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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.
 
 

 

 

3 comments:

  1. Good luck rebecca! I'm sure we will be seeing your novels on library and bookstore shelves in the near future.
    Just an old friend here who enjoys reading your blogs. God bless you and your family.

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  2. In addition, I thought I would make one more longer comment. I know if you remember your first kindergarten book; you remember me�� I was a good friend, at least I always thought that in my own mind. A good listener, good hugger, good communicator. I kept in touch with you after S.U.U. via email when you were in grad school circa 1997, about a year before you were to marry.
    I then literally fell of the face of the earth because of you. Well, let me explain what I mean. You had inspired me to travel. My linguistic anthropology background coupled with my yearning to learn about new languages and culture, led me on interesting journeys in America and abroad. It wasn't until 2004 that I finally set down roots permanently.
    I fell short of my ultimate goal of becoming a college professor. I was completely exhausted mentally and physically. The doctorate degree would have taken almost six more years to complete!
    Then, we had physical ailments in our family. I took care of my grandmother; she passed away. That was her home in Cedar City, where you had visited several times. Then my mother got diabetes and I have been trying to take care of her the best I can. So, that in a nutshell is a synopsis for the last sixteen years or so, oh how the time flies in a blink of the eye.
    I always wanted to remain friends with you Rebecca. Obviously, with a family of your own I knew that would now
    be impossible. That doesn't mean I ever stopped thinking about you. I always thought you were the kindest, sweetest, most compassionate and brilliant person I had ever met. Yes, I had a big time crush on you, but your blog taught me you must move on☺
    So I have read your blogs for a few years never choosing to comment until now. I am extremely happy for you. You look very happy in your family photos. I guess instead of being a friend I have turned into your fan☺ I want your book to be published. I'm praying for you. I would love to buy as many copies as I could and have it signed by the author. Well this is your blog, not mine. I have expressed myself enough for one day. Take care Rebecca and God bless!

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  3. Wow, I wasn’t expecting any comments on my blog, because I hardly ever get any. What a pleasant surprise to read yours, Jim! Of course, I remember you! I certainly did consider you a friend years ago and I still do, now. I appreciate so much your kind words. Wow, I have a fan! Maybe some day I’ll actually get a book published and can send you a copy!  I was sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing and your mother’s health. I do hope things go well for you in your life and that you are happy. I think it’s great you’ve gotten to do so much traveling. It’s kind of ironic---I feel that at this point in my life I don’t get to do that much, and so it’s funny to me that I inspired a wish to see the world. Now I’m the one who’s envious…take care, Jim, and thank you so much for your friendship!

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