When Brandi Barnett asked me if I’d be interested in blogging about my writing process, I thought, “that’s no sweat – I write all the time.”
Of course that statement isn’t completely true. I do a lot of other things besides writing. I’m a Mom, a Wife, a Girl Scout co-leader, a state employee, and lately a home remodeler. By now you’re probably wondering, “what do any of those things have to do with writing?” The answer is: More than you might think.
Whether they like it or not, my girls and my husband have become beta-testers for my ideas. When I’m pondering what direction a story will take, how a character will react or whether something is just “too out there,” I ask them what they think. Whether this happens before or after I write the scene is completely variable. The focus of my current work in progress recently shifted dramatically and I knew a title change was in order. I floated a few possibilities at a family dinner and got a strong reaction to: PHOEBE FOGG AND THE CHRONOS SUSPENSION APPARATUS.
“Mommm, no eleven-year-old is ever going to remember that! They’ll have no idea what it means, plus, it’s too long.” I had to concede, she had a point. For now it’s just PHOEBE FOGG’S CHRONOS APPARATUS, but like everything else, that is subject to change.
What am I working on?
Primarily, a middle grade historical fantasy adventure (sometimes referred to as steampunk.) It’s a Jules Verne-inspired Indiana Jones story about a girl who stows away on her father’s airship.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I hope it has more of an emotional arc. This situation, that Phoebe has to stow away in order to be with her father, tells us right away that there’s a distance between them. Exploring that divide and how it was created is as much of the story as the expedition voyage.
Why do I write what I do?
My starting point is writing the kind of book I would like to read. I love adventure, history and science fiction. I’m creating a story that focuses on all three. But there’s also more to it than that.
The more I write, the more I notice the sum of my experience (in all those roles I previously mentioned) creeping into my stories. The angst I observe at the Girl Scout meeting serves as a starting point in a scene, the quirks of a co-worker get incorporated into a character, laying a wood floor is a lot like writing a novel (except it happens board by board, instead of word by word – thanks, Anne Lamott!)
How does your writing process work?
Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Apparently, I’ve taken this adage to heart because I’ve been working on this middle grade novel almost three years. To me that feels like a very long time, but maybe it’s not really?
The reason I feel it’s important to mention it, is because my writing process has changed dramatically during that time. In January 2011, I finished my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had another manuscript, mostly complete that had been my creative thesis. I’d worked on that YA Dust Bowl mystery with kidlit stars Cynthia Leitich Smith and Franny Billingsley and I liked lots of things about the story. I felt obligated to continue working on it until it was perfect and then query agents about it. Then, if I got any feedback, I’d revise again until it sparkled. I “owed” this story my full attention.
I told myself I didn’t have the time to pursue this other idea about a girl who stows away on her father’s airship. I only allowed myself to work on the outline while the YA was out on submission – one project at a time, very linearly and orderly. After a about 18 rejections/no responses, I gave up on that manuscript to focus entirely on PHOEBE.
I’ve always squeezed my writing in whenever I could (a by-product of juggling a day job with being a writer) but after hearing a talk by Romney Nesbitt at last year’s Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. conference, I stepped that up significantly. At first, I found the approach she suggested quite radical: work on multiple projects at the same time, and write every day.
That second part was nothing new for me. In grad school I had to write every day to keep up with the packet requirements. But, I had to be honest with myself, since graduating, I’d fallen out of the habit of writing every day. Most weeks, I was lucky if I just wrote one day.
Now my daily writing goal is simple: do some thing on at least one writing project each day. For instance, yesterday I added a flashback scene that was about 250 words. That’s roughly a page, which doesn’t sound like very much. However, my calculator informs me that if I actually wrote a page every day, at the end of the year I’d have 91,250 words, or 65,000 if I didn’t include weekends. Given that most MG novels are half that, it sounds like a pretty good plan.
Most days my scheduled writing time consists of the hour(ish) I have for my lunch break, in between nibbling on a salad or sandwich. (not only does it provide writing time, but it’s also a bonus for the budget) A lot of days I’m able to stretch that into 90 minutes or a little more without it bothering anyone. To make the most of that time, the night before I write a note outlining what I plan to write. Nothing elaborate, mind you. Here’s a recent example: “water rising scene – everything gets soaked.” By doing this, not only have I charted a course as to where I’m going, but I’ve also given my brain something to work on while I’m doing all those mundane things that fill my hours when I’m not writing.
For me, the most radical part of Romney Nesbitt’s suggestion was working on multiple projects at one time. Wouldn’t dividing my brain up between projects mean losing focus and getting sidetracked?
Amazingly, I’ve found that just the opposite is true. Just like I wouldn’t want to spend every minute of every day with my best friend, I also need time away from my manuscript. I’m not talking about a major break, it’s just some days I’m not feeling like an Eleven-year-old Inventress and Adventurer. Instead of not writing at all on those days, I now have other projects to work on. These are completely different: one is a science fiction/fantasy short story featuring dwarf miners in space, two non-fiction picture books and finally, a MG mystery. There’s always a story waiting for me, no matter what mood I might be in that day.
I’ve also discovered that showing up at the page is half the battle. Once I open up the file and read the last paragraph or two, I’ve usually got a good idea of where I’m going next. Then slipping into that imaginary world can be so much fun!