How it Starts…

I think for many writers, we’re almost as surprised and flabbergasted when a project is finished as those who seem amazed that we’ve actually gone and written a book. I’ve published two and written more than that, and every time one is finished, I find myself sort of wondering how it happened. Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing magical about it. I’m not saying that I don’t recall the hours of work and tearing my hair out trying to figure out niggling details that don’t seem to want to fit… I remember all of it, but as with so many things worth doing, the outcome is worth the difficulties, and I usually end up just appreciating that it’s done rather than focusing on how difficult it was to get done. (Kind of like having kids in that way…)

The revision process for the first Girlfriends of Gotham book, Men and Martinis, for instance, has been a long (and did I mention LONG?) road. It started as a fairly ill-conceived novella, went through some difficult edits at the publisher and came back to me. The recommended changes were so sweeping, in fact, that I had to consider whether I even wanted to try. And to be honest, I was terrified that I couldn’t do it. But I had to try. And I knew they were right. And it took more work than I’d expected, but now I have a draft that I’m pretty proud to hand back to my awesome editor at Swoon. And it’s not a novella anymore…it’s a novel. (I just hope she doesn’t hate it… see? the fear is still there). But the point is that it was HARD. And now I’m kind of just basking in the completion of one phase of that effort… and I’m already forgetting the deep dark forests of despair through which I wandered to get here.

So now it’s time to start something new. I’ve had a lot of people asking about the next Wine Country Romance… And I’ve had to explain to a few that it’s a series linked by concept, not by characters… so the next book won’t follow Isabella and Jonathan any further… it won’t be in Paso… and we may never know what happens to Vicki or Charlotte. At least not right now. The next Wine Country Romance, I’ve decided (with a bit of help from the lovely and talented Melanie Harlow), will be set in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

So that was step one.

  • Decide what kind of book you’ll be writing
  • Decide where to set it (this may or may not be critical, depending on your premise. For the wine country romances, the whole “wine country” thing is kind of important.)

Step two is hammering out the basics of the story. And before you can really do that, you kind of need to figure out who the story is about… Chicken, egg… you get the idea.

Step one and a half:

  • Choose your characters. You might define them loosely, having no names in mind, no idea what they might look like. For me, I knew that I wanted a kind of tortured hero, one who had been through something that would make it hard for him to see the world in front of him the way others did… so I knew I needed to think about his back story. Slowly, the image of Tyson Dawes began to form in my mind… I had ideas for the heroine, too. I wanted her to be independent and mature, maybe carrying some kind of burden of responsibility. I knew how they would meet…and from that event, some of the other story elements emerged.

So this is how characters and story are intermingled. For me, the next step is to do some outlining. I use the Save the Cat romance beat sheet offered at Jamie Gold’s blog. It’s awesome because it targets events to particular page numbers or word counts and lets you draft just major story elements without having to know all the details. It’s an excel sheet that actually adjust word counts to your targeted finished length. (macros and formulas, oh my!) Then you can play connect the dots while you’re actually writing.

Step two:

  • Set the story elements in place.

I use Scrivener for the actual writing, so the next step for me is to set up the manuscript document. I’m using a dual POV, so I divide the chapter folders between Tyson and Audrey (my heroine) and throw a couple scenes under each folder for starters. Then I use the note card area to jot down ideas for what might happen in the first few scenes. I don’t get too far ahead with this, because I inevitably take longer to explore an event than I think I will, and what I jotted down in one scene might actually span several. Scrivener makes it super easy to drop in new scenes and move things around.

Step three:

  • Map out the first few scenes.

The next step is the fun part, and for me it usually begins over a cup of coffee at about 5:15am. I started “Redemption Red” (book 2 in the Wine Country Romance Series) this week and am happy with its direction at about 8,000 words after four days of writing. I get in an hour each morning M-Th, and usually pump out about 2000 words an hour if I have a clear idea where I’m headed. Fridays, if I have a clear schedule, I can generally double what I’ve written in the first part of the week. If I follow this process, it takes me about a month to turn out a first draft.

Step four:

  • Write.

From here, I pretty much just rinse and repeat. I go back and edit the beat sheet as needed, but generally it stays static and the scenes just evolve around it in Scrivener.

And that… is how I write a book. I’m curious how other writers do it. Have you ever actually sat down and thought about exactly how you do it? Or does it just seem to ‘happen’?

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A Little Bit at a Time

It’s been a struggle of late, getting words on paper. Part of me is still panting and heaving, celebrating in disbelief that I actually finished a novel. Of course that was months ago now, and the novel is mostly terrible. I’ve put it away, and think of it at times. I wasn’t passionate about the story it became, and I think that’s pretty evident in the writing. But it was a valuable exercise. I did it. I edited it. I queried, I submitted. I received rejections. The circle is complete (or is that supposed to end with publication?) In this case, I don’t feel too sad about that… I don’t think it’s the story I was meant to tell.

Which has led me to dabble in lots of other things, jot down lots of other ideas, trying to figure out what to do next. I’m 80% done with the anthology I’ve been building. I’m not sure what to do with that when it’s done, so I’m not in much of a hurry. I have decided that submitting a few of the stories I like best for publication in journals wouldn’t be a bad thing. A “real” publisher might not want to publish an anthology that includes previously published work, but since I will most likely self-publish it, I think that might add a bit of credibility since otherwise I’m a fairly green author.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking lots about what I might be “meant” to write. There are two stories that I land on every time I ponder in this direction. One is a book I’ve been building mentally for years. Like five years or more. The other is based on my own family and is a much younger idea. I think I’ll eventually write them both, but for now I’ve really begun to focus on the former. I’ve written parts of it before over the years, but this time I’ve actually outlined it. Developed character arcs, thought about the structure and technique I want to employ. I’m going to try to do it right this time. And I got up early this morning to draft the first scene.

I’m now 816 words in. Wish me luck.