First Day of My Novel Writing Month

Yesterday was the first day of my novel writing month, and as you can see from the following timeline, I went right to work!!

5:30 pm Got on computer. Checked emails.

5:40 pm Checked Facebook. Made a couple of comments and responded to a message.

5:45 pm Played game of Solitaire.

5:48 pm Exchanged texts with a friend.

5: 53 pm Played another game.

5:58 pm Opened a document in MS Word and started this list.

6:00 pm Finally opened manuscript. Yay!

I made the few edits to the manuscript that my first reader found, scanned the last bit that I’d written all those years ago, and finally remembered What the Screams Were All About.

The last time I looked at the manuscript, it seemed as if I’d postponed writing a needed chapter between my poor character running from a horde one morning and waking up to screams the following morning, which I did not want to write so I put the book away again. On rereading the screaming excerpt, I realized an interim chapter would dilute the impact of the screams. (Probably why I hadn’t written the chapter in the first place, though it’s hard to remember when the manuscript is more than a decade old.)

Oddly, not writing the chapter makes me feel as accomplished as if I’d written. More so, actually, since it’s what the story needs.

Although I’d added only a few words to the book, by 7:15, I felt as if I’d done a whole days work.

So far, today all I’ve done is write this post about writing my book. Does that count as my writing stint for the day? No. I didn’t think so.

I’ll get started right away.

Oh, wait — is that the ping of a text I hear?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

When Life and Writing Overlap

Many writers claim they feel compelled to write. I am not one of them. I either write or don’t write depending on whether there is anything “real” going on in my life or not. Most of the time, real life is going on, so I feel no need to write. (Except for blogging, of course. I do that every day no matter what.)

There is one thing that does compel me to write fiction and that is when a story gets in my head and writing it is the only way to clear it out of my mind.

I’ve been planning to write a story about my exercise group, and I can’t write it until I’ve finished another, non-writerly project. (I am so not a multi-tasker!) Meantime, the story goes round and round in my head as I try to figure out the logistics of the plot. For example, I thought I knew who the murderer is, but he turns out to be a secondary gunman, someone who will writingbe caught up in the police investigation. I did figure out what the victim was doing at the studio, how she got inside, when she was killed, and why she was wearing what she was wearing. The murderer is still up for grabs.

Besides trying to figure out the story, I’ve been researching what will happen to those of us who find the body. Will the cops simply take names and contact information? Will they keep us near the scene? Take us down to the police station? It’s amazing how many mysteries are from the POV of cops or the cozy little old (and sometimes cozy young) woman who is playing amateur detective. Little is written about the moment-to-moment demands on the would-be witnesses. In movies, TV shows, books, you see the witnesses, bystanders, body watchers/catchers/snatchers or whoever already talking to the cops. How did they get to that point?

I know it’s time to write the story to get it out of my head when strange thoughts start ricocheting around in my brain, thoughts like, “I don’t have to do the research to find out what will happen to us witnesses. When the cops come to the studio after the murder, I’ll be able to see first hand what they do to us.”

Yesterday I even heard myself thinking, “I better clean the house. If the cops come here, I don’t want them to know how messy I am.”

I’m sure some of these thoughts are showing up because real life will overlap fiction. The women in my dance class are all part of the story and I . . . well, I am the narrator, a suspect, possibly the amateur detective. (Someone even suggested I should be the killer. It’s a clever twist, but Agatha Christie already used the ploy in The Murder of Roger Akroyd and besides, it felt like a betrayal when she did it, and I don’t like cheating my readers.)

Whatever the reason for the stange thoughts, I’ll be glad when it’s time to start putting the story on paper and out of my head. It’s getting just a bit confusing.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

How to Begin Writing a Novel

A woman left a comment on a writing discussion today saying she decided she wanted to write a novel, then she requested advice on how to begin.

My advice?

Write a word. Any word. That’s all it takes to start writing.

A book begins with a single word. Many novice writers get intimidated by the thought of writing an entire book, but all you ever need to write is one word. I know that’s not much of a goal, but in the end, it is the only goal. That’s how every book all through the ages got written — one word at a time. By stringing single words together, you get sentences, then paragraphs, pages, chapters, an entire book.

So, to begin with, just write. Get a feel for words. Read fiction. Get a feel for how a story flows. Once you are in the habit of writing, read books on how to write. Sometimes it takes a long time for it all to click. I’d written two and a half books, read dozens of books on how to write in addition to the thousands of novels I’d read, before it all clicked. Most of what the how-to-write books said didn’t make sense at first. Rising conflict? Stakes? Showing? Telling? I hadn’t a clue what they meant, but I stuck with it, and became a good writer. I’m not naturally talented, but I discovered that it is possible to learn the craft. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Writing is not always about writing. Sometimes it’s about thinking. Some authors can sit down and let the words flow and lo! There is a story! Other authors write extensive outlines, detailing the entire story before they ever set one word to the page. I don’t do either. I think about what story I want to write and why I want to write it. I figure out who the main characters are, what they want, how they are going to get it, who is going to stop them getting it. I figure out the beginning and the end (because I need to know where to begin and where I am going), and I figure out a couple of scenes in the middle, to give me an idea of how to get there. Then write. I am a very slow writer, but still, being a slow writer, I’ve written five books that have been published.

The best skill to learn after you’ve written your book is how to rewrite. Chances are, you dumped too much information in the first chapter because you assume people need to know everything about your character before they can understand her, so usually the first thing you do in rewriting is dump the first chapter. But to rewrite, you have to have written. So just write. And write what you want. Writing is all about practice. A person who wants to learn how to play the piano doesn’t just sit down at a piano and immediately start playing. You have to learn the basics, have to practice, but still, you can plunk at the keys to get a feel for piano playing. The same thing goes for writing.

All too often, inexperienced writers tiptoe through their novels, letting major events — fistfights, gunplay, murders, betrayals — take place off-page. It’s much easier to let characters emote afterward than for the writer to take the time and trouble to tackle the action scene. I know I have passed on opportunities to create such scenes, thinking the characters’ reactions all-important, but I forgot one thing: readers need to experience the drama.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the confidence to bring such complex scenes to life, to juggle the many elements that comprise an action scene, but the only way to learn is to plunge headfirst into action. Write it fast and fearlessly; let the words fall where they may. You can always clean up the mess in rewrites.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to study the publishing business. Learn everything you can about good prose, story elements, query letters, promotion. With so many millions of people out there who have written a book or who want to write a book, the competition is fierce. A writer does not attain maturity as a writer until he or she has written 1,000,000 words, or so they say. (I’m only halfway there.) So write. Your next book might be the one that captures people’s imaginations and catapults you into fame and fortune. Not writing another book guarantees you will never will reach that goal. It also keeps you from doing what you were meant to do.