Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Process? Yeah, I'm still searching for the perfect one....
by Sarah Pekkanen
I love, love, love that our current topic is process (did I mention I'm happy about it?) because it's a subject that has been consuming me lately. I've taken on a free-lance assignment that has allowed me to interview some big-name authors, and you can bet I've asked them to detail their workdays. I'm scrutinizing their schedules like a stalker. How do they fit in writing around teacher work days, book tours, sick kids and Facebooking? Do they write in the mornings, evenings, or carpool lines? What's their secret?
I think I'm fascinated by the topic because I'm still searching for the perfect process. If only I could stumble upon the key, imagine how much easier writing would be! Knocking out a novel would finally resemble my old fantasies, the ones in which I sat down at a table and let my fingers dance across the keyboard while I nodded in delight at my own cleverness. Sure, I'd get a little frustrated sometimes, but a quick walk in the woods or sip of cappuccino would steer me straight. (Just for the record? That never happens. Never. I don't even like cappuccino.)
But I know, deep down, it isn't simply a matter of happening upon the perfect coffeeshop or setting aside the hours from 1 to 4 pm to write. I don't think anything can really make writing a book easy. Some books come easier than others - I learned that firsthand, having just today turned in the final revisions on my third and quickest manuscript - but none of them are truly easy (and if you have experience to the contrary, please don't let anyone know. That's like casually mentioning that you fit into your size 4 jeans a week after giving birth. We may act happy for you, but we hate you a little bit inside).
So, here's my process: I'm a new fan of outlining. I didn't outline much at all for my first book, The Opposite of Me, but I had a pretty general outline for Skipping a Beat. I outlined much more extensively for my third book, These Girls, which will be out in April 2012. And I have a fourth book due April 1 (which I haven't even started) so you can bet I'll outline like crazy. I don't have time to get off track and write 50 pages that I have to delete once I figure out where the book is going. I need to get it right the first time to make my deadline. The books I love for helping to form outlines are Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I re-read them before writing every book, and I recommend them to everyone I know.
In terms of writing time, I squeeze it in when and wherever I can. Yesterday I took my oldest son to see "Transformers 3" and I snuck in a flashlight and hard copy of my manuscript, to proofread before turning it in. I bring my laptop everywhere - and I've taught myself to type in a moving car without getting carsick (when my husband is driving, just in case you're wondering). It's pretty easy, if you keep your head low enough so you don't see the scenery whipping by in your peripheral vision. Here are some of the places where I've written: In the waiting room of my kids' dentists office, in the waiting room of my own doctor's office, in the carpool line, on my back porch, at Chuck E. Cheese, in movie theaters, on the Amtrak train between Washington DC and New York, in hotel rooms, in my bedroom, in coffeeshops, on my living room couch, in bookstores, and in the hairstylist's chair while my single process color is setting (what, you thought my color was natural? Why thank you!)
So I think my process is that I don't really have one. I just try to write, almost every single day, and aim for at least 1,000 words. But some days I write much more than that - there was one, glorious night when pages poured out of me like water - and some days I write less.
Now I'd love to hear from you. What's your process? Because if you've found the key to writing books without pain, I'd love to hear it.
Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat, and the upcoming These Girls, which will be published in April 2012. Please visit her website at www.sarahpekkanen.com