Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How did I write a book?

“How did you write a book?”

It’s probably the question I’ve been asked as much as what my book is about.  To me, it’s like asking why the sky is blue.  The truth is I don’t have a straight answer.  Telling people about my book in 140 characters on Twitter is easier than telling them how I wrote it.  But because I can’t leave a question unanswered, I am going to tell you how I actually wrote it and what I do while I write.

I’ve told the story before, but I’ll tell give you the abridged version on how I came to write my first book.  For those who want to read the full story, here’s the link to my very first blog post in which I go into more detail:

Back in 2009, I broke my ankle, leading to me spending LOTS of time sitting around.  I started thinking up stories and one story idea just stuck with me.  6 weeks later, I’d completed work on my first draft on Unnatural, the first novel in a series I’ve created.  Fast forward to the present where I’m in the 5th and (hopefully) final draft of Unnatural and slowly sending out queries to agents after many, many rounds of edits and critiques, buffing and polishing my manuscript to a nice shine.

Now I’ll tell you what I needed in order to write Unnatural and what I still need to write to this day.

The Process:

As I’ve mentioned before, music is a muse and a must-have element in my writing process (not so much in the creative process, because that just happens on its own.  I’ll talk more about that later).  Some days I’ll know exactly what I need to listen to and others I have to scroll through the thousands of tracks I have until one sets the mood.  If I don’t have time to scroll (like when I’m trying to squeeze in some writing during my son’s very short naps), I have “go-to” artists I’ll put on, such as Paramore, Muse and The Bravery.  These in particular almost always help to set the mood for my writing time.

Once I’ve got my music going, I focus on clearing out the static around me; no twitter, facebook or email, no phone calls and no husband and baby (love them to pieces, but frankly, I can’t get anything done with them around).

So I’ve got my music going, I’m static-free, what next?  I need something pretty and inspiring to look at when I need a moment of reflection.  If I’m writing during daylight, I open my blinds.  I have a decent view of rooftops, trees, small mountains and endless sky to look at.  It’s not a fantastic, million-dollar view or anything, but it’s enough for me.  If it’s nighttime—which has become my temporary writing time until January—I google a picture of the area the current story takes place in.  Visual aids are very helpful during the wee hours.

To be as accurate as possible, a lot of writing requires research, so I pull together any reference guides I may need, any research that I’ve done that will help and keep them handy to avoid disturbing my flow.  Who wants to be in the middle of a scene and have to get up from their seat to search for a book or scour the web?  Not me.  Like a boy scout, I’m always prepared.

Then, if I’m being candid—which I always am—I stare.  I stare at my work-in-progress or a blank word document until my fingers start typing.  To avoid hours of just sitting and staring, I have notes written out on a pad of paper or in another word document on my second monitor and reference them for a mental kick.  (For those of you who’ve never used a dual-monitor set up, I HIGHLY recommend it if you’re like me and have several pages open at once on your PC and need to reference them often).  That usually gets the ball rolling, but if it doesn’t, I wait until my creative juices start flowing naturally. 

I don’t force my writing because when I do, it usually ends up being deleted.  It could take minutes or hours, but I always wait it out.  I think of my stories as real and my characters like real people; would I force a friend to tell me their story?  To relay a problem their having or a past event to me in specific, intimate details when they’re not ready to?  No.  So I don’t do that to my characters.  Otherwise, they go on strike and then I’m really stuck staring at a blank screen for days, possibly weeks until they feel I’ve been punished enough and decide to forgive me.  I don’t push them and they don’t push me (usually).

And that’s it.  That is my process.  To some it may seem simple, to others complicated.  But none of this matters without the creativity, which leads me to the second part of this blog post.

The Creativity:

I can’t say where my ideas come from.  I know, it sounds like a cop-out, so I’ll elaborate.  I take a topic I like, such as paranormal elements, and the characters introduce themselves to me.  Then I let it play out in my mind like a movie.  If the reel sputters then fails, I know the story is not worth my attention.  But if it plays smoothly and on repeat, new elements showing up with each playback, then I have a story to be told.  Or if I have a character that simply won’t leave my thoughts, I know I need to work with them to get their story out. 

I may get some eye rolls for this, but I’ve been doing this for so long that my mind is now on auto-pilot, and the ideas just come to me, unexpectedly, no prompting needed.  And out comes the laptop (or pen and paper, or eyeliner and napkin, whatever I can get my hands on when it needs to be written).

What I can say is where my creativity happens.  I get most of my ideas and do my best thinking in the shower and while driving my car; the two places a laptop can’t be of use.  I guess those are the places I relax my brain enough to let my mind open up to story/character invasions.  When I don’t have so much on my plate, I also get ideas while trying to fall asleep at night, another place my laptop is not welcome (though my husband now understands that it’s more effective for me to use a netbook I keep on my nightstand than having me run back and forth from my bedroom to my office).

And that’s my best answer to the question that kicked off this blog post.  I could have posted a more technical answer about how to write dialogue and structure a story, but I think I’ll save those topics for later posts. 

I’d love to hear what my fellow writers do when you write and how your creations are born, so if you’re willing to share, leave a comment below or send me a tweet or email at the right.  I’m interested to hear all about it, especially any strange rituals or practices that are a must to make it happen for you.

If you’re thinking about writing a book but don’t know where to start, start at the beginning; read reference books on writing and stories in the genre you want to write in.  Carry a notebook with you for when ideas strike.  Create an outline or a summary of the story you want to tell.  Or be like me and just dive right in, writing from beginning to end or write scenes as they come to you, piecing everything together and filling in the cracks later.  Figure out what works for you.  Get in your own zone and go for it, just let it happen.  My best piece of advice to offer is to stay dedicated.  It’s all on you.  After all, the story isn’t going to write itself.  ;-)  

I’ll be back next week with a post on a writing support system and its importance.  Stay classy, readers.  <3

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