Tag Archives: writing process

Writing Process Blog Tour

Author and blogger Kim Bullock has invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Kim is a historical fiction writer currently working on a novel based on the life of her great-grandfather, landscape painter Carl Ahrens, and his wife. She blogs at What Women Write.

What am I working on?
My work-in-progress is a family saga tentatively entitled, “A Prayer for Maura.” The story centers on the estranged relationship between Frank O’Malley, the patriarch of a Boston Irish-Catholic family, and his daughter, Maura. They had a falling out over Maura’s decision to have an abortion, which triggered a series of events that culminated in the murder of Betty, Frank’s wife. It is now ten years later. Frank is dying of cancer. Maura never did have the abortion, but couldn’t face her family after her mother’s death. Frank’s dying wish is to reconcile with his daughter and solve the mystery of how his beloved wife was murdered.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?
There are a number of authors who specialize in family sagas. My favorites, my personal Holy Trinity, are Anne Tyler, Alice McDermott and Alice Munro. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t write as well as any of those three esteemed authors. A common thread running through their stories and those of others in the genre (Sue Miller comes to mind) is the unhappiness that sets in for a female as she advances toward middle age trapped in an unsatisfying marriage. As Peggy Lee sang, many of these characters seem to be saying, “Is that all there is to life?” In some cases, these characters act on those feelings and in some of these stories, they decide the grass isn’t always greener or they don’t fully appreciate what they have. So what’s different about my work? In both of my stories, my first novel, Small Change , and my current WIP, the protagonists were much younger—teen-agers when the stories began and on the cusp of middle age when the stories ended. My two main characters, John Sykowski and Maura O’Malley, are defined not only by the choices they make, but by regrets over missed opportunities, feelings not acted on and dreams not pursued. They are very different characters, but they share some common struggles.

Why do I write what I do?
I read many genres and enjoy many types of writers. I like mysteries, literary fiction, Young Adult, psychological thrillers, legal thrillers (Grisham and Turow), and even horror. I am drawn to stories that center on families. There is something about the dynamics of family relationships that makes for powerful fiction. Of all the relationships that humans have in their lives, the family is the most enduring, complicated and often the most difficult. The potential for conflict and tension—the twin staples that move stories forward—are always present in a family situation. Even families that appear content and happy on the outside undoubtedly have tensions simmering somewhere beneath the surface. What I aim to do through my writing is to show (not tell!) that when it comes down to it, when all else in life fails, a person’s family is all she has. And if a person does not appreciate and love his family, he’s lost something fundamental to his being. And I try to convey that in a way that is not preachy. OK, sermon over.

How does my writing process work?
Oh boy, that is a good question. The short answer is I am a pantser at heart who is trying to be more of a plotter. I start with a germ of an idea. In the case of Small Change, I was thinking about a family’s first real summer vacation. That’s not much of a story, though, so I asked a series of “what if” questions. What if this blue collar family from the Chicago suburbs meets another family that is the polar opposite? What if this other family is from rural Iowa and is headed by a minister? What if these families become intertwined over the years through various relationships. And, of course, what if there was a big family secret that even the first-person protagonist did not find out for twenty years? So I started there.

I do a lot of outlining in my head before committing any words to the page. My mental outline usually consists of about a dozen milestone scenes that get the story from the beginning to the end—in this case from 1973 to 2000. The nice thing about a general roadmap is that you can make mid-course corrections. The first draft for me is one of discovery and one of my major ones was that I had drawn the character Rebekka all wrong. I pictured her as the typical wild child of a clergyman, but that didn’t feel right to me. Instead she became the victim of withering verbal attacks by her mother and grandfather, the mother believing Rebekka’s birth had ruined her life and the grandfather believing it had ruined his son’s life. Rebekka became the heroine of the story and her inner strength and fortitude allowed her to rise above a bad childhood. A more dramatic mid-course correction occurred in A Prayer for Maura. Originally Frank O’Malley was the main character, but I had trouble writing scenes from his point of view. The scenes from Maura’s point of view felt more alive and full of energy.

The lesson is that every writer has a different process. If you are a pantser and it works for you, that’s great. If you cannot write without a detailed plot outline, that’s great, too. I’ve become a believer in thinking through major story questions and character development before beginning a draft because it can save a lot of unnecessary revisions later on.

I am attempting to line up some of my author friends to participate in this tour. If you are interested please contact me at cblake55@comcast.net.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Introverts Make Good Writers

Writing is a lonely calling. Solitude and reflection are integral parts of the writing process. Writers need to spend a lot of time alone. Though I could not locate any scientific data to back this theory, I believe most writers would call themselves introverts.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author and former corporate lawyer Susan Cain promotes the virtues of introverts in a world that seems to favor the qualities of extroverts. “The business world and much of American culture is skewed toward extroverts,” Cain said at a recent conference. Introverts are widely misunderstood. Seen as lesser contributors and even as anti-social by some, introverts “simply process knowledge and engage with their surroundings in a different, quieter context.”

While extroverts draw energy from being around other people, “introverts feel their most alive, their most engaged, and their deepest sense of equilibrium when they are in environments that are less stimulating,” Cain said. These periods of solitude allow introverts to be at their most creative, she said, citing among other examples, the best-selling author JK Rowling.

Author John Green, who has penned a number of acclaimed Young Adult novels, puts it this way: “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”

Here are some of the qualities of introverts and how these are beneficial to the writing process:

• Listening. Introverts are generally good listeners. They prefer listening to talking. While one would think extroverts can mine more rich material for their stories because they are out in the world more, introverts in social situations do a lot more watching and listening. I like to sit in a coffee shop and watch people, listen for snatches of conversation that I can use or adapt in a story.
• Watching. Introverts are keenly aware of their surroundings. They may not feel comfortable going up to a stranger and starting a conversation, but they can spot clues from a person’s body language or choice of clothing. I’m not suggesting extroverts don’t have this trait, but I believe its more acute in introverts.
• Reflection. As Cain said, introverts have a deep need to process knowledge, rather than to react quickly or make snap judgments. It’s this quality that is one of the most essential to any successful writer. Giving meaning and context to a set of facts and emotions is crucial to the storytelling process.
• Solitude. Introverts crave periods of solitude. They are not at all uncomfortable about being alone for long periods of time. This “alone time” is like gold to a writer. Achieving 1,000 words per day requires several consecutive hours behind a closed door or hunkered down in a library or a café with your nose in your laptop. Extroverts get jumpy when they have to spend that much time alone. Introverts thrive on it.

What about you? Are you an introvert? If so, has it helped or hindered your writing process?

33 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized