The top three questions I get asked about writing are:
“What do you DO to get your books written?”
“Where do you find the TIME to write?”
“Where do you get your IDEAS?”
Today, I’m going to share with you my process for drafting a manuscript. In other words, what I DO to get that story out of my head and into a form that will one day become a book! Keep in mind, Gentle Reader, that this is my way. You might try this stuff and become the next Charles Dickens. You might decide to leave the writing to us “touched in the head” folk and pursue the concert ukulele instead. Since I’ve been a school marm for umpteen years, I’m going to use the good ‘ole 5Ws and an H framework to show you how I give this book-writing thing a whirl.
It all starts with character! I use lists to “sketch” what my characters will be like. Sometimes, I actually draw, but my artistic skills are about on par with a right-handed 3rd grader testing out her left-handed dexterity, so that’s rudimentary at best. I’m much more concerned with the psyche of my characters, what makes them tick. That’s what I, pardon the pun, flesh out first. I want to set up what drives the character to act or react. I probe inside her head and heart. So, I build my characters from the inside out, starting with the prime antagonist.
That’s the idea that shapes the narrative. If we were in a high school class, this is the part where I’d be beating the concept of a thesis statement over your head. If you ever watched that totally cool animal show called Zooboomafoo, which later morphed into Wild Kratts, this is the big “What if”. I write that “What if” down and stick it in the front of my notebook. It becomes the guiding idea for the story. For my Southern gothic Clemenceau’s Daughters horrors, it’s “What if personality runs in a family as surely as looks, and what if that personality is evil?”
The best time to write, for me, are those witching hours between 2 AM and 5 AM. My mind is not crowded with the minutiae of the day and I don’t get pestered by kids/husband/pets/to-do lists. I can slip easily into that semi-lucid juncture between nightmare and reality, where imagination is keen. It’s my sweet spot for drafting creepy scenes! I hit one of these nocturnal writing jags once or twice a week. I pay for it later, but it sure is worth it!
I have a lovely little writing cottage out in the backyard. That’s where I get down to the business of writing, and by business I mean editing. Editing is where the real work is. My drafting, or manuscript creation, is much more casual. I carry a notebook with me to jot ideas as they occur. Most commonly, I draft from a big comfy chair in my living room with a cup of coffee by my side. Once day breaks, you can find me somewhere about the farm. I like to write outside! I’ve also drafted scenes at basketball practices, parking lots, and waiting rooms. If I’m out in public, I’ll draft on a laptop. Folks tend to assume I’m “working” if I have that computer out. They get chatty if I’m trying to fill up a notebook. I try to be flexible. If I always waited for the perfect conditions to write, I’d never get a book finished!
I go down a lot of rabbit holes while I’m drafting because it’s the why that I’m really after. I work different scenarios for my characters to see how their reactions radiate into the scope of the action. In all this, I find the meat of my stories. Shakespeare tells us straight up that Romeo and Juliet are going to die in the prologue of the play. That’s not what holds us in thrall. It’s the why of the tragedy that makes it so poignant and real. Dig into your whys and you’ll connect with the humanity of your characters.
And a HOW
Unless I’m out around people (and don’t want them pestering me), I do my drafting the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. I prefer college ruled legal pads. I’m left-handed, so spiral notebooks get on my nerves even when I go at them backwards. A legal pad is portable and quite satisfying when filled. Right now, I’m drafting in a bound blank book. The pages fill faster, but it’s a ruse. It feels like I’m getting more done than I actually am. I’ll be right back to my trusty legal pad as soon as I get the book filled up. Something about the physicality of a pen scratching on paper helps me think. It’s slow enough for me to “look around” the story as I’m writing it. When I’m on my laptop, I am much more easily distracted, even when I have the internet shut off. The handwriting component keeps me focused on building the narrative. Once I start keyboarding, I tend to be all about editing and tweaking. My habit is to type up whatever I’ve drafted for the week on Sunday afternoons. I do preliminary editing as I go and keep a list of new ideas that pop up so that I can work on them the next week. This way, I make clear progress in getting a product ready for my publisher. They don’t really “take” handwritten manuscripts these days!
So, there you have it: the stuff I DO to make my books become real. It’s a marathon mentality for the most part. Do you write? Keep a journal? What are some of the things YOU do to get those stories out of your head? I’d love for you to jump in! Your techniques may very well inspire the writer the 21st century’s been waiting for!
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