Interview with Kerrie Noor

kerrie

Kerrie Noor is an Australian writer who lives in Scotland  and teaches belly dancing. She’s written a series based on that and has recently branched out into science fiction. She agreed to let me quiz her about her books, her writing style, and her process.

You write in diverse genres. Do you think about genre before you start writing? Do you write for different audiences?

Comedy is always the background; for me it seems to be part of my bones. A story starts with a funny scene or dialogue usually from a real-life situation or a cheesy film.  There is a reader I have in my head who I write for, she or he is usually listening with a drink at the bar laughing in the right places. I imagine myself telling him or her the story.

What kind of writer are you? Do you insist on daily word counts? Do you write in silence or with music? In the morning or at night?

I write best in the morning. I often go to bed early, wake at five and that’s when the words flow and the problems melt away. I don’t do a daily word count except at the very beginning when I will try to write 1,000-1,500 words a day. I wake up and just write scenes and dialogue until 1,000-1,500 is done once. When I am at 30,000-40,000 words I stop and try to make sense of it all. I can write anywhere. Sometimes, I like to play meditation new age type music (from Youtube) while writing. 

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

Sleep on it, do something else, usually clean, walk, write a blog, cry, drink, keep going (don’t really cry). I am used to getting stuck. But the best thing is to wake up early and write, it really is so easy to write first thing. Right now, I am at the end of a novel and I am quite stuck so I have printed it out and will read through it all. Actually, when I think about it, the ending is always the hardest for me. I think the ending I am working on just now is quite a painful piece, which is weird as it is a comedy book.

 Can you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?

I had two agents when I started but nothing came of either. So I gave up and self-published my first book which sat on Smashwords and Amazon. I then spent time trying to promote by becoming a story teller/ stand-up comedian, and did a small show in the Edinburgh festival. None of which helped in any way, but was a lot of fun and I still have exaggerated stories in my head to write. It was only when I started Nick Stevenson’s course I began to understand digital marketing.

Talk a bit about your belly dancing books. How much is based on your life? Will there be more to the series?

More is based on my life than I first realised. I started to teach belly dancing at the end of a bad marriage. I was quite depressed and lonely at the time and terrified of leaving him and being even more lonely. I was also quite chubby and felt bad about my body, etc. Belly dancing changed my life. I was so passionate about it and I wanted other women to feel as I did. Sheryl’s Last Stand came from all those feelings.

The Downfall of a Belly Dancer, is more about living in a small place and how we as women relate to each other, and the loss of an ego.  I found when I first discovered belly dancing I became quite full of myself, my ego at times took some knocking and I wanted to write about that and used Nefertiti to express it, I hope with humour.

I have almost finished the third book in the series, Four Takeaways and a Funeral. Nefertiti narrates the story which is all about her pal Mavis. The story is about friendship, sibling rivalry, with a hint of curry…

I have plans for a fourth all about Sheryl again, she wants to become mum.

I have also just published the first in a Sci-Fi comedy series called Rebel Without a Clue. Lots of older women from another planet (Planet Hy Man) behaving badly.  It’s all about power, and what we will do to keep it.

And also, being the odd one out in a world you don’t understand even though you have learnt about it.

To learn more about Kerrie Noor, check out her website. The first book in the Belly dancer series is free on Amazon.

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Coffee Talk: Let’s Talk about Writing

brainstormingSeveral members of our community wrote in and suggested that we have an occasional post where we simply talk about writing.  New or less-experienced writers often have a lot of questions about crafting stories or editing or publishing and can benefit from hearing from more-experienced writers and their efforts in those areas. Similarly, experienced writers can get stuck in a rut where writing is more of a chore than a joy and they can benefit from new ideas, tools, methods and energy from other writers.

So, let’s take today to just talk about writing.  Do you have trouble with some aspect of writing? Do you struggle with a particular tool you use when writing? Are you lacking a tool for some aspect of it?  Do you have a particular tool or writing process you’ve found to be a tremendous benefit to your writing efforts?

