Writing Process Blog Hop

Here’s a fun fact about writers. We are fascinated by the creative process and scared of it at the same time, afraid that if we examine it too closely it will vanish like some nebulous Bohr particle. So we look outward to the safer realm of other writers’ processes. We ask them where they get their ideas. Do they use pencils and bar napkins or high powered software? Do they write in their kitchens before dawn or on the bus ride home? How exactly does that muse start flitting around their heads?

My friend and fellow writer Satish Jayaraj asked me to join a writing process blog hop. Satish is the author of Secret of the Naga Dragons; A Tale of Shastra, but he is best known around the local scene as the director of Cracked Walnut, a fabulous reading series dedicated to bringing literature to the public, wherever that public may be. So, as much as I hate to think about it too carefully, here are my answers to the blog hop questions.

1.) What am I working on?

A murder mystery tentatively titled The Shape of Trees, in which a four hundred-year-old curse strikes at the heart of rural Minnesota.

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

To be honest, one of my writing goals is to write in a different genre with each novel. My first novel was an eco-lit thriller. This one is a murder mystery and I’m already thinking through the plot of a young adult fantasy trilogy for my next project.

3.) Why do I write what I write?

I’m going to cheat on this one and refer to an essay I put up on another site about why I write. I guess one thing I don’t write is the same thing twice. 😉

4.) How does my writing process work?

I go through several distinct phases when I’m developing a story. The initial inspiration is something I can’t account for at all. It seems to materialize from the nether regions. The novel I’m finishing right now started with the image of a girl stabbed to death in an abandoned barn. Had I seen any bodies lying around? No. Hear about a stabbing victim? Not so much. The only connection I’ve been able to trace–and trace is the appropriate word, finding the root of this story feels like a forensic exercise–is an old barn I used to drive by as a teenager. It stood on a farmstead surrounded by suburban subdivisions and was half-sunk in a pond bordering the road, its lower boards rotting and falling out like teeth. I never thought of it as a murder scene; I only wondered how it stayed upright year in and year out. It never collapsed, as far as I know. One day when I drove by it was all gone, farm, barn, and even the pond, as another subdivision went up.

After I get that flash of the story and begin writing through the first draft, I always seek inspiration by walking in my characters’ shoes. I talk to people that seem like them. I visit places they have lived or seen. For this ill-fated heroine, I read through all my old high school journals (that’s why I kept those!) and scoured small town newspapers for school stories as well as poetry published by teenagers. No matter what project I’m working on, I intentionally expose myself to a wide variety of information, because I don’t want the story to be too heavily influenced by any one thing. At some point, though, when the characters and themes have fully developed in my head, I have to turn away from the outside world and concentrate on the one I’m creating. That’s when the writing becomes a very isolating activity, and necessarily so. I will spend weeks and months buried in the narrative until it–hopefully–resembles the idea I have for it in my head.

The last phase is revision, my favorite part. This is where I take that half-baked, poorly executed fledgling of a story and turn it into a novel. I’m not talking about a spelling and grammar check. That’s copyediting, folks, and doesn’t even qualify as writing. This type of revision is a bloodbath and major surgery. Thousands of words get mercilessly hacked off, over and over again. A new story forms, a better one. Themes emerge. Subtext lurks. Sometimes I find a perfect word, and this makes my entire day. Eventually, after months or years of this, I’m ready to send this book into the world.

As to habits, I’ve got one of those hyper-scheduled, compartmentalized lives. I write on my lunch hour at work, because that’s the time I have available. Sometimes I’ll play hooky and find a coffee shop or a library, but for the most part I just get those five hours a week on my laptop. Hence the years of revision.

So that’s it, or as close to it as I can bear to examine. If you find yourself hungry for more writing processes, hop along to Satish and Andy’s blogs, just to name a few. And next up in the #Mywritingprocess blog hop is JoeAnn Hart! JoeAnn is the author of Float, a brilliant novel that touches on everything from conceptual art to jellyfish plastic to ocean pollution without losing its fluid momentum toward a spectacular tsunami of an ending. Watch for JoeAnn’s writing process blog coming soon.