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Writing Writuals

I’ve blogged a bit about my writing process from time to time, but I don’t think I’ve highlighted the irrational, superstitious parts of it. Here’s a glimpse into all that.

Step one: I always start a book by scribbling scenes, longhand. It feels more organic (that’s the logical reason), and I don’t want to be presumptuous – the illogical one. Yes, it’s true. If I were to open a Word document and put on other airs before I’m sure I have a beginning, middle and end, plus at least two compelling, semi-full-blown characters, I fear Fate would knock me on my ass for presuming. So I approach the whole thing very cautiously. In stages. I call it “an idea for a new story.” Just an idea. No commitment. I certainly don’t claim it’s a potential book – it's way too early for such hopes.

At that point, I usually don’t even have a title yet. But since I need something to label the scribbles, I use a code word – one of the character’s names if I know one, but usually the characters are just X and Y at that point, so more often than not, I use something like TT or “TT idea” (time travel idea). Or TT2 if I’ve already got a TT in the works. Once again, I do not want to jinx this faint glimmer of an idea by naming it. (Same with my children, by the way. They got their names when they were born, and not a minute soon. Which is probably just as well because it kept me from being able to scream their names in agony during the atrocity joys of natural childbirth.)

Back to my “process.” By the time I have dozens, or even more, pages of scribbles – some from the middle, and always a draft-ish ending, even though I know it will change as the story evolves – I sit in the center of our king-size bed and sort the pages into piles, usually ones labeled: Beginning, Middle, End. If there are lots of pages in a pile, I re-sort into smaller ones. For example, for CHARADE, I didn’t begin actually working on the computer until I had eight stacks – Wedding Op(10 pages of scribbles); Apartment (12 pages); Pre-love scene(4pp); Love scene(4pp); Dad(6pp); Rome(2); Kestonia(8pp); Rescue(2pp); Ending(2pp). That’s a fairly standard sorting. Even though most of the book actually took place in Kestonia, I didn’t have it all worked out yet, so that stack was small – still, I had enough to know that I wasn’t jinxing myself or being presumptuous.

By this time, I know the characters very well, and have long since named them. And if I don't have a real title by this time, I have to choose one before I can proceed further.

After the sorting and naming, I build a table of contents, which is really the outline of each chapter with a blurb for what happens in each. This document affords me another layer of security – more proof that there’s a real book here – even though it might ultimately bear little relation to the final product, or at least, will change drastically during the actual writing of the book.

Finally, it’s time to begin. I take stack #1 to the computer and begin writing. Oddly enough, once I get going, I usually don’t refer to the notes/scribbles at all! I start typing, and it all feels so fresh, I don’t want to interrupt the flow to check my notes. Turns out, they are really just props, or maybe security blankets.

Still, when it’s time for Chapter Two, I go back to the middle of the bed and do some tweaking of the piles and the outline based on what has actually occurred in Chapter One. It’s very ritualistic. More often than not, I do some more scribbling of new pages, and add them to the piles.

Then back to the computer. Rinse and repeat a dozen or so times.

Do I think I could sit in front of a computer and write an entire book without scribbling things down first? Logically, I’m quite sure I could. But I will never test that theory. Never! This works for me – it has become an old friend – and I love it.


p.s. Go Bears!!! (I don't have money riding on today's Cal game, but my pride is on the line, so cross your fingers!)



Feb. 15th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
Ah!!! at last I found what I was looking for. Somtimes it takes so much effort to find even tiny useful piece of information.

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