We have a vast community of writers with many levels of expertise and experience, and each of us has something to offer and something to learn.  So, grab a cup of coffee or tea or whatever your beverage of choice is and let’s share some ideas, questions and answers here in the comments.

 

Writing fiction in layers results in more speed and less frustration

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week it struck me:  I’ve rarely read an article on how to write fiction—more specifically, how to actually put words down on the page!

When I started writing fiction regularly about eight years ago, I read many books and articles to help me create great plot, make dialog realistic, and strike the right balance between “show” versus “tell”.  I thought I was reading books and articles on how to write.  But instead I was actually reading books and articles on how to create great plot, how to make dialog realistic, and how to strike the right balance between show versus tell.

As a novice writer I’d sit at the keyboard for a couple hours and squeeze out two well-polished paragraphs that read as though they came straight from a book on the shelf of my local bookstore.  But the agonizingly slow pace raised self-doubt, and I’d quickly wind up with an unfinished manuscript of a story that I felt wasn’t worth telling.

Today I have a completely different approach to writing fiction compared to the past. Now I write my story in layers, resulting in a speedier process with overall reduced frustration and self-doubt.

Think for a moment about how a house gets built.  Most people don’t wake up with the idea to build a house and immediately run down to the hardware store to make a huge lumber purchase, or worse yet, buy a brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.  In most cases building a home starts with an idea like desiring a 2-story, 4-bedroom colonial style home, then creating several hastily-drawn sketches, then more formalized measured drawings, then performing the rough framing/plumbing/electrical, then followed by the building shell until finally finishing up with the small details like soft pastel paint colors and finally that brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.

Writing can be less painful if you write in layers:

Layer 1 – Outline

Start with a high-level outline.  I’m not talking about anything fancy here, so just go ahead and open a word processor and drop some bullet-point sentences on the page.  Re-arrange them.  Delete some.  Add new ones.  Get 10-20 sentences on paper in the right sequence that depicts the story you want to tell.  You can even insert page breaks after each sentence to visually depict the start of a new chapter.

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”

Layer 2 – Fleshing the Story Skeleton

Now go back to your word processor and start building in more bullet points to flesh out the story skeleton.  The objective here is not to write a polished product, but instead you just want words on the page:

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”
    • PL standing on church steps, conflicted whether to go inside
    • PL encounters another friend, Lauren, who challenges him on why he’s there
    • PL reluctantly goes inside, realizing he’s turned into “that guy”
    • PL doesn’t quite know his strategy, but feels this is his last chance for true love
    • Ceremony begins, bride looks beautiful, priest asks the infamous question to guests…

Layer 3 – Rough Carpentry

For me, this stage is where the real work begins.  However the frustration level is usually much lower because I can jump around to different parts of the story on different days, taking a sentence or two and writing a few paragraphs.  Maybe I spend fifteen minutes in one session, or two hours in another session:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.  I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.

“Kevin?” asked Lauren.

“Lauren!  What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself!”

It’s a sloppy mess and it won’t win me any awards, I agree.  But at least now I have something down on paper to react to when I come back to revise in another pass.

Layer 4+ – Revision

I generally find my full-length novel equates to about 20,000 words at this point in time.  What’s that, about 80,000 words shy?  Queue the self-doubt.  But alas, now you can begin seasoning your story and adding bulk.  Writing now gets even easier because you have something to react to:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  It was nearly six years to the day since I last stepped inside the church for my nephew Evan’s baptism.  But today was much different.  Today I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.

I stood on the granite steps for several minutes watching many smiling faces enter the church.  Every time the decorative brass doors opened, I could catch a whiff of the residual incense that burned earlier in the morning for Mr. Covey’s funeral.

I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.  “Kevin?”

I turned to find Lauren with a tear on her cheek, and she immediately embraced me in a loving hug.

“You know, there’s still time to turn back…” she whispered in my ear.  “I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself.”

