Last week I talked about taking time off this summer, probably the most I’ve taken off in all my years as a writer. I expected to accomplish a lot, and found that one of the main things I did accomplish was to get some rest. I managed to waste a lot of time feeling guilty about it, too, a specialty of mine. But I soldiered on, regardless, and continued to stare at walls a part of each day, guilt notwithstanding.
Oddly when writers look like they’re wasting time, they’re usually working their hardest. I might have been too tired to spend hours at my computer, but now I can see that I was gathering ideas when it looked like I was gathering wool. I was filling the well instead of filling notebooks. (You get the picture.)
No matter how it looks, writers are usually researching, not just in dusty library tomes, but by observing human nature. At some point one small thing becomes the “ka-ching” that pulls together all those observations and forms a story.
In addition to what I learned this summer (last week’s blog) I also have a list of what I accomplished for my new book. Here are a few things I can share:
- I read half a dozen books for research and listened to countless podcasts on subjects like “how to disappear,” “how to find people who think they’ve disappeared”, cold cases, correct police procedure, and surveillance technology. Lots of it I read just because it’s interesting. Some of it might be useful. At the time I couldn’t tell which was which and didn’t care. I had fun. That was plenty.
- I chose names for characters, obsessing all the way. If you read many of my blogs, you know how important names are to me. Here’s an example. Could I really call my main character’s father Tom? It suited him perfectly. But I had another “T” character, and his name was also three letters. I went through list after list of possibilities and finally ended up with Dale. Does Dale suit my character as well? No, but now that his name is different, he’ll be different, too. Such is the way novelists think, and no one will ever talk us out of it. Say hello to Dale. I’m sticking with him.
- I created a new city right here in Florida. You’d be surprised how many real new “cities” go up in my home state each year. A developer buys a cow pasture and nine hundred pieces of heavy machinery and a million city council meetings later, there’s a new town where a few live oaks and multiple cow patties* once dwelt. In my case it was much easier. Could I have used a real location? Most likely yes, but I prefer to be the manipulator, not the manipulated. I want control without worrying about how to present details that really exist. Call me lazy or call me creative. Whichever it is, I’ll be the one having fun making up stuff this year.
- I plotted, step by step, how my story will unfold to the tune of about sixty pages. As I’ve said before, some people like to divide writers into two camps, the plotters and the pantsers (by the seat of their pants.) Plotters plan their novels and pantsers just start writing. I’m firmly in the first camp, and I had so much fun right at the beginning figuring out how events in this story would unfold. Some writers believe plotting will take the joy and excitement out of writing and can’t imagine it. I have to smile. For me? Nope. Plotting takes the terror out of writing. And of course, there are so many details I still don’t know, that I still have all the room in the world for creativity.
So can you see that while I was resting and wasting time, I really wasn’t? Not completely anyway.
My editor has my book now, so we’ll see what happens next. In the meantime, about that indrawn breath? I’m cleaning my study and answering email while the oxygen goes in. One thing’s for certain. After all this preparation, I’ll be ready to write when the time comes.
* If you’re still thinking about cow patties after my mention above, you might cleanse your mind with this very different kind. Just be sure to report back.