OBSERVATIONS ON NOVEL-WRITING 101: the Cliff’s Notes version

Mary Higgins Clark, J.D. Robb, Sue Grafton, Joy Fielding — all make writing seem so effortless. But writing my novel-in-the-works, By Her Daughter’s Hands, has been a hands-on lesson requiring mental elbow-grease, willpower, patience, and even a sense of humor. Since this book venture whopped me over the head, back in January 2009, I have made a few observations about myself as a writer. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes’ version.

First, I write best when I’m not supposed to be writing at all. As a college professor, I have essays to grade, lessons to plan, and classes to teach. That amounts to many hours spent outside and inside the classroom. Enough to keep me out of mischief, right? Think again! While my students are typing away at their computers, I’m scribbling juicy bits of dialogue for the barroom scene between Cliff and Kitty, or adding yet another side to the multifaceted Earl.

Second, I have learned to listen to my characters. They reveal themselves to me once I pick up the television remote — and hit “off”. Channeling characters. Sound spooky? A little New-Age? It calls to mind a scene from Poltergeist. When a family’s home is commandeered by spirits lost on their way to the Light, the residents bring in a paranormal expert.

Frantic that their daughter has been ghost-napped, the parents’ hysterical yammerings get in the expert’s way of talking to the misguided souls until she, pint-sized and Munchkin-voiced, demands they be quiet.

“Shhhhh,” she chirps. “You’re jamming the frequencies!”

The same is true for me. With a canned laugh-track in one ear, how can I hear Sybil when she is talking to me?

Third, I have discovered that inspiration — like my dog — returns to me willingly if I pick up something else to do. Case in point, during my first few weeks with Russet, she escaped at least three or four times. The first two, I chased the furry fugitive two streets over. But the closer I got, the faster she ran.

One day, a neighbor, seeing me in tears, offered some advice.

“Your dog knows where she lives. Let her come to you.”

Right he was! When Russet tired out, she returned, guilty grin and tail between legs, to my doorstep. The same is true for my muse. Sometimes all I need is to put my draft aside and take a walk for her to return.

Last, I find myself thinking like my characters. Some days, I’m the bookish and introverted Karen; other days, the edgy, devil-may-care Kitty. I have fun with my characters. If they were “real” humans, I’d friend and follow every last one of them on Facebook and Twitter.

So, there you have it. Speaking of characters, I hear Kitty calling me. Better go see what she’s up to.


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