Iterate, iterate, iterate…

I’m skeptical whether there’s value to me in the lather, rinse, repeat directions provided with each bottle of shampoo.  When it comes to writing, however, I’m sold on the iterative approach to building long manuscripts.  For me, it’s invaluable to have something down on the page at each writing session to react to and revise.

Making Habits

I’m mucking out old files. This includes old stories, really bad poems, and sheafs of paper from writing workshops. A little over six years ago I spent my evenings and weekends enmeshed in writing in some form – writing stories, writing reviews of other novice’s stories.

In a short version of things I’ve written before: six years ago I deliberately chose to set creative writing aside to go back to school, but then I also had a baby, making summers just as fraught and exhausting as fall-winter-spring, despite the lack of required reading and academic writing. All and any time to write was sucked up under the heading “Life”. He’s bigger now, not so all-consuming, yet – as you’ve seen – I still struggle to write. In the school semester I’m just too busy. Now, in summer, I still am not writing in the way that I used to. I seem to be out of the habit.

(Not that I’m losing spark or ignoring writing. I have stories and poems developing – eventually I will finish them. I wrote a post about my submissions process. It’s finished; you will never read it. Be grateful.)

Cleaning out my old files leads me, of course, to reviewing all the things I did in the years before my writing time became focused and efficient1. I thought I’d share the ways I’ve approached writing over the years, things that once helped me define and develop my habits. These are by no means all the ways to establish writing habits, simply the ones I’ve done, successfully and not.

Project-based. Some writers work best when they take the project they are interested in and break it down in stages to work on. For a novel, this might be spending week 1 outlining, week 2 writing character interviews/spec sheets, week X-X drafting, etc. Essentially, each writing session begins and ends with a very specific task that relates to the project. I’ve done this, but for me it’s really only effective on academic writing. (And even there I skip outlining.) In creative work I’ve learned I’m a drafter. I can do all the character development pages in the world, but when I sit down to write the story is where I learn who the characters are and what they want.

Spontaneous. The when inspiration hits then write method. It’s fun, exciting, and – to be honest – completely unhelpful with instilling a writing habit. Inspiration sputters out as quick as it ignites. Rather like an inexpertly lit campfire, isn’t it? I’ve tried this method, of course; but find I want to be the expert, the one who keeps the flames going. I don’t tell inspiration to take flaming lessons, but do tell it to have patience.

Timed write. That’s truthfully how this post began.2 The last post I wrote was by the bits-n-pieces method, which started spontaneous then became forced. Again, you will never read that one and you are happier for it.
Timed write goes a couple ways. It can be a short, intense writing session in which you set a timer for 5 minutes and just write. Anything. Everything. Quickly. It’s a wonderful way to cut out the internal editor and loosen up the creative unconscious. Yet I tend to use it more along the in-class essay way. I take myself away from home, pick a topic, set a chunk of time—½ hour or an hour—and write about that topic. Even if the writing’s not terribly focused at first, I have long enough to free-write until I find the heart of the topic. At the end of the chunk of time, I type it into my computer (if I was writing on notebook paper) and edit down to the important points. When it comes to short stories, this method has been doing jack for me

“Morning pages.” I don’t remember which writer advanced this, though one of our editors may remember. Essentially, it’s a first-thing in the writing period technique in which the writer sets down everything and anything that comes to mind for 3 pages. Like timed write, it’s a way to clear out the mental clutter in order to allow the creative subconscious room to stretch. The sweet thing about it is you can do this while a kid is running around the house and jumping on you. It might be a bit less effective that way though.

Writing classes. I work well – really well – with a deadline. I found myself most productive when I took a writing class that required three stories in three months. Of course, I had time to write three of my own and review many other stories from classmates. But also as a class, the time needed to do the work was now psychologically just as important and the time needed to do the dishes / laundry, etc.

What would you add? What have you tried, successfully or not?


