What do you think of when I say I’m “writing?” I suspect most people envision the creation of the first draft of a book, the putting of words on paper, er, or into a word processor, This week I’ve been putting down words, creating new prose, at a steady pace. So. Writing.
In some ways drafting the new prose is the hardest thing. I’m what they call a pantser, or someone who writes by the seat of her pants. The old joke is “What does a pantser call the outline?” Answer? “The first draft.” Obviously that isn’t strictly speaking true. I can’t start writing unless I know where I’m going and who (as in characters) are taking me there. Every author’s process is different, but the parts and pieces may surprise you. A book begins with envisioning.
Envisioning—got it? So if I’m staring a wall, zoning out during dinner, or taking solitary walks, I’m writing. That’s where the stories come from. I need characters and I need to know them well if I’m going to pour emotion and conflict onto the page. I have to understand their goals, frustrations, weaknesses and issues
Envisioning for me also means setting. Ok, I admit it. I choose settings because they sound cool I don’t always know exactly what impact the setting will have on the characters. Yes, I research the setting and the historical context for my story. Putting someone in Egypt in 1839? Sure. Just let me go find out what actually went on.
Once I have characters, an end goal and the broad outlines of the setting and era I start putting words down. Almost immediately two things happen. One, my understanding of the characters deepens and I begin to envision key turning points I will have to hit. I’m already writing when the rudiments of an outline come into focus. And two, I realize how much I don’t know about the historical context. Solution? More research! It is pretty much constant.
Research is writing, too. So if you see me all over the Internet, I’m writing. The trick is to not give in to the temptation to chase every fact and detail when you should be putting words to paper. On the other hand, sometimes the words you need are in the research. Its a balancing act. Last week I got Richard and Ana from Cairo to Karnak via the boats called dahabiya with stops at a few Nile villages. I didn’t realize when I started that if the heroine was a hakima/healer, she would have to be involved in Egypt’s vaccination program or exactly what it was the hero would find that would make his name as an Egyptologist. I have more places than I care to admit with place holders for “verify this,” or “find out xxx.” Yesterday research outran storytelling and I only managed 1000 words. If I’m going meet my goal of finishing 2.5 books this year, I have to speed it up.
I envision then type, then stop to research, then envision even more and type more. And I write romance, so I have to do all those things while keeping the central love story before my eyes. Once I get the draft done I’ll have a book, right? You might think so, but no. That’s about one fourth of the process. The other parts and pieces involve going back and filling the holes and place holders, getting the words right so the prose sings, getting beta readers to help repair plot problems—and that’s before I get to editing. But those are all topics for another day. I have writing to do. But first? Coffee.