The weather is finally turning cooler, which means that my brain just might begin to work again. In the summer I feel that all my intellectual ability is baked out of me by the summer sun. Now that it is officially autumn, or at least less than 100 degrees, I’m happy to share with you some of the writing techniques and tips from three of my favorite author friends: Caroline Leech, McCourt Thomas and Sandra Guy. Recently, this trio of talent participated in an around the world blog hop. For those unfamiliar with the term, a blog hop is simply when a topic, theme or set of questions is responded to on various blogs across the internet.
Please check out information about their creative practices and feel free to send me your own ideas about creativity at email@example.com.
Why do I write what I do?
For the buzz! I get the biggest thrill when I am writing, when words are flying round my brain in random patterns before crashing onto the page in some semblance of order. It’s the thrill that comes from finding just the right word, or creating just the perfect phrase to capture the image in your head so that others can share it. It comes from hearing a character’s voice so clearly in your head that all you have to do is take down what they say as dictation and put quote marks around it. It comes from planning in detail a scene where two people are standing talking to each other in a farmyard, only to find that when you start writing it that a delivery boy suddenly appears up the road on his bike. He’s uninvited and unexpected, but he takes the whole story down a wonderful path which you would never have found without his help.
I like to challenge myself with different formats. Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing – because it’s definitely challenging! So a project often comes to mind because I enjoy books with a certain style of writing, and wonder if I can pull it off. For example, my current middle grade novel has five first person points of view. I decided to write it that way because I personally like books with several points of view. Have I succeeded with it? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know when I finish! It’s entirely possibly that I’ll end up rewriting the whole thing in third person or from just one character’s point of view, but I wanted to give it a try. Another love of mine is epistolary novels (novels written as letters, or these days, even e-mails back and forth). So I’m thinking my next project will be in an epistolary format – I just have to figure out what the story will be!
I could quote the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day” in response to this question. Why do I write what I do? Because I don’t have the answers and it’s only in writing what I see and feel that I know it is sometimes enough that I remember to ask the questions. I do know how to pay attention though, and I can still fall into long grass on my knees, feeling idle and blessed.
There is something about the speed of our lives today that is squeezing the magic of true connection out of the world. Maybe, if we make time to read and conjure up the images created by the words of gifted writers or if we find time to contemplate the complicated eyes of a dragonfly, we can bring it back again. Catching and sharing a little of that magic is why I tell the stories I tell.
When Mary Oliver asks at the end of that same poem –
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
I proudly reply – I write stories to help us remember.
(To hear the wonderful Mary Oliver reading “The Summer Day” please checkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CL6bKVbJQ)
How does your writing process work?
I’d like to tell you how organized and disciplined I am about sitting down in a peaceful office at a tidy desk where I can write to a set daily word count. But in reality, most of my writing is done in the buzz of Barnes and Noble café in whatever hours each week I can grab. I often go to our local Starbucks at 6am on a Sunday morning, so I can get a good three or four hours’ work done before my household gets going for the day. Although Starbucks is always deserted when I arrive at that time of the morning, I have often found that I get so focused on what I am writing, I can look up suddenly and discover that the place is packed and its 9am.
How do I write? I am most certainly a planner and not a pantser (a writer who likes to fly by the seat of his or her pants, with no plot plan as a guide). With both my novels, I have not started writing until I have created a full chapter breakdown of the story and rough character sketches of the main players. I might not know how my character navigates his way through a scene, but I must know where he needs to get to by the end.
Even with this kind of detailed planning, however, sometimes I have reached a fork in my plot road and haven’t known exactly which way to go. Just recently I wrote a conversation which was interrupted by a knock at the door. I discovered that I didn’t know who was knocking (I know that might sound weird, given that I was in charge of the knocking!) It could have been one of two people but I wasn’t sure which it should be and I felt rather panicked. I could see a rough path which would take me from each person through to the next chapter where I needed to be, but I just couldn’t take that first step on one path by typing the name of one person standing on the doorstep. It took me two days of fiddling around with another part of the manuscript, letting my mind wrestle with my door-knocker dilemma, before I could go back and type that name.
I usually write at home, but I’m also a big fan of writing at the library. It helps me sometimes to get out, so I don’t feel guilty about the never-ending list of things that need to be done around the house. When I first started writing and the kids didn’t have as many evening activities, I used to go to the library every Monday night to write while my husband took care of the kids. That’s where I really started on my writing journey and wrote my very first picture book manuscripts. I loved that uninterrupted writing time, and was so grateful that my whole family supported my writing efforts. I’d love to add that evening writing time once a week back to my schedule – but we’ll have to see how this school year’s activities and my graduate school classes pan out. I think I’ll probably still be typing away in my car for years to come!
I’m easily caught by ideas. Almost anything can get me going – the juxtaposition of old and new, dark and light, male and female. Once I’ve felt the shiver of a story or character close by, I let it take up residency in me. I create a world around it and explore facets of the one it has come from, burying myself in books on the same subject or visuals of the time period or place where the story is happening. I don’t start writing until I can see the world my protagonist lives in and hear his or her voice in my head. And I usually only begin when I can say the opening paragraph of that unwritten story out loud.
Once I start I’m hooked. I write three or four hours a day, starting at the beginning of the story and working all the way through to the end of my first draft. I write at least a chapter a day sometimes more, always leaving the writing on a cliff hanger so I can slip back into the story easily the next day.
After I’ve written myself out (I’m generally less productive after three hours of new writing), I work on the more technical side of a piece – the mechanics of plot and pacing, the writing of different lengths of synopses, the balancing out of conflict and story sags. I write monologues that won’t appear in the book. I draw charts connecting characters and flow diagrams connecting time and space and keep them in clear coloured files. When I finish writing for the day, my white glass desk is immaculate but the room I’m writing in is awash with images – mood boards for characters and places that appear in the story, odd details in photos torn from glossy magazines – anything that allows me to bathe in the essence of the story I’m working on without actually writing more of it.
Once I have a first draft I tend to leave it for a month to let it settle. Then I go back, hopefully with fresher eyes, and read it with a view to revising. And my revision process, well now, that’s a whole other story. . .
You can learn even more about each of these creatives on their websites. Sandra is at http://www.sandraguy.com. McCourt can be found at http://mccourtthomas.blogspot.com. And the lovely Caroline is at http://www.carolineleech.com.
Wishing everyone happy creating and a very happy fall!