 

1meaning that when I sat down to write, I wrote; I made progress on the project I intended to make progress on; I completed drafts. In no way does “focused and efficient” mean one sitting completed a draft, or that a draft was a finished piece.
2It’s been slightly less than one hour since I sat down. Technically, I could keep on writing, but all the didn’t-do’s are creeping back into my brain. Timed writes, I find, push them out for the period of time I declared I get to write. That said, it has a serious flaw in habit-building. It’s impossible to do when you don’t know if you will have ½ hour before the family wakes up. Not to mention, in my house, if I wake up at 5:30 in order to write, my son – if not both son and husband — is up and active 2 minutes after I get my thoughts in order.

Letting Go

You learn, as a young writer, that when authoring a scene and the larger collective story, the hope is to transport the reader into the world that you are creating, to show the wet streets of Asheville, the squash soup on the kitchen vinyl floor, the raise of a chest when the person’s whose chest it is just received news about a car accident that his daughter may have been part of.  You want to plant the reader, you want to carry them, you want to shift the structure of the current place in their own present so they can leave for awhile, to go into what you’ve written.

And where do you carry them?  What do you bring them to see?  We can’t often say, because when we we set off down the river we don’t always know where the river ends.  In life, the living is in the movement–so, too, in writing.  Donald Barthelme said, “The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made.”  Our not-knowing is what allows us to be on the journey that our reader will eventually route on.  The discovery, as it unfolds while we write, keeps us honest and patient, keeps our breathing metered.

So how do we do this?  It isn’t so much of a technique as it is an approach.  We of course know something of our story, our characters.  We know something takes place in Moline, we know John is recently unemployed, we know he loses his wallet in a park.  We know the weather, the types of trees around, but we don’t know all of what’s going to happen.  That’s up to what occurs in the process of our writing, that’s why we write–to know.  The knowing comes during, the knowing comes then.  The knowing doesn’t come before because then the fish is already on the hook and you’ve already cast with it on the end of your line and you’re just waiting to reel it in. What’s important is for us to permit the attributes we do know, the elements, to do their work and for us to then observe that.  Write one good sentence ,and then another, always allowing ample room for development.  Cast with an empty hook.  Then there’s that chance for innovation, then there’s raw creativity, and that’s where the art blooms from.

Take fifteen slips of paper.  On five write jobs: elephant trainer for the circus, captain of a dive boat charter, mail room clerk, etc.  Fill them as you please.  On another five write down characters: a blind 19-year-old mother, a former body builder, and so forth.  And on the last five write motivations: wants to be rich, running from the law, blah, blah.  Blind draw one from each pile and write.  Put something together in short, complete form or start something longer.  And don’t decide where you’re going before you begin to type.  You have interesting elements. Let the story go where it needs to go. You, then, report it.

Encouragement to not change your NaNoWriMo story concept mid-month

We’re roughly halfway through NaNoWriMo and, if everything is going according to plan for us, we’re also roughly halfway through reaching our 50,000 word count goal of our first draft.

In reality, many of us are stuck.  We feel our characters are flat.  Or maybe we’ve written a series of scenes, but when strung together they don’t resemble a cohesive story.  And now, we’re desperate – ready to change our story concept or throw in the towel entirely!

I want to try and convince you why it’s a good idea to stick with your original NaNoWriMo story idea instead of changing to that newer, better idea that came to mind yesterday while sipping lattes and listening to smooth jazz at the local coffee shop.

First thing, take a deep breath.  Let’s look at what you’ve learned so far.  Go ahead and make a short list, and maybe it’ll look something like this:

  • I thought I had a clear idea in my mind of what I’d write.
  • I thought writing by the seat of my pants would be easy.
  • I thought writing based on an outline would be easy.

There’s a great quote attributed to author Mark Twain that summarizes the NaNoWriMo experience:

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”

NaNoWriMo is a bit like that.  You can read other peoples’ posts all you want about how challenging it’s going to be, how beat up and battered you’re going to get, but it’s not real for you until you learn it for yourself.

While it may be tempting to change story concept mid-month, I want to suggest that you don’t.  In reality, you’re going to run into the same challenges as you did with your original concept.  You’ll question your creativity every time, I promise!  So why not embrace this struggle and push through it now?

