“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them,
and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
As a writer and a storyteller, friends ask me questions about my writing process. With my London Fog Latte in hand, I’m going to answer some of those questions.
Where do you come up with your ideas?
Like Mr. Steinbeck’s rabbits, I find ideas can come from anywhere: a photo, an overheard conversation, or a museum display. My favorite source of ideas is woolgathering. As Joyce Carol Oates said, at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books, “Only for the writer is wool-gathering work.” Just letting my mind wander in the forest of my imagination, I find wonderful people and events. And when I find one, I add it to my list.
In the case of The Princess of Sweetwater, I was muddling about looking for an idea for my 2011 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project. Earlier that year, I had gone the Antelope Valley Alfalfa Festival and Fair and visited the Antelope Valley Rural Museum on the grounds. I learned about ranching and farms during the area in the late 1800s from the displays. A few weeks later, I was watching my favorite movie for the hundredth time, Roman Holiday. Now the wool-gathering begins. What if a princess ran away in 1886 and came to the Antelope Valley? What if she fell in love? What if she was forced back home against her will?
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m not a plotter/planner in the strict sense of the word. I research the historical period, I study maps, and I visit the locations. I do write an outline, but it is a simple one with just the main plot points noted. Some plotters, when done with their outline, have a ten-page plot synopsis with every detail listed. I do plan, but I also discover my story as I write. The outline is just a roadmap, and if I find an interesting detour, I’ll follow it and see where it leads. In this, I share traits with the discovery/intuitive or pantser writer. I am a hybrid. When I reach the end of my first draft, the story may be very different than I first envisioned it during the outlining stage.
When do you edit/revise?
Until I finish the first draft, I do very few revisions, if any. I just put the story down with its awful and awkward scenes, misspelled words, and grammatical errors. But that’s okay; it’s the first draft. I just want to get the idea down on paper and resist the urge to go back to revise and edit. James Scott Bell wrote in his book Revision & Self-Editing, “Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later.”
If I find I’ve drifted off the main road and it will require a change in a previous scene, I make a note in a different color to remind me to fix the continuity. If I find a scene no longer will fit, I don’t delete it. I line through it, so I can still see it, because during revisions I may find it works better elsewhere. I do set a daily goal. If during NaNoWriMo, it’s 1750 words a day to make the 50,000 words by the end of November. Over the rest of the year, my daily goal is three pages or about 900 words. If I stopped to revise, I’d never make the deadline. When I finished the first draft of The Princess of Sweetwater, I had 50,613 words of which a third would find themselves chopped when I began to edit. The first draft was just a skeleton, with only Princess Victoria’s story told, no backstory, a flat male protagonist, and no subplots.
I’ll admit edits and revisions are hard work and painful. I start by reading the manuscript and find I have plot holes big enough to drive a stagecoach through. Despite the pain, I chop and rewrite. As Stephen King wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do. I cut out several lovely scenes in The Princess of Sweetwater, beautifully written, but they did nothing to move the plot forward and as a result had to go.
Do you let others read your stories in progress?
I do have readers for my work-in-progress (WIP). I have Alpha Readers. These are fellow writers who help me shape the work as I am writing the first draft and before any serious revisions start. Often, they give me a hand with finding kinks in the plot, to avoid dead ends, and discovering something that was missing.
My Beta Readers review the manuscript when it is finished. These are readers who love the type of stories I write and will be honest with me if something doesn’t work, or if I’m just wrong about a historical fact. I choose some Betas because of their expertise in the era or industry used in the story. Their comments help me tighten the story before I sent it to a professional editor.
Of course, at some point in the process, my husband reads it and gives me his thoughts and corrections.
How long does it take to write a novel?
The process of writing is different for every writer. In the case of The Princess of Sweetwater, it has been a long journey from its beginning in 2011 to now. (I don’t say the end because the end is publishing and marketing.) Part of that is due to me setting the book aside to give me a break from it. Sometimes I need to step away from a project to see it with fresh eyes. After each revision, I tucked Princess Victoria and her friends away until I could return to them later.
Are you going to self-publish?
At this point, no. I am in the process of submitting The Princess of Sweetwater to agents.
How do you handle writer’s block?
I don’t. Writer’s block happens when you sit around and wait for inspiration to arrive. But as Jack London said, “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” So even if I don’t feel like it, I make myself write every day. It may end up being poor writing but as Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
For inspiration, I have a sign on my desk that reads, “You fail only if you stop writing. – Ray Bradbury.”
What is a London Fog Latte?
A London Fog Latte is a latte made with Earl Grey Tea and steamed milk.
- 1 cup (8 oz) strongly-brewed Earl Grey Tea (I add a pinch of dried lavender, optional)
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) steamed or scaled milk (any kind)
- 1 Tbsp. simple syrup, granulated sugar, or sweetener of your choice (adjust to taste, I often leave it out entirely.)
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
After steeping the tea and lavender, pour into a cup and add the other ingredients. Stir gently. Enjoy.
Until next time . . .
The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.