idea when I started, for instance, that the novel would wind up being divided into seasons over the course of a year and a half. Other details make me think of the light on a figure. The closer I looked the clearer they emerged, until layer by layer I wound up with a fully realized portrait where there had once been only a sketch.

***

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

You can also find Rebecca on Twitter and Facebook. Finally, if you’d like to win some free reading material via Rebecca, you can check out her RaffleCopter giveaway.

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3 Responses to Guest Post: Writing as Art, or why not to draw the perfect nose

  1. laurieboris says:

    I love the comparison of art and writing, Rebecca. In my graphic design past, we learned also to back up and squint at the work on the table, to better see it as a whole. Fascinating how the different disciplines overlap. And I’m a big fan of the messy first draft.

  2. Thanks laurieboris! I love thinking about how all these forms of making involve similar ways of thinking about and approaching the subject. It’s a process for everyone! (And sometimes a hard one.)

  3. Pingback: Guest posts galoreRebecca Brooks | Rebecca Brooks

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