Imagine if you will that you were being paid to write this novel.  Maybe you stepped in to finish a novel for someone else, or perhaps you’re paid to write a screenplay for a major motion picture studio.  You wouldn’t necessarily have the freedom to change your romance story to that of a sci-fi novel.  Therefore, you should stick it out with your original story concept.  Plus, it’s only a month.  So look at it from the angle of taking with you for life the lessons you learned from this experience.

So how can you recover and make the most of NaNoWriMo 2013?

What I like to do is take a step back and revisit my story concept at the highest level.  I’ve been known to do this daily.  Maybe it can be summarized in simple bullet points like:

  • It’s a love story.
  • Boy and girl meet in summer at the beach.
  • Boy and girl risk losing each other when the summer ends.

I then look at what I’ve written as part of my story so far.  Have I deviated from these bullet point objective?  If yes, let me put myself back on course.  If not, then I am reassured I’m still on track.

See, that part is pretty easy to do.  Now take it a step further and write a dozen or so bullet points that show progress and setbacks.  These can be used for chapter breaks:

  • Boy and girl make eye contact as one is getting onto a bus.
  • Boy or girl talk to their friend about the missed opportunity.
  • Boy or girl goes on a hunt to find the other.
  • Boy and girl meet.
  • Boy and girl schedule a date; spend afternoon strolling the beach.
  • Boy or girl seen talking to another; other becomes jealous and suspicious.
  • Boy and girl work through the misunderstanding.
  • Boy or girl has to tell other that they are leaving earlier than expected.

Now I look at the rising and falling action of these bullet points against what I’ve written so far with my novel.  Is there alignment?  If yes, perfect.  I’m still on track.  If not, then I push my existing chapters to the bottom of my document and start fleshing out new chapters.

Now I have a clearer picture of my structure.  This is where I go ahead and start filling in details, jumping around and writing the details of chapters out of sequence.

I promise you if you take these actions every day, in a few short days you’ll find yourself no longer questioning the validity or merit of your story and you’ll find yourself feeling back on track.

Happy noveling!

Birds of a feather

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m suddenly awakened by the deliberate plunking of a piano blues riff: Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam. 

“Cut it out, N’awlins,” I yell out in a raspy voice.  “Yuh hear”?

The rhythm continues to crescendo from across the room.  Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam.  I yell out again, “That you, Money Fatts”?

My wife is not amused at my early-morning attempt at humor.

In one swift motion I swing my body off the bed, pulling half the entwined sheet and comforter combination with me until it’s tugged back into place like a rubber band.  I take a few clumsy steps in the dark, feeling for the top of my tall mahogany-stained dresser with outstretched arms, and retrieve my phone from the charger to silence the troublesome “blues riff” alarm tone.

The air in the room is brisk and cool.  About sixty-six degrees, I suspect.  I hate January; we really should move to Florida one of these days.

It’s nearly five o’clock on a Tuesday and I have just one hour to devote to writing and related research for the day before showering, dressing, and leaving for work.  I need to make this hour count!

I throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, feed the cat a small portion of his morning breakfast to keep him quiet, and bump up the thermostat.  Click, click, click, ker-plunk, ker-plunk, whooooosh.  The burners fire and warm air begins to flow throughout the house.

I finally head into the family room where I sit down at my laptop to start writing.  The room is dark, as I’ve deliberately kept off the lights sans for the glow of the laptop LCD at the head of the table.  The daily self-interrogation begins.  Do I dive right into writing, or do I check my Twitter feed first to see what new insights were posted by my writing friends?  Maybe I’ll tweet the word count of my current WIP?  Or maybe I’ll comprise a romanticized tweet to impress others with my dedication to the craft at five o’clock in the morning? 

I log into Twitter and take a moment to skim my feed.

That woman is a machine…was she really awake two hours ago to comprise a tweet about her WIP? 

