Tell us about the blizzard of 1979 that jump-started your career…
The blizzard of ’79 hit in February, and I was stuck in the house with two small children. Any mother out there knows what it is to weep bitter tears when the radio announces that there will be no morning kindergarten. I live in rural Maryland, and had no four-wheel drive transportation, two active sons, a dwindling supply of chocolate and three feet of snow. I’d never thought about writing as a career. I thought everyone made up stories in their heads. But after days of being trapped by the blizzard, I was tired of playing Candy Land and was desperate for some sort of release. I took one of those stories in my head and wrote it down. The minute I started the process of writing, I fell in love with it. I had, to this point, sought some avenue for creativity in every craft known to man. Ceramics, embroidery, sewing (I even put little flies in the overalls I made my sons) canning, macrameL, needlepoint, baking. I had a distressing craft addiction. Fortunately writing cured me of it, and I found the right avenue.
When you first took a number two pencil to a spiral notebook, did you realize that you were on your way to becoming a bestselling author?
Writing down stories during that long week in February was more to save my sanity than a career move.
How long was it before you published your first novel?
By the time my first novel, Irish Thoroughbred, was published in 1981, I already had three years of hard work behind me and several rejected manuscripts languishing in desk drawers.
Have you thought about publishing those early works?
The very first story—definitely no…never! But everything else has been re-worked, punched up, and sold years ago. There’s really nothing else languishing now.
What did you do before you became a writer?
I was a really bad legal secretary.
Who helped to develop your talent as a young person?
I imagine every teacher helped. I joke about the nuns, but the fact is the discipline that they drum into education sticks. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have the discipline to sit down and write on a regular basis, you’re not going to write or publish any books.
What influence did your family have on your writing career?
I grew up in a family of readers. Books and stories were always a part of my life. I always loved to read.
You’ve achieved so much as a writer and career woman. Is there any goal you feel you have yet to attain?
I don’t think about goals. I just try to concentrate on writing the best book I possibly can.
What do you find difficult about this writing business?
The business of writing—all the extra stuff that isn’t actual writing—can be difficult simply because most of us who write prefer to sit down and do just that. Traveling can be stressful, inconvenient and tiring. The writing is a joy, even when it is not going particularly well. The simple fact that you are lucky enough to have a job you love can’t be beat. The days when you can’t wait to get to the keyboard are the best. You can sit there and work in your pajamas. It doesn’t get much better than that!
How is your career evolving? Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten years?
I never do this. Never have done it. Why look five years ahead when now is what’s going on I’d much rather focus on now—and the book I’m writing now—than try to figure out what’s coming down the road. My goal has always been to write the best book I possibly can.
How difficult was it to establish your name?
It was a gradual process. Selling the first book was like a miracle. Silhouette opened a marvelous door for me, and gave me the opportunity to write, publish and establish a readership. None of this happens overnight. The best advice my agent ever gave me was: Build a foundation. That’s what I’ve tried to do—to build a foundation of reliable and entertaining stories that the reader can depend on.
Her writing process…
Can you tell us what a typical Nora Roberts’ day is like?
It would look, to anyone outside the business, incredibly boring. I sit in front of the keyboard all day. On a perfect day, I get up and maybe work out for about 40 minutes or so—because I’m on my butt the rest of the day. I usually go up to my office by 9:00 and work for about 6 – 8 hours. And I write…check email…write some more. After dinner, I either call it a day or go back to work for awhile.
How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically to write a novel?
Honestly I don’t do a thing. I have a basic idea in my head, I do whatever research needs to be done—and will continue to research throughout the course of the book—and then I sit down and start. That’s it. Oh, and I try to make sure there is a good supply of Diet Pepsi in the house. And pretzels or some salty thing. And chocolate.
How can you be so productive with so many outside and family obligations? How do you keep a balance between home and work?
Life’s a juggling act. Practice enough and you get pretty good at keeping the important balls in the air. This is my job. If I were a doctor or businesswoman, I’d still be juggling. I have a fast writing pace—that helps. But I work every day—a full day.
When you are researching a book, what is your most valuable resource?
Before I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of computers, I did all of my research at the library. I’d start in the children’s department—it was a great way to get basic information which I would then take to the “grown-up” section of the library for more in-depth research. Now I just use the internet. You can find anything on the internet. I do all my own research because the process gives me ideas for plot angles.
How do you cope with the inevitable stress of deadlines?
I don’t think about them. Denial works. Seriously, I’m never on publisher deadline anymore. They can’t keep up with me. I put myself on a personal deadline, and that can flex. But normally, I’m tougher on me than the publisher so I stress myself out perfectly well on my own. I have to give myself deadlines in order to figure out how to fit in the book tours, the traveling, the conferences, the extra projects…and my life as I’d like to know it.
How long does it take you to complete a book, from the time the idea for the book is conceived, to when you submit it to your editor?
Each book is different. It takes as long as it takes. I try not to think about how long a particular book is taking to write.
How many drafts does it take you before the book is just right?
In general I do a first draft fairly quickly. Just to get the story down without looking back—I don’t worry about fixing or fiddling. Once I have that initial draft, I know my characters more intimately, know the plot line more cohesively, so I can go back to page one and go through it all again, fleshing out, fixing little problems, finding where I went wrong and adjusting it, or where I went right and expanding it. Adding texture, sharpening the prose. Then I go back to page one again, for the third draft, polishing, making sure I hit the right notes. If it feels right after that, I send it to my agent and editor. If it doesn’t, I go back and try to find what’s not working. No book is perfect. I try to send in
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