Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guest blogger Lise McClendon

Summer is for getting your (oh-so-tanned) arms around the story.

I envy people who can work all year round, whatever the weather. For me, winter is the time to write, to sit inside and tell myself stories. But the story I tell depends on how I spend my summer brainstorming. As writers the imagination, or that damn voice inside your head -- whatever you call it -- works all the time, while we're weeding the garden, driving the car, or taking a walk in the sunshine. Can we call this work? Some would scoff but it seems necessary, this thinking time. And doing it outside in the summer is fine with me. I live in the Rocky Mountains where summer is a scarce commodity. (This year it just arrived!)

But it can't all stay in my head. I have to write stuff down like everybody else. This year I'm trying some new tricks gleaned from writers more organized than I am. At the beginning of the year I started my annual writing journal in a file on my computer. I pumped myself up, wrote down ideas for characters and plots, zoomed around the internet cutting and pasting research and background stuff. I bought lovely but basic spiral notebooks from Clairefontaine with thick, smooth paper. I downloaded a couple outlining programs, Inspiration and Tinderbox, as trials. I have yet to get organized enough to actually make an outlining program work for me but I like the idea. (Maybe in the fall...) The computer writing journal has gone a bit fallow after I started writing in the spiral notebooks. I have been filling them up with ideas, notes for things to research, bits of scenes, and character sketches. I have no idea why the spiral notebooks from the Dollar Store aren't as inspiring. Maybe it's the French thing? I am a serious Francophile, as you can figure from my new book, set in the Dordogne. All I know is the paper quality is on a level rarely found in Staples.

Another author, Jeff Abbott, wrote about these notebooks and how writing longhand makes him slow down and think more. It seems to be true. I am such a fast typist after all these years that I can almost type as fast as I think and often run out of things to say. Writing longhand lets my brain whirl a bit. (Hey -- Pun alert -- put in some peas and I'll have whirled peas.) My brain is a whirler. It is not methodical and logical, at least in this stage of writing. It leaps from thought to thought, ADD-like, from what-if to how-about. It knows no mistress.

In other words, it's a mess. But writing ideas down straightens the mess out, makes it logical, makes me see the patterns in the chaos. Writing a novel is basically an organizational chore, getting the first-second-third parts, weaving in patterns to richen the texture, finding the pace that works, cutting out the dull stuff, and seizing the right bit of background that makes a character come alive.

For my new novel of suspense, Blackbird Fly, I rewrote the book so many times I've forgotten all the organizational struggles. But starting a new novel, fresh and summery as a bouquet, is exciting. All these new what-ifs! At least it's exciting while I'm still whirling about it. Ask me again in January.


Charles benoit said...

"Writing a novel is basically an organizational chore"

Well said.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in my messiness!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lise McClendon said...

Debby and I were talking about how we outline recently, and I was mortified to learn she is organized and methodical! The nerve of her. I wish I was but there is some comfort in at least understanding the way your brain works and not trying to make it be something it isn't.

Ann said...

Sounds like an interesting chore.

Vicki Delany said...

There's outlining software? What will they think of next. I am in the process of brainstorming my next book. I am totally, totally unorganized. Perhaps I'll try writing some ideas out tomorrow. No way will I buy a computer programme though.