There’s this guy again…why did he re-post that same article he posted just yesterday afternoon?

I swear this woman…best-selling author of nineteen novels I’ve never heard of…must have six identical Twitter accounts!

I put my hand on the crown of my head, feeling to see if the thin spot has gotten any worse from the day earlier.  I slump back into my chair.

Coffee.  I need coffee!  I walk into the kitchen and brew myself a cup of Keurig.  The aroma of sweetened espresso shifts throughout the room when the forced-air blower kicks on for a second time.  This will surely wake her up.

Returning to my chair at the table, I see fourteen new tweets are available to me.  Three are duplicates, two are advertisements.

It’s now ten minutes to six, and I realize I’ve squandered yet another potentially-productive writing morning with no substantial benefit.

With the push of the mouse, a small arrow glides to the upper-right corner of my screen.  Account… Settings… Deactivate My Account.  Complete.

If I want to be a writer, I need to actually write, I think to myself as I snap shut the lid to my laptop.  Tomorrow’s another day.

The Long and Winding Road

I digress. It’s how I write, digressing as my interests take me. Characters slog knee deep through conversations, forging paths into unknown territories. Conflicts erupt like spores from the abrasion of desire and incident. Plots seep to the surface of disparate activities. I wrangle all these ragged bits into a loose framework of narrative. Nothing fits perfectly at the beginning stages but I’ll sand the edges later and make them fit the story development.

I’ve written three books in ten years but writing is only part of my life, as it is for most of us. I’ve also worked six jobs, assisted my husband through several serious injuries and surgeries, witnessed as both sons married, cheered the birth of two grandchildren, buried my father, and am present in my mother’s life as much as possible. Writing, my passion and my aspiration, is carved out of time designated for other more “responsible” tasks, but it can’t be detoured for long. I have to write the way I have to eat and pay taxes.

My discombobulated approach is conducive to production because I never face the meltdown of writer’s block. If the chapter I’m currently writing halts for any reason, I pick up another section and work on that for a while. Eventually, I figure out how to get back to the earlier stalemate and complete it. If I’m not a model of efficiency, I am at least an example of diligence.

Despite my entrenched chaos, I’ve employed a different organizational strategy for each book. Motivated by an unjust incident I couldn’t change, I decided to change myself, and that meant writing a first novel. I wrote 20 pages in two weeks, 60 in less than two months. I scrounged writing time by staying up until early in the morning, letting the housework go (the house still stands,) and dining on fresh salads added to leftovers and fast food. The first book was one long document on the computer with chapters indicated by titles, wherever they showed up. It was also two distinct time periods separated by decades but out of order in the file. About 100 pages in, I wrote synopses of future chapters as well as the final chapter. A table of contents only loosely suggested where a particular chapter might exist. Other files contained historical information, interviews, descriptions of museum visits, all the support topics that knowing my subject required.

When I finished the book it was a tale that rambled as if I’d dropped 500 pages down a chute and picked them up in a jumble. Organizing it into the neatly woven story I’d intended required separating the two sections and putting them back in the correct order. Finding the individual segments became a plodding crawl through pages and pages with me often getting lost.  Where was this part, did I repeat that section? Ramblin’ Rose here had built a labyrinth instead of a story, and I needed a way out to find the proper way in.

I wrote a summary of each chapter as it appeared in the long file, printed and tacked up the summaries on a wall in one continuous line. I repositioned them over and over until the chapter order made sense. I numbered them, went back to the computer, and pulled out the sections one by one, putting each into its correct placement in a new document. A few chapter bridges later the book finally appeared in a readable format. It had taken more than four years to get to this point and still wasn’t finalized.

When I began the second book, I realized how easy it would be to avoid confusion. I began with background information, biographies of characters, historical notes, interviews with people familiar with incidents in the story. The book itself started its life in organized fashion. Each chapter had its own file. The table of contents included a one-line summary of the main focus of each chapter. Finding a particular chapter was now a simple reference to the table. When I completed all the individual chapters, I began a new file and put them in, one by one, building a finished book in less than three years. It needs revision, but the format was easier to navigate.

