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Monday, September 22, 2014

Index Cards, Glue Sticks, and Google Earth: My Eclectic Creative Process


 
I’ve loved books all my life, and about seven years ago, I decided that I wanted to move from being solely a reader to trying my hand at writing.  So, I signed up for an online class and began to write short stories and articles.  Then, not long after I began the class, I decided that I wanted to write a novel.  It was a crazy, kind of half-embarrassed, secret desire that I’d kept hidden for a long time.  I wanted to be a “Writer,” and a real Writer, with a capital W, was in my mind someone who wrote novels.

So, I started.  And I stopped.  Then, in a month or so, I started again.  And I stopped.  And so it went, for about a year.

At that point, I began to worry that I’d convinced myself to do something that was simply beyond my capacities.  Who was I to think that I could write a book?  But I kept trying.  I ended up taking a one-day workshop at a local community college where the instructor, a published author, shared some of her techniques that helped her plan her novels.  She had this silly-sounding suggestion about novel writing.  You start with an idea, and start to brainstorm from there.  Using  a pile of index cards, you write down an idea for a single scene on each card.  Then, once you’ve come up with all you can think of at the moment, you organize your cards   Voila!  Instant novel outline!

Yeah, right, I though.  But I gave it a try.  And, presto, change-o, a la peanut butter sandwiches, it worked for me!  Ideas that had been percolating and simmering in my brain for a while gelled and I was able to write down a whole bunch of genuine scenes and/or action sequences that somehow worked with my original story idea.  I added cards for possible characters and character names, and used cards to list setting ideas for various scenes as well.  I taped them onto the wall next to the computer.  My husband thought I was weird.  But I got my first novel written.  An entire draft of a novel!  Thirty-three chapters!  59,000 words.  I was thrilled.

I won’t go into great detail as to how I revised this novel.  That would take far too long.  Suffice it to say that my novel-writing habit was born.   A few other tricks have worked well and stuck with me.  I’m a very visual person, who likes to imagine what her characters look like, brainstorm random things like what they might carry in their pockets or what their favorite food is, and I also love to scrapbook.  So, I now create “binders” for each novel I write.  I search free photo sites and find pics of people whom I think most match what my characters look like in my head, and create my own fake book covers.  Enter the glue sticks!  (Acid free, of course). 

 

I use copious quantities of index cards and sticky notes to keep track of where my story is heading or new ideas that pop into my brain, and use the binder to keep all of my notes and research.  Then, when my draft is done, I print the book out in tiny font and put that into the binder as well.  That printed draft is a revision tool I use to help me fix what needs a’fixin’, y’all.  I read my work out loud and take notes for changes I want to make.  I love my binders!

I’ve also developed a new, odd research habit when I write.  I like to choose a setting and use Google Earth to view satellite images of the actual place.  Weird, I know, and I feel a bit like a virtual peeping Tom, but it works well for me.  Even if I’m writing a historical novel, I still Google the place where my story occurs and take “screen shots,” capturing images of the layout of the landscape.  That way, I know that my main character will soon hit foothills and then tall mountains if he heads south when trying to escape, how far the ocean might be from another main character’s front door, or whether or not the view from the house will likely be of a thick forest, red-tiled rooftops, or a whole lot of desert.

These techniques may or may not work for you, but they have for me.  I’ve now written and extensively revised three novels, have somewhat non-extensively revised a fourth, and am in the middle of writing a fifth book.  (I don’t count an incomplete draft that was meant to be a parody of Wuthering Heights.  Luckily, I realized that I needed to jump from that sinking ship). 

I remain, as of yet, a “pre-published” author.  (Insert smiley face here).  But I continue to send out queries to agents, and so far have two agents who have requested to read the full manuscript of one of my books.  Who knows?  Maybe my binders, my scrapbooking and my fanatical use of glue sticks will one day result in seeing one of my books on a bookstore shelf. 

Or not. But I’ll still keep writing.  The index card and glue stick industries depend on me.