My non-writer friends often ask me, “How do you go about writing a book?”
I used to think writers plunked themselves down, pen (or keyboard) in hand, started on page one and continued on through the end and then – voila! A book! Non-writer friends look at me a little funny when I say things like, “I don’t always know what will happen when I start to write.” Or, “My characters don’t always listen to me.” Or, “Yes, I finished my sixth draft, but I still have a lot of work to do.” Or, “I forgot to eat yesterday; I was writing and all of a sudden it was one a.m.”
I don’t fault them for their confusion. It confuses me, too.
The writing world likes to divide us into “outliners” and “blank-pagers.” This artificial division oversimplifies things. There are too many of us who are somewhere in between. Sometimes, I sit down with a blank page, let my imagination run, and I’m amazed where I end up.
While working on CHEATER, I bombarded my husband Stephane one day with this: “You will never believe what happened today. Sydney found out that so-and-so is actually so-and-so, and then Arthur said blah blah blah, and then this guy showed up, and it turns out that he blah blah blah…”
Stephane squinted at me and said, “Are you talking about your characters?”
I nodded. “Yeah! Can you believe it? I couldn’t!”
Of course, I was half-joking, but the fact is that sometimes my characters take and over surprise me. And sometimes, several scenes start flying through my brain and so I jot down a few notes and this becomes an outline; a map to follow. So it goes for me.
My first draft is always a skeleton – it has the bones but is missing a lot of the meat and the style. It’s accompanied by an ever-expanding outline of ideas and storylines that I’d like to follow. Sometimes I try to rein my characters in and whip them into place, and sometimes they run wild and it’s all I can do to keep up.
I like to think of it as the competing sides of my brain striking a healthy balance. I’m ridiculously driven, logical, and organized, which helps me tie up all those loose threads in my stories and to finish what I start. But my creative side is in there too, and when I let that loose and allow things to develop organically, I get some of my best stuff.
Finishing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it took my whole brain, a lot of tears, sweat, and some blood (damn papercuts) to do it.
But this I know for sure: Finishing a book felt just as good, if not better, than scoring the game-winning basket, acing that microbiology final, and getting my physical therapy school acceptance letter. No matter what happens with CHEATER, I will never forget the feeling I had when I first saw a book I wrote printed out and nestled in a manuscript box.