Writing A Novel is Like…

Writing is like . . .

Baking from a recipe in which the measurements and ingredients come only one at a time and you don’t know what you’re making.

Being lost; you’re not sure where you are but you know you’ll find your way home eventually.

A scavenger hunt. Just follow the clues.

Sinking into a bathtub with frequent temperature changes in the water.

The weather, with all its daily and seasonal changes.

Driving a bit fast on a dark, twisty road. With no headlights.

Writing a Novel is LikePutting together a big puzzle with no picture to guide you.

Having someone else feed you each bite of your favorite meal.

Stringing beads blindfolded and not seeing what you created until after you’re done.

A long conversation with a total stranger.

Waiting in line for hours for a ten-minute ride on an awesome roller coaster.

Waiting in the wings for your first public performance.

Navigating with a map full of holes.

The best sunrise after the longest night.


What is writing like for you?


Writing Dark Stuff

Writing Dark StuffAmanda recently wrote a post on getting rid of our writing filters and I’m still thinking about the topic.  My writing friends are not surprised when I pull a twisted, blackened story out of the stuff between my ears, but my relatives are always taken aback. I’m the responsible one, the nice one, the compassionate empathetic one. I laugh easily and smile often (regardless of my perpetual RBF). I look harmless.

But there’s a part of me that is happy to write stories that horrify my mother and make my children a little nervous. I research serial killers and psychopathology. I spent several months learning all I could about long-term captivity and Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t mind talking about autopsies and the Body Farm at dinner (I assure you they very much mind listening).

Joanna Penn has commented several times on her videos that people ask how such a happy, smiling woman can write about things like corpse desecration.  I understand how she feels. There’s something about the dark side that feeds my inner storyteller. I wish I could remember who said this (if you know the reference, please let me know), but someone commented that comedians are often quite depressed and people with bad childhoods often learn to entertain. He or she posits that people with normal lives or happy childhoods might wander into the blacker side of storytelling. I suspect most horror writers are quite normal. I don’t think, if you met me in person, you’d suspect I’ve written about a serial killer’s first time or the calculated revenge of pets.

My filters are to avoid writing anything that might offend family and more delicate friends. For the most part I don’t write gruesome, but turning off that filter on occasion has led me to a few pieces I’m quite happy to have written. The freedom to write what comes to mind is the best writing gift I’ve ever given myself (and credit is due to the Muses for encouraging it).

So why am I telling you this? It’s because I hope all writers will allow themselves space and time to write what comes. You don’t ever have to show it to someone or publish it, but putting the words down is a gift to your inner writer. I think there are two reason for that. The first is that you are getting beyond your filters and thoughts of “I can’t write that!” The second is  that, since writing begets writing, you are opening yourself up to other story ideas if you let yourself go.

I do have hard lines I don’t cross. Ever. But they are a choice rather than a filter imposed upon me by someone else. I hope that makes sense. This post is as much my reaction to Amanda’s encouragement as it is my hope for fellow writers. It’s written in first person because I believe we are not alone in our anxieties when it comes to the words we write. It won’t kill me to be vulnerable, right? And if it helps someone, so much the better.

What I want to say is to write what is in you to write. If that’s zombies, cannibalism, human experiments a la Dr. Mengele, or (insert squeamish thought here), then write it. Leave it in a corner of your hard drive forever if you want, but all writing is good practice and opening yourself up to writing without filters teaches your writer brain to be more forthcoming.

Have you written anything you feel might horrify someone close to you? How difficult was it to write?

Things No One Told Me About Writing

Things No One Told Me About WritingPerhaps the bits of creative process I’m talking about today are unique to pansters (I doubt it) or so common that no one thinks to mention them (possible), or because everyone’s process is so different, I’m the only one that experiences these (doubtful).  There are aspects to the creative process that I find intriguing, frustrating, and necessary.

No one ever told me that I would go on binges of research, sensory input, a process of voracious feeding that encompasses everything from fine art to YouTube. In addition to the main line of research, tangential topics are also pursued with avid interest.  No one told me that the longer I neglected to balance the input of life and senses with the output of words, the more single-minded this pursuit would become until it would completely take over my waking hours for weeks on end.

