How I Write
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
The most frequent question I receive is how do I immerse myself into writing a novel? How does one keep the characters alive, the plot tight and the voice intriguing for hundreds of pages and thousands of words?
The truth is, I never set out to write a book.
What works for me is to write in scenes, little snippets of ideas, conversations, and actions these characters do. It’s like a movie playing in my mind’s eye, and with as much detail as I can muster and wrangle in the English vocabulary, I’ll write it down. Then later I re-work the scene and connect it to the next bright spot of my imagination. And then I go do dishes or cook cookies or read a book and let the idea simmer until another scene plays. The words always come, the characters are always there, and there is always more to be written, until there isn’t, and the story is done.
For me, that is when the scenes stop coming in pictures, and I have written everything that needs to be said, said. Of course, then there is revising, but the main heart of the story is there embedded in each scene and page to hold everything together in a type of writerly goo.
Of course, having dyslexia kind of slows this down when re-editing and trying to remember what word you wanted to use. But that’s part of the process too.
By stringing along these movie clips the scenes go from a page, to three, to five, to hundreds. There they all tumble over each other in a mess of which moment outshines all the others for the most excitement and biggest climatic exchange and who done-it end. It’s a surprise and delight to find out which characters live on, and which say something unexpected that sparks a fire for a series. The worlds are created and the plot thickens and the characters say something stupid or cliché and you chastise yourself for ever thinking that cheese-ball line. And you remember why you love this world to begin with. Why this character makes you smile, and laugh out loud at a line you forgot you wrote.
You are a creator. Keep creating.
Two things, no three, I always keep in the back of my mind while writing. One, write the books you want to read (quote from someone I'm sure). Two, what is the worst thing that could happen to the characters, and then make it happen (loosely remembered from the book Writing the Break Out Novel by Donald Maass). Three, write every day, even if it is just one sentence, like Blah, blah, bah. There you go you have a sentence. (loosely remembered from that one time I heard an author speak at my high school and I can’t remember their name off the top of my head years later, sorry!)
For me, a novel never starts out as a novel. I have never been one to outline novels and I most certainly never curve what the characters beg to have happen, even if that means one of them must die, or change in a way I never thought they would. Writing is like anything else, it is time, patience, and fun. Above all else, writing should be fun. Are you excited, no giddy, at a scene? Are you in love with a line or word choice? What about the place and time? If these things don’t make your heart sing, what will your reader feel?
Whether it is a short story, poem, or novel, the only person at the end of the day it matters to most, is you. Writing for the joy of writing. It is a process, to write, to query agents, to publish, then to promote, and repeat. Enjoy the process, breathe, write, take a break to call a friend to avoid the all too familiar writer’s-alone-too-much-with-their-piece-breakdown. And then do it again. And again. Because your story matters. And no one else is going to tell it better, then you.
Cheers to the writers and your many adventures waiting to be jotted down in the middle of the night, and squinted at in the light of day. You have this.