My Writing Process


I received a Facebook message from Alana asking me multiple questions about my writing process. Here's my response...and it's truly epic-length!

My creative process has become a lot more organized with each book. I'll be the first to say that there is no right or wrong way to create...what works for one person will be a nightmare for another. For example, some authors are plotters, and others are 'pantsers,' meaning they write by the seat of their pants. Some write in a linear fashion, meaning they start at page one and go in a straight line until they get to the end. When they stop writing for the day, they pick right up where they left off. Not me! I start at whatever section is screaming at me to be fleshed out, and then I jump around a lot. I add things in and take things out over and over. This is the reason why I don't give too many 'sneak peeks' of a work in progress until the book is almost finished -- because I'm constantly coming up with little nuggets that have to be planted early in the story for them to have a bigger impact later on.

That being said, I used to be a pantser, but now I establish a loose plot line that is flexible enough for me to change as needed. And it happens a lot. I've learned to let it change and evolve as it wants to. Sometimes that means I might lose a reader, or upset them because I didn't give them what they wanted, but you can't make everyone happy. Plus it's a great opportunity for some fan-fiction! I'd totally read it if people wrote it! ;)

Ideas come to me constantly, and out of nowhere, so I rarely leave the house without a notepad and a pen stuffed in my purse. If I'm in a pinch I'll email myself notes. I've written notes on napkins, invoices, paper plates, receipts...whatever is handy. The idea of leaving the house without my notebook gives me mild anxiety. It's like a security blanket for me.

As far as the inspiration for those ideas, it comes from life in general. It could hit me while peeling potatoes for supper or watching a TV show (Mr. Cannaday & I are about to start Downton Abbey for the 6th time). Maybe it's a word, a location, a chord of music. It could be going to the antique shop and finding 'Talvi's straight-razor' or chatting with a girlfriend over lunch about her family. She has a relative who everyone suspects is a secret agent because he once left to pick up a birthday cake and came back 5 months later. All his family received was a letter on government stationary saying that he'd been called into work and don't ask questions. Sound familiar???

The characters are everything to me. They drive the story, and the plot changes depending on their reactions to the situations I put them in (or situations they put themselves in). When I wrote the first draft of The Flame and the Arrow, Talvi was supposed to be a nice, sweet guy...a little naive and innocent. More of a true hero. Then I got to know him better and I realized that I could never 'make him' behave that way. He was worldly and devilish and frustrating and immature about so many things, while clever and sharp about others. A lot of people hate on him, and I understand why. But a lot of people love him, and I also understand why. Same goes for Annika, and Finn. Some of my critics say that my characters are unlikable, that they are selfish (Annika), immature (Talvi), that they let us down (Finn) etc. It doesn't bother me because I don't really disagree with that

This is actually one of the reasons why I started writing in the first place, because characters in the books I read were SO perfect that I never thought of them as real. I felt like I was reading a book about a person who didn't exist. I never felt completely sucked into a story until I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. She made them real to me because they were so flawed, which made them beautiful and memorable to this day. My characters aren't mature adults making great life choices. They are younger, or inexperienced, or faced with situations and decisions that none of us would have to deal with. They mistake drama for passion, and fantasy as reality. I love mixing the fantasy with reality because it gives you a lot more room to explore themes with fewer rules...or at least, it lets you bend the rules. ;) I try to make the characters real, and that means flawed. Really flawed. Maybe the more flawed they are, they more real they seem, and that's what helps bring them to life? Maybe that's why we root for them so hard when they start to grow up, and why we cry when they self-destruct?

I used to keep a mirror at my desk so that I could scowl and sneer and smirk into it, and then write a description of what I saw. I love psychology and am able to read people's attitude & mood pretty fast when I'm with them in person. I'm sure that helps in bringing characters to life, too. I always wonder WHY someone did what they did, or HOW they will react if X happens. When you spend all your free time daydreaming about imaginary people, I guess you get to know them pretty well.

As far as the mechanics of my writing process go, I've gotten a LOT more organized in the past year! I try to write down major plot points or themes on my note cards and then organize what order I want them to happen in. The different colors indicate which characters those events are centered around, but with 5 colors and a much bigger cast, they have to share. ;) The cards can be rearranged at any time, depending on how things develop as I start filling in the gaps that link events together. Then I go into my manuscript and number off some chapters. Instead of chapter titles, I have a few words that say what's happening in that chapter. In the body of the text I write a sentence or two (or twenty) about what's supposed to happen in each chapter. I can always add in a new chapter at any time, and then I re-number them to stay organized. There are software programs out there for authors to make this a lot easier (Scrivener is a great one), but I stick to what I know -- Microsoft Word. I tried Scrivener and became so overwhelmed that I. Just. Couldn't. Even. I've found that I function better if I can write things down on index cards and look at how they fit together on my dining room table. I've worked with my hands since birth, drawing, creating, and building, so it makes sense that I like to write on the cards and touch them.

As far as my daily word count goes, it really varies. On a bad day I'll sit at my desk and squeeze out 500 hard-won words. On a great day I'll knock out 3000. One of my weaknesses is that I self-edit and self-censor when I should be writing the first draft with warts and all. Mr. Cannaday is constantly reminding me to stop hitting the "Delete" button. I know he's right, and I'm working on it, I swear!! I know some authors say they write 1, 3, and 5 thousand words day and they crank out a book a month, but they are not me. I am very, very careful not to compare myself to other authors that way. I can only measure my achievements against where I was yesterday, last week, six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. A lot of authors fall victim to 'comparisonitis.' I'm not one of them, and it's incredibly liberating!!