The third novel has been the easiest. I began with what I usually disdain: an outline of sorts. This book has 25 chapters. That isn’t a negotiable proposition. In the summary file, each chapter has a title, a set of incidents, and list of participating characters. I composed the table of contents, a biography for each character, and historical notes, all completed before I began the actual story. I wrote the book in chapter order, a new endeavor for me. The formal structure didn’t prevent me from meandering within chapters, a method I find essential for my creativity to find its voice. Characters took center stage in certain chapters and energized the story, providing subplots, suspense, and dimension. In one year, I completed the third story and am now revising it.

Still, I’d rambled. One of the advantages of digressive writing is that it led me on unexpected journeys. Chapters took on a life as if they were independent of the overall story, looking in some cases like sequel, pre-quel, or another book. Some of those explorations proved interesting in their own right. One even led to a potential fourth book.

If asked how to begin a book, I would suggest some form of outline, a backdrop of orderly movement. It defines the story and keeps it within reasonable borders while still permitting the writer creative tangents. The only promise is to yourself, and the ultimate promise is to write the best and most engaging story you can wrest from your initial idea.  I continue to digress. For me it’s a way into my deepest curiosity and it promotes my most original writing. What works for you?

Be well, friend.

Finding Your Process

Earlier this week, I discovered that my oldest child (7) was diagnosed with ADHD. One of the things her psychologist suggested as a way to help her with her homework was to get a big dry erase board, and let her write her work on it as large as she could, to help engage her gross motor skills in learning.

This afternoon, she was struggling with her sentences, so I figured hey, why not start now? I dragged out the whiteboard, handed her a marker, and she started doing her homework. She stands up, writes out her sentence on the board, then sits down and transcribes it. Then, she stands up and does it again.

All writers have their own processes. Some of us must hole ourselves up in a dark room, in utter silence, or perhaps with mood music, and write without distractions. Some dictate their work. Others sit in coffee shops with laptops or notebooks, looking off into the distance thoughtfully. Still others love the fury of a group writing session, at social events like a NaNoWriMo write-in. Some like outlines. Others run by the seat of their pants.

One of the things I have struggled with over the last year is the realization that my process doesn’t work. I’ve always tended to write the same way. A flash of blinding inspiration, followed by frenetic deadlines and massive quantities of padding and meandering. Then, months and months of doing nothing. I would declare to any and all who would listen:

Outlines? Outlines are for the uninspired. I need freedom!

I had a bit of a crisis this fall. In October, as I geared up for the NaNoWriMo event, I didn’t know if I was really a writer or not. I mean, I have the talent. I like to think I am pretty good, even. But I have never really finished a novel. I haven’t finished a story in longer than I care to think about, and in fact have never finished anything to the point that it’s good enough for me to shop around.

So why do I even bother?

After many tears and much angst, I realized something. I am a writer. It is as much a part of the way I live and breathe as the way I walk. I can’t not be a writer. And I do have the potential to be a professional. What I lack is discipline. The way I was doing things wasn’t working for me, so it was time to try something new.

Maybe even… an outline.

In the end, I didn’t outline my novel. I did finish the event though, and had a sense of accomplishment that I’ve lacked in previous years. And I’ve recommitted myself to discipline. I snagged a friend who happens to be much, much better than I am at being disciplined, and recruited her to start slave driving.

And it’s working.

I finished a handwritten WIP last week. And actually wrote an outline for it for transcription purposes. (I know, you’re supposed to write it before you start, but throw me a bone here. I’m trying!) I have a goal of transcribing 1,000 words (twice as much as I wanted to write, but she challenged me, knowing I can write faster than that.) And it’s working. I’m meeting my goals, day by day. I even have a tracking spreadsheet.

I have… discipline.

It’s baby discipline, to be sure. And only time will tell if that discipline sticks and becomes something more. This is a good start.

So here I am. I am not a great writer. Not yet. But I will be.