I’m writing again.
What does that mean? It means I’ve had a year or more off from my last projects (the publication of my fourth book in October 2013 – Dickinstein – which I wrote in 2012 and the completion of what will be my fifth book – Feeling Himself Forgotten – which I started in 2012 and finished in 2013), and now it’s time to rid my brain of some more demons. Yes, I tend to work on two projects at the same time or at least during the same year.
I took four years off between my first and second book, another three between the second and third, and then another three between the third and the fourth. I don’t intentionally take a break; it just seems to work that way with me. When I wrote my third book in late 2007, I sat on the manuscript until 2010 because I thought it wasn’t good enough to be published. That book – Are You Sitting Down? – is my most popular and bestselling book to date. I also tend to get an idea in my head and rather than react right away, I mull it over and let it sit for a while and age.
It’s often scary to start a new project. It would be much easier to return to a half-written manuscript that I started years ago, but it doesn’t work that way with me. It has to be the story that my muse wants me to tell right then and there. It’s why I stopped writing Feeling Himself Forgotten when I did and started writing Dickinstein in 2012, whose first draft I finished in just eight weeks.
I have to get to know the characters and figure out where they are in their lives, and that can take time or it can happen very quickly. I have to listen to their stories and work them out on the page. And they have to have names! Sure, I could plug in any old name and change it later, but I like a good starting point, and a name is usually what you learn first when you make a friend. So, I spent some time on New Year’s Eve Googling names. I say the names out loud so I can get a feel for how they sound. One syllable names sound strong to me, whereas names with -y on the end sound softer. For this project, I wanted good Southern names.
Sometimes I make notes, especially if there are multiple characters and multiple story lines to keep track of. But I never outline. I like to think about what each character wants or needs in the story, and often some good conflict arises from them trying to get it. And as characters often do, I always discover new things along the way and get taken in new directions that I never anticipated.
When it comes to appearance, I don’t really worry about physical traits. (And I hate when authors get bogged down in descriptions about hair, eye color, or even apparel!) It’s one reason I could never get through an E. Lynn Harris book – he spent paragraphs describing one single outfit from head to toe, and for every character! I leave all of that up to the reader, or at least I try to if it’s not important to my story. Age is more important to me, but not necessarily a number. I care more about indicating the character is elderly, or younger than their sister, or middle-aged and living alone.
I also carefully consider point of view, meaning will I write the book in first person or third person. I’m comfortable doing both, and have, but first person can be more passive. Your narrator also doesn’t have to be truthful to the reader either, and I always plan for that element of surprise. I sometimes think humor is easier to write in first person for some reason. When I started this project, I wrote the first chapter in first person. But then I started the next chapter in third person. I didn’t notice this until I had finished chapter three which was also in third person. That means I’ll probably go back and change the first chapter to third person because it seems this story will need an anonymous all-knowing narrator.
I like to set a goal. In the past, I recorded my word count on my calendar and often aimed for one to two thousand per day. Those who do NaNoWriMo each month can relate to that. This time I’m not worried about words so much so I set a goal for two pages a day. But there’s a twist to that which I will explain in a bit. For this current project, I’m purposely not looking at the word count. I know I will eventually, but for now it’s fun not knowing.
I’m going to self-publish this current project, so I went ahead and set my page size to 5 x 8 which I intend to be the size of the paperback book when I’m done. So already my two page goal for the day is much easier to reach! I didn’t do that on purpose to make my goal smaller; it was more about convenience later when it comes to formatting. I even extended the margins and added headers and footers, and I’m single spacing. This allows me to see what the story will look like physically to the reader. I’ve already changed chapter headers once, and will certainly change them again before it’s all done.
Being traditionally published, I can tell you this is not a good idea to do unless you are going to self-publish as well. If not, stick to the traditional 8.5 x 11 double-spaced page and let your publisher worry about the formatting. All this formatting for a paperback book gets thrown out the window when it comes to E-books, but I’m not going to spend time telling you what to do or not to do there. There’s plenty of information and guides available out there for you to consult about that.
I offer any advice here loosely. This is what works for me. Each writer has their own personal elements that work for them and that’s what makes our stories and thought processes with creating them so unique and interesting. Put ten authors in a room and ask them all about the writing process and they will take to their soap box and elaborate; some might mention the same things about the process but most won’t.
I’m more excited to just be writing again. It’s a personal freedom, often lonely and agonizing, but an artist must create if they want to breathe. Just ask another writer and they will certainly agree to that. I had lost my mojo there for a while and wanted to come out of the slump so I’m hoping 2015 will be a good year creatively for me. With that, I’ve decided to spend some time on the blog this year talking about it. Feel free to ask questions, comment, or chime in with your thoughts. That’s why I labeled this blog post “Part 1.”
More to come…write or wrong!