A Writer’s Process (3a)

Greetings! Jonesing for books about time travel? (I sure am.) With me on the blog today is another friend from VCFA who has written a book about—you guessed it—time travel. (Huzzah!) Put your hands together for the erudite and elegant Nicole Valentine!


El Space: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nicole: I’m a writer and techno geek with a deep and abiding love for all things literary. My day job has always been in technology. I’ve been the Chief Technology Officer to Internet startups since the mid-1990s. My first job leading a tech team was at CNN where my official title was Webmistress. Yes, my business card actually had that printed under my name. It was a great icebreaker at parties.

El Space: I’ll bet!
Nicole: Many who follow me on Twitter (@nicoleva) know me for my work at Figment.com, a community for lovers of YA fiction to meet and share their own writing. This was, by far, one of my favorite online communities I’ve had the pleasure of creating. All good things must come to an end though. I have since taken a much needed break to concentrate on my writing. I needed to give some time to the insistent voices in my head.

Most of my work is middle grade. I do have one YA novel waiting patiently on my desktop, and a short story for adults published in the Oermead Press anthology, Chester County Fiction. In 2012, I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. This makes me a Secret Gardener.


El Space: Holla!
Nicole: I live with my caring husband, brilliant daughter, and two maniacal cats just outside of Philadelphia.

El Space: Cool! I’d love to stop by there at some point! But for now, I’m dying to hear a synopsis of your WiP.
Nicole: The Idle Tree is the story of Finn, who is about to turn thirteen in his sleepy Vermont town. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Everybody knows Finn’s twin sister drowned when they were only three, and that his mother abandoned him and his father four months ago. It turns out they don’t know everything.

Finn’s Gran, right before she dies, reveals the family secret to him. All the women in his family are born with the ability to time travel. His mother had been battling The Others, a shadowy group intent on changing the timeline, when she disappeared. She didn’t abandon him. She was taken. Now, he must find a way to save her, even though boys can’t time travel. If only his sister were the one who had lived. It would all be so much easier, but no, it’s up to Finn and his best friend, Holly. They have to put together answers from what his mom left behind. He’ll need to find out who is leading The Others in order to save his mother and the world as we know it.


El Space: That description gave me serious chills. I love a good time travel story. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Please walk me through your process.
Nicole: I was just reading the Donald Maass book on craft, The Breakout Novelist, which had a bit on the whole pantser vs. plotter thing. My first thought when reading it, was that the term pantser makes me uncomfortable. I immediately think of pulling a mean prank on someone in front of the entire cafeteria. I would say I probably begin most projects as a pantser, but would like to call it something more benign.


My novels begin as characters and scenes written in notebooks. After awhile of doing this, they begin to form full narratives. The next thing I do is start the outlining, which I suppose isn’t very pantser-like at all. I’m a bit of both really. This particular novel has required a ton of plotting. You can’t write time travel without a lot of charts and timelines. Well, maybe some people can. I need charts.

El Space: I admire you for taking on the challenge. How has your process evolved as a writer? What tools have been helpful?
Nicole: My process has changed a lot over the last few years. I think an MFA will do that to you. Before the program, I found myself holding back my best ideas, thinking they needed to be delivered in some big reveal later on in the work. I’ve realized that a novel is made up of a constant reveal of brilliant ideas, and you should never hoard them. New ones will always keep coming along. Trust your inner genius.

The single best tool out there is Scrivener. I’ve been working with it for over three years now, and it’s truly indispensable to my process. I take my scenes from my journals, type them in, and begin to play around with them. I mold them, look at them in different ways, and move them around. Having different ways to view your novel is key for me. When I switch to corkboard mode, I inevitably think of something new. I also love having a repository for all my research in the same file. I keep images that inspire me, information on my setting, time periods, etc.

If I find myself stuck on a scene, I’ll leave Scrivener and open up OmmWriter. It has a zen feel that usually zaps me out of any writer’s block. I’ll write one or two scenes in it, and then copy and paste back into Scrivener.

Finally, if you’re a café writer like me, go to simplynoise.com to drown out the incessant background music and loud talkers. It’s white noise, so it works like a charm.

And judging by the music, that’s all we have time for today. But Nicole will be back tomorrow to chat, so please stop by. If you have questions for Nicole about her book or her process, please comment below.

Key and clock photos from eastonclass1.bltnorthants.net and cloudcentrics.com respectively.

44 thoughts on “A Writer’s Process (3a)

  1. Curses! You keep doing interviews with authors who’ve put out books with concepts I adore (awesome lady-pirates, and now time travellers!). So much for whittling down my TBR pile. I should have known.

    • Emily, ha ha! Yeah, I have to laugh, because I have the same reaction. I’m glancing at my pile of books now and wondering if I’ll ever get through all of them. But I’m glad to know people who are wiling to talk about their process. Because I love hearing about it! I’m always looking for people to interview. Hint, hint . . .

  2. I could never write about time travel I think, too complex and the science behind it would make the most critical minds insane upon reading the book. (Unless the research is impeccable and the author succeeds at making it look plausible, of course.) Her writing process sounds incredibly similar to mine: characters and short scenes, maybe even short dialogues in notebooks, which then evolve by themselves.

    I use OmmWriter, too, when I really need to get ideas flowing without any distraction. And seriously, what is up with Scrivener? Everybody seems to recommend it! I would definitely bought it if the price were more… accommodating.

    Great interview.

    • Insanity is definitely a byproduct of writing about time travel, but I bet you could do it! It helps to delve deep into the genre and have a love of physics. (I’m a huge fan of Richard Feynman and Einstein, too) In the second part of the interview I talk about the time travel books that shaped me.

  3. L. Marie – thank you for another great interview. I’m having one of those gooey touchy-feely moments right now where I’m truly grateful that I chose to attend VCFA when I did 🙂
    Nicole – one of the many things I appreciate about you is your ability to combine your interest/knowledge of technology with your love of reading and writing. Thanks for sharing more cool tools. Can’t wait to read IDLE TREE!

  4. Another great interview. Looking forward to part 2.

    And Scrivener! Such a great tool. I’ve been using it for the past year and can’t imagine not using it for my current novel. The outline mode and web/PDF integrations are top notch.

  5. Scrivener sounds tempting. And the time travel angle is so appropriate for my current WiP because the main character is like Finn, stuck in the present and needing to discover a secret in his family’s past that the grownups keep hidden from him. But my mind and fantasy don’t mix.

      • Lyn, I think you’d love it. I wish you guys could fly to my class in Philly tonight! If you ever want to do a shared screen skype or hangout session I’ll give you a tour of my mss in Scrivener. I’ve recently discovered that the synopsis compile can actually be a really useful tool in writing your query synopsis.

  6. Pingback: Process: MY story. THE story. | Write Fiercely

  7. What a great post, L. Marie! Thanks for having Nicole here. Being a cafe writer (when I can find a babysitter), I especially liked the tip at the end about white noise to block out loud talkers. Thank you both! : )

  8. The Idle Tree sounds like such a compelling story. I already love the idea that only the women can time travel. 🙂

    I also liked how Nicole mentioned that “a novel is made up of a constant reveal of brilliant ideas, and you should never hoard them.” That’s pretty great advice. Thanks for sharing this fantastic interview!

  9. Pingback: A Writer’s Process (3b) | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

  10. Yay, Nicole! I was lucky enough to read the first two chapters of this recently and the whole thing gave me chills. Loved it 🙂 And love Scrivener, too.

  11. Pingback: Why it is not so hot to find out you’re a plotter 6,000 words from “The End” | tryingtowriteit

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