No one ever told me that there would come a time in the creative process when I would put my pen down and not pick it up again for sometimes two or three weeks. I write every day, both on key board and by hand.  For it to stop and for there to be an almost secretive sense of hoarding words was a startling experience.  It certainly doesn’t fit in with what I believe about producing on a regular basis whether I feel like it or not. This weird little turn out in the road would stump me until it happened three or four times and then just became an acknowledged part of my process. When I start hoarding words and want to clean the whole house, it’s time to clear my schedule.  A novel is coming.

No one ever told me that sometimes I would be overly emotional for no reason and, in turning to my journal for relief, would find myself writing a story just a few paragraphs into a normal entry—and that it would not stop until it was finished. These are usually the most poignant bits of flash fiction, essay, and short story I’ve written to date, and complete surprises. I had no idea I would sometimes capture a character’s emotion before the character or their story.

No one told me that my most deep-seated need in life (to write) would be a non-event for those closest to me.  Of the 10 or so family members I communicate with most often, only two have read my stories. Only two have any interest in the thing that drives my being and neither of them are under my roof. Writer friends and critique groups are priceless and the close friendships I’ve made through them are sustaining in such necessary ways. They let my family off the hook.

No one told me of the deep contentment I feel in the midst of a writing session.  Whether it’s going well or not, the act of putting a story on paper, one word at a time, brings a joy not repeated elsewhere. Though I resist as strongly as any other writer, once I’m putting those words down, my world comes right and life is good.

No one told me that I would flip the “normal” process of struggling through a draft and then enjoy the edits.  Drafts are easy and generally take thirty days or less for me.  Edits are painful, slow, and agonizing. I am apparently Queen of Opposite Day in the writing world.

No one told me that stories can die.  Sometimes it’s because what I thought was a novel is really a short story.  Sometimes it’s because there’s a fatal flaw in the premise. Thankfully, I’ve only experienced one major story death in the last few years, but they are painful and unsettling.


 What are some of the things no one told you?

Developing Personal Characteristics for Your Character

What's In Your Character's Wallet?Some characters are shy or too private to get to know easily. One way to get to know your character and develop their personal characteristics is to use what I call the “What’s In” technique. Just ask the following questions. Think about the answers and take notes.

What is in his/her closet? What kinds, styles, and colors of clothing hang there? Any memorabilia stored on the shelves? Is the closet organized or chaotic? Wire, plastic, or wooden hangers? Are there dry cleaning bags? Anything kept hidden at the back? What about dresser drawers? What is kept beneath socks or winter sweaters? What sort of undergarments and sleepwear do you find? In what colors and fabrics? What do these spaces and clothing tell you about your character?

What is in his/her purse or wallet? Look in every pocket. Are there photos? Phone numbers? Ticket stubs? How many credit cards? What are their limits and balances? What membership cards do you see? Stores, restaurants, gym? Is there a library card? Security access passes? How used or worn are any of the cards? Did you find anything unusual? Is the wallet/purse always on your character’s person or casually stored? What is the quality of the wallet or style of handbag? What do these things tell you?

What is in his/her car? Start with make, model, and year. What color is the car? What color is the upholstery? Is it cloth, leather, or vinyl? Is the car messy or fully detailed? What’s in the glove box? The console? Which radio stations are programmed? Are there luxury add-ons like GPS, Onstar, satellite radio? What’s on the floor on the passenger side? In the back seat? How does your character feel about the car? Is it a tool or is it a status symbol? Are they regular about maintenance? Does the car have any mechanical or electrical issues? How common is the make and model in the same town? What can you learn with this information?

What is in his/her desk drawers at work? (If the character doesn’t have a job, substitute a junk drawer). Are there any office supplies your character hoards such as paper clips, pens, or staples? Where are personal items kept? What sort? What sort of snacks are in the drawers and how fresh? Is the desk shared or used only by your character? Is it organized or messy? Sit at the desk and describe all you see. Open each drawer. Look in each cubby. Examine the desk top and every item on it. What does your character reveal about personality and attitude about the job?

If you like, extend questions like these to other areas of your character’s life such as medicine cabinets, bedside tables, pockets, lockers, backpacks, whatever you can think of that might contain personal, professional, and hobby items belonging to your character.

What is the most unusual item in your wallet or purse? What does it say about you?