Now those who know me know I am a process whore. The analytical side of my brain helps me switch back and forth effortlessly between artist and editor. It also keeps me on track when I falter -- when the pages become nothing more than a smear of despair. We have all been there; I am sure. But I digress, going back to the Ken Follett quote, my thoughts on the process differ from his, but only slightly.
As for research … my books take a substantial amount of it, and I use a variety of sources. I set my stories outside of my homeland, so I need to be very careful with locations, language, and other subtle nuances. Some of my stories are very heavy on history and science, so research can take months, and I love every minute of it. Every step of the way is a new learning experience for me. For Thin Wall, I had to research immigration laws and University housing and protocol for ex-pat students. In Antiquity, I spent ages studying anthropology and archeology, a million locations, and some very technical aspects of the science. In Logos, my main character is alive for several thousand years, from 9 B.C. Germania to modern day London. I make extensive notes, not just on the settings but also on my characters and their motivations. I studied psychology and sociology heavily when I was in school, and so I tend to refer back to my mentors when working through some of my characters’ idiosyncrasies. I tend to put them on the couch if you will. I think good research makes a writer more self-aware, and as a result, their characters become more aware, more integrated into their surroundings.
When it comes to making an outline, I don’t make one in the traditional sense. My stories don’t come to me in any sort of linear format. They come in scenes: in dreams, sometimes daydreams. Most artists dream their work: who doesn’t keep a notebook by their bed … and a nightlight for better night vision? So, as those scenes come to me, I enter them into a very loose outline. Those scenes will eventually become the chapters. Once I get all the scenes to make a full outline, I move them around, as the story never comes to me “in order.” It’s easier for me to check the ebb and flow of a story when it’s in outline format. Once the outline is set and I know how the scenes will fall in the main arch of the narrative, then I start writing in situ, using the theme of each scene as the chapter head. This eventually becomes the first draft, and here I agree with Mr. Follett. The first draft always sucks and it is the hardest part, combining all those incoherent dream elements into a cohesive whole. My first draft can take months for just a mere 30k words or less. I go through several hundred drafts it seems before I can stop and let it sit for a while. This is where I made my biggest mistake early on. I didn’t let the draft sit for a few months, and so now I adamantly recommend all authors do this. Three months at minimum so you can come back to the rewrite with indifferent eyes. You need to be indifferent, detached to some extent in order to “see it” clearly. Taking a break from it is the best way to do this. My novella Sin-Eater has been decanting for a year now. I haven't even snuck a look at it once. (Don't get me started on the "snuck" versus "sneaked" debate. I think snuck sounds better, and it is becoming the standard. This coming from a language purist.)
Now when it comes to the rewrite, this is the part I live for and love with an artist’s manic passion. Satisfying is not the word I would use. Maybe the word enlightenment would do the experience justice. The rewrite is where I come to realize what the story is “really” about. Sure, I know the theme going in, but during the process, when the demented artist in me is writing the story from my subconscious, I write almost in symbolic imagery and poetry more so than plot driven scene, and often I am unaware of the symbolic story elements until I stumble over them in the rewrite. It’s then when I, as the writer, become self-aware, aware of my words in a more metaphysical sense, and because I have become acutely aware of them, I can articulate their subtle nuances better. The rewrite for me is like deciphering a Rosetta stone in a sense, and it opens my eyes to what I am really trying to say with the work.
After that I find designing the cover to be the most fun. It’s the moment when I get to distill my thesis into art as imagery. The cover is where I try to picture the dream that is the story, and in only one case – Antiquity – did I choose to use art that was not my own. All my other books utilize my own photography, and that is very satisfying. Well, on Thin Wall, I had my husband’s help, but he didn’t mind at all, obviously.
Beyond that, the interior formatting is a technicality and one I am quite adept at, considering my extensive years in the desktop publishing industry. Some find formatting tedious, but I have adopted the “house formatting” mantra, and so I write my books in situ via a template, which means they are written in the final format and not in manuscript format. Recently over on The Self Publishing Review there has been a debate going as to whether SPers should use a word processing program to typeset their books. Typographers will argue against, since it is their job to notice these things, but most readers cannot discern the difference between a professionally typeset book and one done on a word processor if the typesetter knew their way around their word processing program. You can get professional looking results from a WP program if you know what you are doing. It won't be "perfect" in a typesetting sense, but it can be so very close to the mark that readers will not notice. Also, using a word processor program saves me time in the end, and makes reformatting for ebook that much easier. We all know ebook formatting is a sado-masochistic torture and a purgatory that rivals Dante’s Inferno, so any attempt to make it easier is worth it for the Indie author.
So writers, how do you differ from Mr. Follett?
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The art this week is "The Alchemist" by Sir William Fettes Douglas circa 1853