The stages of writing a book

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I am writing a book.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m out.   Although the book is not quite finished, I have stopped to reflect on the different stages of writing a fiction novel.

The first stage, for me,  was definitely the romantic stage.  Writing a book has an allure about it.  There is something truly whimsical about imagining yourself dancing in a meadow with a plethora of phrases spilling from your brain.  Each of those phrases floats through the air and settles onto fluffy white clouds until you are able to collect them all and put them to paper.

The second stage is certainly more realistic than the first.  This stage for me was jotting down the plot twists that I wanted in my story but not knowing where they would be presented.  I also had to decide whether I wanted to write a full outline and follow it or if I simply wanted the characters to tell their story as they saw fit.  There are many places in my life where structure and organization are crucial but creating a story is not one of those places so the characters were able to share their voices without my framework.

The third stage was fantastic.  Once I had the basic premise in my head, I just sat down and wrote.  Some days were better than others but I spent a significant amount of time each day seeing how much further I could delve into the story and where it would lead me.  The best part about the third stage was getting excited when I came up with a new plot twist and  having those ideas create even more scenarios that I had never thought of before.  This stage was the ‘perpetual high’ stage.

I am now in the fourth stage, which is the panic stage.  I am so close to finishing the book and now I am second guessing everything I have written.  Are my characters deficient in some way?  Does the story line flow properly?  Is there enough meat in the story to keep readers interested?  Am I even going to have readers?   The list goes on….

I am hoping that there is a bright light at the end of this arduous tunnel when I gain back a little more self-confidence and I can just pat myself on the back and say, ‘you finished your book’.  That in itself will be a monumental occasion.

I already have the sequel planned and seemingly I am willing to put myself through these phases all over again.  They must make some sort of pill for this……

Do you have something in a Birkenstock?

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Fairy tales miss the mark when it comes to really telling a story.  As I child, I would rush through the illustrated pages to get to the part when the Prince planted that life-renewing kiss on the Princess’ lips or the little glass slipper was delicately placed on the foot of Cinderella and they found their happily ever after.

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At that young age I didn’t realize that the true depth of that fable should have been in the whole story and not just the ending.  Along the way the malleable minds of youth should have been introduced to the somewhat imperfect side of fairy tales to prepare us a little more for reality.  I’m all for happy endings.  I know many couples who have found theirs.  But I also know many people who have kissed a lot of frogs and are still waiting for that Disney-worthy moment before the curtain closes.

What we missed as children was the real meat of the relationships in those fairy tales.  Nothing in those woven myths gave us cause to concern ourselves with what happens after the shoe fits.  In the animated versions of those fictional accounts, the music comes to its crescendo and we are left surfing on the tsunami of perfect love.   But what if Sleeping Beauty just wanted another eight hours of sleep before she stepped back into a life she was trying to avoid?   What if Cinderella didn’t want the shoe to fit anymore but was too afraid to speak up?

We have to remember there are a lot of other shoes out there.  Just because that glass slipper fit like a glove doesn’t mean we should feel obligated to wear it and put ourselves through a great deal of discomfort in the process.  Sure, we’ve all heard the saying “if the shoe fits” but if the shoe does fit and you don’t like it, don’t be afraid to look for another shoe.

Oh, the places I’ll go

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I am in the middle of a steep learning curve.  I have never written anything longer than a 3,500 word short story so I should have expected a few pitfalls when I decided to pursue my dream of writing a book, or two or three.   But I was committed to give it one hundred percent and see where the journey led me.  I am well on my way to achieving 82,000 (ish) words for a novel-length book and only have 17,000 more to go!

I have been amazed by the process.  I have a journal I keep at my side to remind me of what has happened in each paragraph so the story will not seem disjointed or confusing.  I have done my best, pre-editing, to make sure the plot line flows well and ties in all the loose ends.  I’m sure I have missed a few small details throughout the process but I’m new at this so I’m giving myself ample opportunities to go back and alter the things that don’t work.  I have noticed that my characters have taken on a life of their own, causing me to go back and change a few details of their past but so far I feel blessed to have made it this far.

My writing has mainly been directed by the characters.  I had a simple outline of where I wanted the book to go but their personalities have taken control of the wheel and taken me in a few directions I hadn’t thought of.  On Friday, I wrote a paragraph and then I couldn’t write any more.  Something was off.  I didn’t know it was wrong when I wrote it, but that one paragraph derailed my train of thought.  I stared at that page as the characters sat idly by waiting for me to send them in a direction, any direction, but I was stuck.

I read that last paragraph many times and it eventually dawned on me to remove the last sentence.  As soon as that freeway in my brain cleared of the congestion, the traffic of words started to flow and sped off down the road.  I now understand how writer’s can figuratively paint themselves into a corner.  That one line was the difference between writing and staring at my walls.

Persistence is the key.  I have many lines and paragraphs that I have omitted from the book.  They are not gone but merely stored on a different page until I know those ideas are not meant for this book.  I have no idea where I will end up, but, oh, the places I’ll go on my journey to get there.

 

Do more of what makes you happy

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The weekend had arrived and I had my to-do list all mapped out.  Saturday would be the day of chores since Sunday was going to be our last “chop fest” of the season for the food bank and I would be too busy shopping for groceries, making labels and prepping the kitchen.

