Not long ago, I got an email from my good friend Sue who said she was just passed the half-way point in my second book, The Treasures of Venice (Here's a piccie of Sue and me at one of my book launch parties). Like any true friend, she told me how much she loved the story thus far and then she asked, “How do you do it? How do you come up with all these characters, the plot and all the details?”
My friend JoAnne had a similar reaction when she finished reading my debut release The Wild Sight. Her first question was, “How did you come up with all those words?”
I always hear about writers who “court their muse” or wait for “inspiration” but I’m definitely not one of them. I fall into the category of those who just keep showing up and forcing the words out. For me, writing is a lot like any other skill (like tennis or knitting), the more I do it, the more I want to do it and the better I get at doing it.
I am NOT a morning person. Everyone who knows me knows better than to call me before 9:00 AM because I’m seldom awake before then, and I’m not really fully functional before 10:00. My optimal writing time is between 1 and 6 PM so that is when I write.
Okay, I also like to go out to lunch with friends, so I often don’t get started until 1:30 and sometimes I’ll sneak in another hour or two after dinner. But my writing routine generally consists of doing emails, blogs, and other correspondence in the mornings. Then every afternoon, Monday through Friday, I write from about 1 until 6. Saturdays and Sundays I am not so disciplined, but I often do revisions and critiques on those days. Plus, my DH is a big auto racing fan, so I am a ‘racing widow’ on Saturday nights during racing season (March to October). If I am ‘on a writing roll’ or I have a deadline, I’ll write on Saturday nights, often into the wee hours of the morning.
I am what we writers call a ‘pantser,’ which means I write by the seat of my pants. The opposite of a ‘pantser’ is a ‘plotter.’ This is someone who lays out everything before they write one word of their story. Heaven knows I have tried to be more of a plotter. I went so far as to write an eleven page outline of The Wild Sight before I started writing the first draft. Unfortunately, my characters had other ideas, and by the third chapter, I’d gone so far astray from the outline that it was useless.
When I wrote The Treasures of Venice, I was totally ‘pantsing’ the whole thing! I knew who my characters were, that the jewels had been stolen and somehow they must be found again. But I didn’t have a clue how.
Part of the beauty of being a ‘pantser’ is that my sub-conscious is constantly working on my story whether I am writing or not. I distinctly remember I was in the middle of writing Chapter 6, when one morning I woke up and BAM! I knew the ending! I knew exactly where and how they were going to find those jewels. I felt great!
If only my writing process always worked that way, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Sometimes I write myself into a corner and I have to stop working on the story, go away and do something else for awhile and let my sub-conscious sort things out. Luckily, within a few hours it usually does. And then there are the days when I’m on that ‘writing roll’ I mentioned. Those are the days it is truly wonderful to be a ‘pantser!’ The words just flow and I almost feel like I am ‘channeling’ my characters. I love those days.
So, in a nutshell, that’s how I do it: Show up everyday, give my sub-conscious free rein, and hope that my characters take over. I’m not exactly sure why this works, and I definitely don’t recommend every writer try it. I only know it works for me.