During a recent zoom meeting with other writers, we discussed a new toy I bought that frees me from losing the notebooks that I use. The group of four split in half over the writing process. Two did everything on the computer, and two used paper and pencil in the form of the small spiral-bound notebooks for plot notes while writing. Clearly, I was one of the latter. Which got me thinking about the act of writing a book.
It is as individual as the writer. For instance, those who write historical fiction split into two camps, as well. One camp does all their research upfront, adding to it as needed. Others get the idea, plunge in, and do the research as they roll along, adjusting as need be. There may be a third camp of folks who immerse themselves in the period, then let rip.
Some writers are uncomfortable knowing the ending because then there is no point in telling the story. Some wouldn’t start a book without knowing exactly how it ends. Some writers never talk about a book while writing it because, once told, the ink is gone from the bottle.
Some know the title and write to it. Some let the book title itself. Which is how a book titled Gridlines ends up Saving Calypso.
Some writers outline: for others, the first draft is the outline. I suspect writing an outline first is the professional way to attack it, especially with a series. But there is also a lot to be said for letting the characters tell their own story. Admittedly, you don’t always end up where you thought you would. Characters have a habit of misbehaving.
Your characters should be breathing before you begin to write, in my world anyway. If you know them, and they know you, you can rely on their help to get out of tight jambs. And, if in your mind they walk the earth, each character will have their own voice and pitch. Writers split on character building, too. Some use templates that provide essentials about their characters, and some use notebooks as the characters grow and change. It happens, the good guy becomes the bad, the bad guy—good, the slimy one the romancer, the romancer the killer. Writing is a messy business. Though I suspect for some, it is well ordered, precise, and disciplined. Not me. I am admittedly messy.
I do know if you have a story that you think is worth telling, a mystery in your heart dying for the light of day, or a newspaper article that sets off a chain reaction like a nuclear plant melting down, then the first step is to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair. The daily discipline of writing is how you get 70,000 and 100,000 words between a printed cover.
Once you are seated, you can draw, outline, noodle in notebooks, talk to a recorder, or just open a blank page and start typing. The point is there is no right or wrong way, only getting started. Like a lot of writers, I’ve been struggling recently to write anything at all. During the telephone call above, my writer friends confirmed that they, too, were in the same fix until now. What changed? We are all vaccinated. The world feels a little freer; no more worries every time you step outside your bubble. It turns out in addition to applying your bottom to a chair, feeling safe frees the inner storyteller.