New blog series: How I Write a Book
*shakes off the dust* It's been a while since I touched this blog, eh? I kept intending to post updates, but launching THE LAST WINDWITCH and working on edits for LARK AND THE WILD HUNT (my second middle grade fantasy) took so much time and energy I just never quite managed. And then I figured my life is pretty boring - other than the excitement of a book coming out, being a full-time author involves lots of reading, frantic messages to other writers, and endless staring at computer screens or blank pages or out the window. In my case it also involves scattered sticky notes and cold cups of tea - which do not make interesting blog topics or pleasing social media aesthetics. ;)
But in the last few weeks I've had a lot of people - more than I ever expected, honestly - ask me versions of, "How do you write a book?" I suspect several were hoping I could give them a straightforward, step-by-step guide to writing a book and getting it published. Unfortunately, there IS no simple guide to getting published. Everyone's creative processes, abilities, ambitions, and opportunities are unique to them. Every story is unique. What works for one writer might not work for another, and what works for one book might not work for the next. (Ask me how I know!)
However, as I wrap up edits on LARK and start writing a fresh new project, I thought this might be a good chance to take you along on the journey if you're curious about how an idea turns into a story and how a story can turn into a book. If my process helps you figure out how to write your book, excellent! If not, then keep experimenting until you find what works for you.
I intend to make this a regular series where I'll show you the steps I take to develop, draft, and revise a story before sending it to my agent. A couple of notes before we begin: 1) I haven't settled on a specific thing quite yet - I'll do that once LARK is completely wrapped up. Right now I'm building the bones of two adult projects I'd like to explore further. They may or may not end up being my next Work In Progress (known as a wip), but the process is largely the same at this stage for any idea I'm considering. 2) I will also be polishing a middle grade proposal for my agent to submit as an option to my editor at some point. If my publisher buys it, my priorities will shift to that book instead, but again, my process at the beginning of any story is pretty similar, regardless of what I'm working on.
So! Where do we start?
Well, I start with an idea. At first, it's a vague sense of place, people, and time. It's a feeling, a tone, a texture. A concept. I find a couple of notebooks that represent some aspect of the idea in my mind.
Here are the notebooks for one project.
And here are the notebooks for another.
I tend to choose traveler's style notebooks so I can keep separate sections for character notes, setting/worldbuilding notes, plot notes, etc. I like to keep a different notebook for research and one for drafting scene sketches. (I do a lot of writing by hand because I think better that way, especially at the very beginning of a project.)
Research for my middle grade books tends to be foundational since they're original stories and don't require much investigation, but I still like to dive into literary analysis of myth and folklore, perhaps do some readings on unusual interpretations of fairytales, etc. But one of my possible adult projects requires extensive historical research and the other seems to need some superficial fact-finding on a wide variety of topics, so in between my deadlines I've been taking notes.
(These are from The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum, because I was curious about the development of forensic science and the evolution of criminology in the early 20th century. None of what you see on this page will be in the story, but it helps inform and shape a possible plot point. I needed some concrete information in order to know what could be credible. Sometimes the most significant research - at least for me - is tangential to the story I'm actually going to tell. Also, I don't always know what facts will be critical until I've done some digging and let more ideas develop, so I read widely and take a lot of notes.)
During this developmental stage, I start scribbling down whatever occurs to me. Places, snatches of conversation, character descriptions, questions that interest me, motifs, themes - I write it all in my notebooks. I start to explore what-ifs - what if this character did this? What if they did that? What if they're hiding a secret and it means that this thing will happen? I ask where they've come from and what they want. What is the central conflict, and what are the subplots? What resolution do I want the story to work towards? What assumptions am I challenging?
When I start to feel the shape of the story gaining substance and growing more solid, I write a synopsis - which we'll talk about in the next post because I've got some more research and brainstorming to do this weekend. :)