Writing is now my full time job, but that doesn't mean 40 hours a week of sipping coffee/tea/wine and making things up in my office. It means doing all of the businessy stuff that a lot of creative people don't like...which is why they try to get agents and traditional publishing deals, etc. Since I'm independently published, I'm the one hiring the cover designer, the formatter, the narrator, and the distributors. I'm the one proofing their work, requesting changes, and coaching my narrator to give me more attitude and be snarly and seductive. I'm the one checking sales and setting the budgets for all of these professionals that I work with, and then investing in advertising, education, tax prep, etc. And then there's managing the Review Team, the website, social media, and writing emails, etc. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes!

My mother-in-law is retiring at the end of the year, and I'm training her to help me out with some of the administrative stuff to give me more time to write. However...the one thing that I never will outsource is responding to my readers! I might not always have the time to comment on something you post here, but I will 'Like' it to let you know that I read it. ;) And if you send a FB message, I can't always write back immediately (it would help if FB notifications worked better, too - sorry about that, Alana!). But I will do my absolute best to respond to anyone who reaches out to me. It's because of YOU that I'm able to be where I'm at today, and because of YOU that I get to create audiobooks and write The Darkest of Dreams and re-launch my contemporary romance series instead of having to return to a regular day job. Aside from making things up and writing them down, hearing from YOU is my favorite thing about this whole indie author gig. I've had some amazing comments and emails that give me such incredible inspiration to keep at this. That's why I love this Facebook group so much! Yes, my career is a lot of work, but I love it all so much that it honestly doesn't feel like work to me. It feels like a dream come true. Thank you so much for that. ;)

Hugs!!! <3

Fresco Opera Theatre, Edgar Allen Poe, & the Haunted Masonic Temple that brought them together.

I've always been curious about opera but never made it a point to attend one. That is, until some of my friends told me about The Poe Requiem, a production by the Fresco Opera Theatre based here in Madison. My conversations with singer & composer Clarisse Tobia regarding the pursuit of creative expression had left me wanting to hear more. Plus Edgar Allen Poe has been on my bookshelf since middle school, so when the stars aligned it was a no-brainer to attend.

I walked into this experience without any idea of what to expect. I was greeted by doormen dressed in red frock coats and white powdered a vision from a 1700's palace. I was ushered to my seat by black-feathered ravens on stilted legs that glittered in the eerie blue and purple lights. They could've stepped right off the set of The Dark Crystal. There was video imagery on screen of swirling mist and paintings of the morphine-addicted tortured artist himself, along with the capillary-like pattern of a giant leafless oak tree projected onto the floor. A troupe of dancers evoked cobwebs blowing in the breeze, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and the raven that witnessed it all. Add to that a full chorus, soloists, organs and an orchestral ensemble - all macabre to the max. I was already dazzled by the experience, and then Clarisse delivered a solo that sent shivers down my spine.

The shame is that it only plays for 2 nights. This show ought to run for at least two weeks to give more people a greater opportunity to see it. Like a fleeting meteor shower or an elusive eclipse, I consider myself very lucky to have been witness to this experience.

The Poe Requiem was held at the Madison Masonic Temple, which ticked another box off my 'interesting places to visit' list. The haunted temple tour following the breathtaking performance was an unexpected surprise. I know a little about Masonic symbolism, but now I'm inspired to research more after seeing the ceremonial rooms filled with hand-carved wooden throne-like chairs, altars, columns that represent a Sacred Gateway tied to ancient Egypt, etc. The space definitely had a certain vibe to it that I can only describe as esoteric, slightly unsettling, and utterly magnetic. I would absolutely love to be locked in here overnight and get acquainted with the resident poltergeists and ghosts...and watch the show one more time.

A girl can dream.

In Through the Out Door

Downtown Galena, Illinois

Downtown Galena, Illinois

This summer was pretty jam-packed with too much work and not enough play, but I was able to carve out a weekend to visit the historic and charming town of Galena, Illinois. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Galena River valley, many of the buildings date from the Federalist period (around 1840). If you're a bit of a history nerd and you're anywhere near northwest Illinois, I encourage you to plan a visit.

Of all the spots we visited, it was the doors that caught my eye most often - specifically the doorknobs. I got teased for my level of enthusiasm over them, but is what it is.

I suppose I could write an essay about the symbolism of doors and explore how they figuratively and literally enable the passing from one place in life to another. I could wax poetic of how doors can be left wide open or locked up tight...blah blah blah. I'll spare you because I know you get it!

When I saw one of these knobs and ran up to it with my camera, I didn't see mundane hardware. I saw works of art. To me, these intricate entries were just as captivating as anything I've seen at the Louvre. I thought of the craftsmanship that went into creating those designs, and I thought of all those artists who didn't ever consider inscribing their name in the corner of their art. Those creators are long gone and mostly forgotten. Their bones are dust, but the stunning skill they once wielded lives on. Thousands of people walk past these works of art every year without batting an eye...but then there are people like me who stop dead in her tracks to capture them forever in a picture.

Regardless if it's chipped or fresh, the layers of paint tell a story too. Someone's quick cover up or meticulous painting job is inevitably erased by time and worn by weather. Rain etches verdigris into the metal and many hands keep the metal shining bright or dull it from the oil of curious fingers.

Who walked through here before me?

Who will walk through here after I'm gone?