I hated that question for most of last year. Why? Because the writing wasn’t going. As in, not at all. (I talked about why in this post.) However, I didn’t want to say that, because that would have been hugely discouraging. Discouraging to whom, you might ask? For starters, it wouldn’t have been the best news for the readers who have told me that they are excited about my next book. And it certainly wouldn’t have been at all encouraging to any of those just-starting-out authors I met at conferences, classes or other events.
Aside from having a story burning inside of you that demands to be told, I believe the desire to understand how other people go about setting free their stories is the mark of a true writer. The process. We’re fascinated by it. And rightly so; there are hundreds of means to the same end. Ask ten writers about their process and there won’t be a matching answer among them. One will describe her elaborate outline, another will wax poetic about storyboards. Another will proclaim he starts with the ending and writes backwards while the person sitting next to him can’t imagine starting anywhere but the beginning. The fascinatingly beautiful thing about process is there is no right way, only the right way for each individual.
I don’t outline and I can’t imagine starting anywhere but the beginning. I have a general feeling about how I want the story to end and about the themes that are important to me. I take the rest a page a time. There are always surprises along the way. Some of them end up on the “cutting room floor” while others alter the shape of the story in lovely and amazing ways I never could have planned.
When I began writing Neverending Beginnings, I knew that I wanted my main character to be working through a fear of committment and that I wanted her to learn something about the importance of taking risks. When I presented the first chapter in my writing class, someone expressed concern about, Kate, the main character’s drinking and wondered if she was an alcoholic. Since this was the furthest thing from what I intended to portray, I decided that I needed there to be a motivation for Kate to dislike weddings and seek an escape. Enter her recently deceased mother. This one little shift in the story made the plot richer and refined the theme into something deeper, more existential (full living in response to acknowledgment of the brevity of life).
So what exactly was my process? I had an idea. I wrote a bit. Someone had an opinion. They shared it. It shaped my story. A classic tale of right place, right time. Serendipitous coincidence. The ability to trust in the happenstance.