A reader asked me a question about how I write my books. When I was younger, I did a lot of outlines and storyboarding. With today’s technology, there are wonderful tools available to create detailed story outlines. However, despite the laptops, iPads, iPhones, and iElectronics, I actually use a regular black leather book. I carry it with me everywhere and take notes, jot ideas, track characters, and develop genealogies.
My sister gave me the leather book for my birthday. She wrote a lovely quote in the front of it:
Just when the caterpillar thought his life was over,
he turned into a beautiful butterfly.
I love that quote. It’s my story (figuratively speaking, of course).
When I come up with a story, I think about it for days, weeks, and sometimes month. I spend a lot of time daydreaming. I talk through the story with some of my closest confidants: my husband, my mother, my sister, Ella Stewart (another author), and my #1 Facebook fan–who shall remain nameless so that other authors’ don’t snatch her from me ;-). I also have some other people that I will talk to about pieces of the story but it’s mostly worked out through that tight circle.
I don’t necessarily outline the story in the traditional way. Instead, I have the general story line worked out and I know my characters. By the time I start to write the story, I have spent a lot of time learning about my characters. In some cases, I do research on situations and cultures. For my new book, Plain Fame, I’m doing tons of research in NYC–which is quite a different environment than Leola, Pennsylvania!
When I write my stories, the characters develop themselves. They become their own individuals through the words that flow to the computer. When I write, it isn’t as if I’m writing…it’s as if I’m watching a movie that is unfolding before my eyes. I am a visual learner and I can see the scenes in my mind. It’s not words that I write, it’s a story that is playing in my head. I’m just transcribing it to the computer.
All of this reminds me of a Writer’s Conference that I attended in the late 80s at New York University. One of the authors who reviewed my manuscript met with me and actually asked to shake my hand. I was 19 at the time (so that was a looooong time ago). He took off his glasses and said, “I want to shake your hand so that I can say I knew you before you were a famous writer.” I was speechless. He said,”When I read your writing, I’m not reading a book but watching a movie unfold in my mind.” That was Bart Midwood, former book reviewer for Esquire Magazine and author of several books in the 80s and 90s, and recipient of numerous awards for his literary works. Thank you, Bart…you were an inspiration and I’d love to meet you again…to shake YOUR hand and give you a hug for motivating me throughout the years.