I’m often asked about my “process,” my approach to writing a novel. We writers are a widely varied bunch and our writing processes are just as wide and varied. Many a time, I’ve listened to another author expound on their process and have returned to my own work convinced what I’ve just heard is brilliant, and once put in practice will, no doubt, fuel my creativity, streamline and sharpen my prose, and cut out hours and hours of dithering.
Unfortunately, in trying to employ said brilliant processes, I discovered all I’ve done is hobble my creativity. So after countless repetitions of this futile exercise, I’ve come to trust that my own process–shabby, meandering and slow as it is–is the only process that will, for me, produce a book anyone will find worth reading.
Now, as I’m ready to embark upon my next novel, my twelfth (if you don’t count the five unpublished I wrote, which I consider my writing education), I’m going to take you all along for the ride on this long, winding, sometimes potholed road I travel. The posts will come in fits and starts, at first with long gaps and months later, picking up speed. I normally take anywhere between 9 months and two years to write a novel. There are many factors which dictate this time frame, the biggest one being a DEADLINE. Others include how long it takes me to discover the voice of the story, how long I fiddle around experimenting with construction (first or third person narrative, past or present tense, which character or characters get the job of narrating the story, tone, atmosphere, etc), how much research is required, and what else happens to be going on in my real life at the time. And of course, the all important IDEA.
Ideas are easy to come by. Ideas that will create an engaging story that is strong enough to go on for 400 pages are a little more rare. However, sometimes the opposite is true and my head is a flurry of ideas and I must choose wisely, discover which one will be the next “logical” progression for my readers following my writing journey. If I suddenly started writing a Game of Thrones-esque series (as fun as that would be) my faithful readers might be knocked out of their saddles.
Oh the crossroads at which I now stand!
I’ve just completed the final stage of THE FLYING CIRCUS, reading the page proofs. It has bounced back and forth between my hands and my publisher’s for the better part of 4 months. First, I turned in my finished manuscript. Then my editor sent it back to me, suggesting a few revisions. For the next couple of weeks, I reread and reworked. Then my editor read it again. Yay! it’s now ready to go! (Said revision process can take several passes.) Now is the time I start mentally sifting through story possibilities for the next book. This time, I’m just a little worried, my mind is a blank page.
As the copy editor does his (in my case it was a he) work on THE FLYING CIRCUS–checking for consistency, grammar, etc., asking for clarifications in areas that seem confusing, and putting in all of the typesetting markings. While he’s doing his work, I’m engaging in all sorts of activities that normally lead to good story ideas–closet cleaning, finding my desk underneath all of the notebooks, books, scraps of paper with notes that accumulated while I finished writing THE FLYING CIRCUS. Unfortunately, I begin to panic as all ideas that parade through my head are old, tired, and unoriginal.
And then…a question pops into my head. A wondering that, while it isn’t the idea for the new book, it’s the springboard that leads me there.
Watch for the next installment–which will most likely be weeks away–when I settle on who is going to be in this story and what it will be about. You will see just how haphazard my process is and how I manage to hop from stone to stone until I’ve crossed the river that leads to the land of actually writing a novel.
For now, the pot is simmering!