On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader On August 9, 2016:

nano_featureI mentioned last November that I was participating in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event during which writers around the world commit to write 50,000 words in thirty days. At the time, I had been working on a project for a while but had only managed to write a little over 6,000 words. I am a voracious reader of mystery novels, but with the exception of three short stories, one of which was written when I was sixteen years old, I had never written anything but non-fiction. I was intimidated by the process, but I decided to use the motivation and peer pressure of what writers call NaNoWriMo to focus my keyboard time on my first novel.

At the end of the month, I was a few thousand words short of my goal, but I was far enough into the project to know that I had to finish it. In the last eight months, I’ve expanded my manuscript to 83,000 words and forty-eight chapters. I’m still a chapter or two short of typing The End, but I thought I’d share a few of the many things I’ve learned about writing a novel.

  1. Fiction requires a lot of research, especially if you’re writing about something outside Writing fictionyour realm of experience. My cousin who is an attorney is no longer surprised when I message her with a legal question, and a friend who is a former policeman is not fazed when I corner him at church to question him about law enforcement procedures.
  2. Characters write themselves. I had heard other authors say this, but I didn’t really understand until it happened in my story. Originally, my female main character was named Tanya, but every time I started to write it, I had to think about it because Tatia was the name that came into my mind. I finally gave in and changed her name, and she was content after that. Sometimes, as I write dialogue or actions, the character involved will tell me, I wouldn’t say – or do – that. I’ve also learned that, when your characters have nothing more to say, it’s probably time to begin a new chapter.
  3. I learned what it means to become really engrossed in a project. Friday afternoon, I was working on a scene that I could see in my mind, but I was having trouble writing it. The words finally began to flow, and I was really into it until my character began to plan what she was having for dinner. I stopped and thought, Do I need to be cooking right now? It took me a few minutes to get reoriented to the real world – what time of day it was, what meal plans I had already made, and even what day it was.
  4. I read a blog recently by a fellow author who said that it’s okay to stare into space because daydreaming is part of a writer’s job. That was a relief.
  5. I first learned this principle in writing non-fiction, but it’s even truer when you’re making the story up as you go alone. Ideas about how to fix a problem come at the most unexpected moments – in the shower, while working in the garden, or during the pastor’s message. Sorry Pastor Jason.
  6. I learned what real panic feels like – when Word freezes and/or shuts down when you’re in the middle of a climactic scene. This has happened more than once, but so far, the most I’ve lost is a few paragraphs.
  7. I learned to save – often!
  8. I learned what the editor of my first book meant when she said, “Sometimes you have to kill off your darlings.” Most readers have probably had the experience of reading a section of a book and thinking, Okay, and your point is? Even the most amazing scenes have to be deleted if they don’t go anywhere.
  9. You can’t write a novel and have a successful garden at the same time. I planted late, weeded maybe three times, and waited way too long to start watering every day. We had ten or twelve really nice tomatoes, about that many cucumbers, a few squash, and three or four messes of okra. I’ve given the purple hulls over to the deer and everything else to the weeds, but I have an almost complete manuscript, so I’m happy.
  10. Finally, I learned that if you try to write while O’Reilly is talking about the Democratic National Convention, you may put too many syllables in “acquaintances.”

Blessings,

Linda

winding road Cover 25 percent

A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos

Available in paperback and digital versions.

B&N // Kobo // iTunes // Amazon // Smashwords // Google Play

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