First, I write down every idea I have in notebooks, on scraps of paper, napkins, magazine covers, envelopes, my children—whatever I can get my hands on in the moment. (Okay, I haven’t written on my children. Yet. But I don’t rule anything out.) I just never know when inspiration is going to strike, and if I don’t write it down right away I’ll forget it. (It’s happened. More than once. Because apparently sometimes I like to learn things the hard way.) I’ve come out of the shower *many* times, hurried over to grab pen and paper or commandeer the computer to write down some ideas that came to me or story problems I worked out while getting all clean and pretty. (That actually happens a LOT. Probably because that’s the only place I get to be alone and can just *think* during the day.)
And I’m a committed outliner. (I tried to pants a novel about 13 years ago—ie write by the seat of my pants, without a plan/outline—and got as far as the beginning of chapter 2. Doesn’t really work for me.) I start with a quick line-up of what happens—the big plot points that form the shape of the story—and then fill it in with lots and lots of details, more twists, turns, and as much misery as I can think of for the characters. My outline for Intangible ended up being a little over 40 pages long, typed, single spaced. (When I say “detailed,” I mean detailed.)
Writing the outline is really like writing the book in shorthand. I’ve got the whole story there, but told in detailed summary. (Yes, I know detailed summary is a bit of an oxymoron, but it’s what I do.) It’s the entire creative process of figuring out what happens in the story, just on a very abridged scale. And you know what’s really great about it? I can fix story problems before I even start writing the book. It’s easier to see the story as a whole when I’m working with just 40 pages. If I have to move scenes around I can better see how that affects the rest of the story and insert changes in other places to make the move work. I can spot inconsistencies, plot holes, and implausibilities, and fix them before I even begin.
I didn’t have time to write a book when I started working on Intangible. (I still don’t. I have four kids. We homeschool.) So I really don’t have time to have the story go off on tangents that go nowhere. And then have to *gasp* delete half the book. And then *gasp* start over. I simply don’t have the luxury of writing that way because I have so little time. Outlining the book is the only way I can do it at this point in my life, even though creating it is time consuming because, just like the full novel, it must be crafted. My outline for Intangible went through about 4 drafts, and took me several months to hone. By the time the outline is set, I’m really itching to start writing.
Can I tell you how easy it is to write a book with a detailed outline, with the whole story already worked out? Never once do I have to waste time figuring out what is going to happen next. I don’t end up with extraneous scenes that must be cut (for the most part). I always know what I am going to be writing every time I sit down. The outline makes the writing go so smoothly. I *love* my outlines. I won’t ever write a book without one.
What else can I tell you?
I need silence when I write, so I work mostly at night when the kids are in bed. I can’t listen to music, though I wish I could. But I’m too easily distracted. If music is playing, I start listening to the music, singing along rather than
listening to the voices in my head paying attention to the scene I’m imagining. Also, I talk to myself. Out loud. I sometimes speak the dialogue out loud too, with feeling (I’m an actor at heart, I can’t help it), from each character’s point of view, trying to see through their eyes, feel their reactions, work from their life experience, figure out their facial expressions or physical actions.
Though I can’t listen to it while I’m actually writing, music really informs my story and characters. I listen when I’m thinking about the book, trying to solve a story problem or puzzling out a character. I find inspiration in certain songs , and I end up listening to them over and over and over again. Sometimes it helps me get into a character’s head and better understand him/her or see a certain scene from his/her perspective.
It feels like I’m watching a movie in my mind when I’m writing, and what I do is slow it down to frame by frame. Then I write what I see, smell, taste, hear, and feel in each frame. It’s slow going, and I have to remind myself to keep it slow, to not rush through the scene, make sure I get all the details on the page.
I write on a computer, but revise/edit on paper. (A LOT of paper, unfortunately. But I just can’t do it on computer—I miss too much.) I start out editing with pencil because I change my mind CONSTANTLY, and erasing what I’ve added in, rather than crossing it out, makes my draft much easier to deal with when it comes time to input my changes.
Only when I get to the very late drafts, where changes are really small and few, do I use pen to edit. And then it must be purple. Or bright green or blue. Or some easy-to-spot color so I don’t miss any small edits on the page. (They’re so easy to miss when there’s just one small change to a page, like adding in a missing period.) (Plus, I just like using pretty pen colors.)
I have beta readers—my first readers who tell me what’s missing, what I didn’t make clear, what doesn’t make sense, what I said too many times. I’ve decided this is my favorite step because the difference their feedback makes in the manuscript is HUGE. (I am so not exaggerating here.) Betas make all the difference between a so-so book and a polished, fully fleshed out, well-rounded read. (Seriously. If you’re a writer, don’t skip the beta step.) As an indie author, I also have my own editor, copy editor, and proof reader to help me make the writing tight, clean, and shiny.
I have times, on and off throughout this whole process, when I’m plagued with doubts. When I’m sure my writing is crap and my book is a tragic waste of perfectly good paper. And I’ve never been so terrified as when I sent Intangible to early reviewers and then hit the Publish button a few days later. Seriously, for days I thought What have I done? What was I thinking? What if everyone hates it? and I didn’t sleep much.
And yet, I *love* writing. I really, really love it. It feeds my soul—creating a world, and the people and stories that fill it. Living in my imagination, nurturing my crazy. It’s definitely good work. ;-)