As luck would have it, Saturday turned into a spectacular day of weather.  In the cooler hours of the morning, I had my hair cut, took my garbage to the dump and ran my errands in town.   I arrived home knowing that my list of chores had not been completed but when I saw the sun shining on my deck, my list of chores suddenly changed, as did my outfit.  I turned off my heat, opened all my windows, donned some shorts and a t-shirt and went outside to bask in the sun for as long as I could.  As fate would have it, my neighbors chose to embrace the day as well and burn everything they wanted to dispose of and the smoke penetrated every ounce of air I was trying to breathe.  My dog and I quickly made our way indoors and wistfully closed the windows.

I stood inside, my head going back and forth from my vacuum to my laptop and I surreptitiously neglected my remaining chores.  I opened my laptop and sat down to write what would end up being over three thousand words for my book.  My dog was still shedding, my carpet looked like my dog had exploded, more dust had settled on every surface in my home and my dishes were still waiting to be washed but I didn’t care.  I deferred the menial tasks to concentrate more on the things that truly make me happy.

My vacuum will still be in the same place on Monday.  My dog will still be shedding and the dust particles will still be dancing in the light that filters through my windows.  But just maybe, those words that flowed through me today would not have waited for me until Sunday or Monday.

Do more of what makes you happy and do it often.  Life is much too short to spend it doing things that don’t truly inspire you and make you feel like you are living your best life.  I spent a great deal of my past living for others and now it is time to put aside the things that can wait and focus on the things that consume my thoughts.

Time is running out

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I have been blessed over the last six months.  Not only have I been able to work full-time at a job I enjoy, I have been able to focus the substantial increase of my spare time into the things that I am truly passionate about.

I have always been a creative person.  As a child, arts and crafts were my go-to hobby and when I reached the age of eleven I was introduced to the art of writing.  My grade six teacher urged us to express ourselves in ways that I had never thought about and from that moment, I was hooked.  I began to write poetry and short stories.  I was so addicted to words that I got my library card and became a voracious reader.

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I was also introduced to cooking at an early age and, under the tutelage of my dad, learned to create meals that did not come from a recipe.  I learned to experiment with flavors and was able to create some impressive dinners with simple items found in any pantry.  And I made a point to commit his cooking faux pas to memory – NEVER make scrambled eggs with Egg Nog!

I have been able to take all of my spare moments over the last few months and really focus on the things I love – cooking and writing.  This past weekend, I added three thousand more words to my novel-in-progress and spent some time in my own kitchen creating some fantastic and creative soups for myself and my family.  The time is slowly running out for me to have the time to focus on the wants instead of the needs.  Soon the resort will be back in full swing and my spare time will be a dim memory of my past.

My email address is a glaring reminder of how I will spend my remaining days and nights before my world changes – “carpe diem – seize the day”.

Being written up for insubordination

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The human brain never ceases to amaze me.  Out of a simple idea that inspired my mind many years ago, I have recently penned, in the short span of three weeks, what could easily amount to half a novel.  I have had moments when the words just seem to flow out of a long-buried well of ideas and I feel like the vessel being used to convey someone else’s words.

I have been roused in the wee hours by the voices of my characters, longing to continue our journey and last night was no different.  But once I was awake, my mind simply spun in circles and my thoughts had nothing to do with the book.

If I could calculate how many thoughts went through my brain from 2:00 am to 4:30 am, the number would be astronomical.  I had mentally cleaned out my car to get ready for my new car, planned my entire week at work, organized five weekends of volunteers for my food bank project, put together my next shopping list, and quite possibly have solved world hunger.  My neurons were firing on more cylinders than I even have in my head.  After three hours of rapid cranial activity, I finally drifted back to sleep and woke this morning to continue writing.

That sound of crickets was all I got.  I had nothing on my mind.  It was mutiny.  There were no whispers from the characters, no idle nudges from them asking me to go in the direction they saw fit….nothing.  I couldn’t even formulate a thought about my day-to-day life.  It was like my cerebrum had decided to enjoy the last day of March break and left me behind.

Only now am I starting to regain the mental aptitude to be able to string together these sentences.  The characters are still nowhere to be found so the book remains idle.  I now truly understand the phrase ‘feast or famine’ and can only hope they will be back tomorrow and ready to get back to work.  We have a book to finish.

 

Where the hell were you guys 10 years ago?

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I have had my book idea for well over ten years.  Every so often, I open it up, dust it off and think ‘this is going to be it’.  I write a few paragraphs, get distracted by  life (or a rerun of a good sitcom) and the book just seems to close itself up until next time.

But something has drastically changed this time.  I purposely suspended my satellite service for six months in the hopes that I would read more but what has happened has been mind-numbing.  In just over a week, between working full-time and volunteering a few hours a week to make meals for the food bank, the characters have come to life and are pushing each other out of the way to tell their story.

In the past decade of developing this idea, I have come up with its inception, general direction and 9,000 words.  In the past week, the characters have become extensions of my brain and I have feverishly typed 16,000 more words and they just keep coming.  If I can keep this up, this book could potentially be finished by the end of April (because I periodically take time to write a blog post or two and work so I can pay my bills).

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It is an exciting process.  I have written my fair share of short stories, but getting involved in something as detailed as this is fascinating.  I get excited when a new idea pops into my head that weaves into the novel to give it a bit of a twist and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.  I have a general outline but when I sit down to write, I just go where the story takes me.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Gotta go….the characters are calling.