I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hear about how I write books. The process varies, is ugly and too often throws me into self-doubt and torment. But if you relate to that, perhaps it’ll help to know you’re not alone. Or, maybe reading my process will give you great satisfaction, knowing yours is neater and far more productive. In that case, grab this chance to feel smug. They don't come often.
What I write: Inspirational historical romances for my wonderful publisher Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical.
Where I write: I write at my computer, a desk top, in my office on a balcony overlooking our living room with a great view of the outside world. I used to write in a bedroom, staring at a blank wall. Both work. I often forget to look at much more than my screen anyhow. I even have a Post-It note on my monitor to remind me to blink. But when I get up to replenish my water or for a stretch, I may see a blue heron and stop and admire him. Now geese.... Well, I won't insult our Canadian friends. I don't write away from home. I can barely type on a laptop. To use one I have to attach a full-sized keyboard. I'm sure I'd be banned from coffee shops so I don't go there except to meet my critique partner.
I take hard copy and craft books to more comfortable spots in the house to read. This room right off my office is furnished with my great-grandparents' wicker furniture and my mother-in-law's two dolls and some ladyhead vases, all the girly stuff I love.
When I write: I write for the length of time it takes to reach my daily word count. If I don’t make my goal, I catch up on Saturday. Saturday is the day, if we're home, that I do writing-related jobs like promotion. I try to take Sundays off except when deadlines loom. I don’t write on vacations. Again that laptop thing. But I read and revise manuscripts when I'm away. I love doing this stuff in a car. Need I say I'm not driving? LOL
How I write: I get the germ of an idea for my story. Germs are catchy. I catch mine from historical nuggets. Well, usually. An article on the orphan train phenomenon was the germ for the first two books, Courting Miss Adelaide and Courting the Doctor’s Daughter. A curiosity about mail-order brides led to research that planted the seed for The Substitute Bride. A story idea may come from or be enriched by historic social issues like suffrage, as seen in Courting Miss Adelaide. Or as in my March 2011 novel, Wanted: A Family, an interest in how society viewed unwed mothers years ago as compared to today.
But just having a slice of history or a look at mores doesn’t get me far. Next I play the “What If?” game. I look for something big, something universal that readers care about and can identify with even today. What if...a single woman saw the orphan train as her only way to mother a child? What if...the father of an adopted child in your care showed up in town? Taking a slightly different angle: What circumstances would make a woman desperate enough to marry a stranger? What happens when Christians rank sin?
Once I’ve got a feel for the direction of my story, I decide on my setting, not difficult since I write small-town stories set in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Sounds easy and up till now it is.
The planning stage: After this, I name my characters and decide on their goals, their motivation and take a stab at their conflicts. I don’t have much success with character sheets. I can’t seem to think about my story or my characters in the early phase without writing. Internal conflicts are fun. I love making up all the experiences (back story) that would give a character a false sense of self or an inability to move on with their lives. External conflicts are hard for me, especially book-length conflicts. I often stumble at this point. When I do, I brainstorm with Seekers or my critique partners, or think about tried and true conflicts like two dogs with one bone that will make the characters change and grow. And that will impact the reader, perhaps even make her change and grow too.
Usually the inciting incident comes to me, kind of out of the blue. I have never been given a story as some authors state, but I do get a snippet of an incident that kick-starts the story and brings the hero and heroine together. Examples of the inciting incident that brought the hero and heroine together: In Courting Miss Adelaide, Adelaide asks for an orphan. The hero is on the selection committee. In Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, Mary distrusts patent medicines. The hero is peddling his remedy. I try to charge the inciting incident with emotion or conflict. The character's goal in the inciting incident is rarely the characters’ book-length goal but needs to hook the reader.
The book-length goal comes next or perhaps I have it all along. No absolutes in my process. Callie’s goal in my March 2011 release, Wanted: A Family is to make her house safe so she can house unwed mothers, but the goal expands to working to change community judgment of these young women.
At the point where I have a book-length goal and characters, I run a blurb of the story idea past my editor in an e-mail. I learned the value of doing this when I wrote a proposal that my editor rejected.
Once I get approval, usually in a day or two, I write or continue writing the first three chapters and synopsis. Getting the book into a synopsis before I write the story is really hard for me—deciding the turning points, setbacks, black moment and climax of the story, all the things I must give my editor before we go to contract. I’m not sure I fit into either a Seat of the Pants or plotter category.
During the synopsis phase, I feel like a wanderer lost in the wilderness without a compass. Yes, I have lots resources, craft books and techniques that help. One of my favorite craft tools is Alicia Rasley’s The Story Within Guidebook that’s interactive exercises help to trigger ideas. But I still flounder around until I get a sense of the book. I also do research to make sure what I want to have happen in my story is historically feasible. It's upsetting to find out it isn't, but far better now than later. I told you this was ugly.
Once the proposal is accepted and a deadline set, I divide the number of words I have to write by the time allotted me, writing five days a week. My goal is to have the story written with a month or maybe two to revise so I shorten my deadline to accomplish that. As the deadline approaches, I’m at my desk 24/7. I want to learn to write faster to avoid this pressure as its draining.
Writing the book: I have some scenes I know I want to write that involve major events, but I try to make sure that scenes spring from the characters. To do that, I give the point of view character a goal in the scene that stems from events in the previous scene and relates to the book-length goal. Boy that's a mouthful. I hope that makes sense. At the end of the scene, the character either fails to get the goal or getting it makes things worse in some way. Now this has again really hard for me. As the author, I’m tempted to have my own goal for the scene, but I’m learning that can make the writing episodic or if there's no goal, I can end up with a tea scene, which may show characterization, let’s say, but nothing happens to forward the plot. If you want to read more in Seekerville that I wrote about writing scenes based on the character’s goal, go here. When I get stuck, I reread the book from the beginning. I cannot write a rough draft all the way through to save me. I know I should, but I am too anal to ignore stuff that bothers me. This doesn’t mean that when I finish a manuscript that it's ready. It still needs loads of polishing.
Revising: After the bulk of the book is written, I read it all the way through and jot notes to myself on what to fix. If I’m pressed for time, I read on the computer though hard copy is the best way to catch errors. I look at word choice--try to use stronger words and get rid of repetitive words. I look for ways to up conflict, add emotion and sexual tension. I try to enrich senses/setting. I rewrite to get rid of passive voice and telling. I look to see if I can bring the beginning and the ending full circle--tie it together some way. The list is long.
The story rarely ends up as the synopsis promised. Thankfully it usually has more depth, more issues that arise and hopefully more surprises for the reader.
Did you notice I didn't once mention a spreadsheet, Pam and Myra? LOL Yep, we're all different. If you managed to hang in through all that, leave a comment for a chance to win a $20 Starbucks gift card. I’d love to hear how you write. Hey, I'm looking for tips to make my process easier. Bottom line, writing isn’t easy. But a book finished is oh, so satisfying.
I brought veggie omelets, hot coffee and Lady Gray tea. We're eating on the patio so pull up a chair and let's talk writing.