Thoughts on My Writing Process

Everyone always asks if I write every day. The answer is yes – and no. If I’m composing, I write about an hour and a half to two hours and certainly try to do it every day.

If you could write a book as quickly and easily as you read it, we would be more awash in publications than we already are. Two to three pages a day is about average for me. As John Updike once suggested, you just do the math; two times 365 is a long novel!

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors had a poster over her desk with quotations from writers. One of them was, “I have a hard time convincing my wife I’m working when I’m staring out of the windows.” Writers do a lot of staring into space, or at least I do.

The inspiration for novels, short stories and poetry all come from a different place in my body before the brain starts working. Short stories are a sharp gut-punch, poetry wrings the heart and novels? That’s a LOT of headwork!

Writing poetry is not like any other composition. The idea comes, usually in a line. Olga Broumas, the poet, once said that she had a little shelf on the top of her brain where she stored them until she was ready to work on them. The idea grows into a poem and then often finds itself on the page in what former Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Ellen Kort, called “a spilling.”

I write short stories all in my head. I have a clear idea of storyline, characters, setting, voice and even dialogue. That’s when I do a lot of gazing out the window. When I sit down to write, it takes me about a week for a typical fifteen-page manuscript. I compose in the morning and rewrite in the afternoon.

Getting poetry on paper is both harder and easier than other writing. Sometimes it is difficult to start, but once the idea really begins to germinate the writing comes quickly. I try, however, never to put something out or call it finished until it has gone through my poetry group. Blessings on the Paper Birch Poets!

Let’s face it. Writing a novel is a slog! With the first one, I learned you start out with a really bright fire in your belly and end up in a burst of gratitude that you have reached the required number of pages and word count. In between, it’s a hard climb of usually about two hundred pages!

When I was writing my second collection of short stories, “Street Signs,” I knew I needed one more story to make the collection a proper length. I was completely out of ideas. I did think to ask for a little heavenly help, and for the one and only time in my life, the story came completely finished in a dream! (P.S., in my opinion, it is a nice story if divinely inspired, but not great. It just filled out the collection! Don’t expect miracles, you writers.)

There are always those dry spells and sometimes they turn into deserts. Workshops help. With poetry that’s why I stay close to my critique group. Having to produce or be embarrassed if you don’t is one way to progress. Prompts help. They can be formal or not. Sometimes they come from friends, nature or some task. Pay attention.

As I’ve said before, I do a lot of thinking and planning before I write. That is especially true with dialogue. It’s a lot healthier to have those “he said, then I said,” conversations in your head about some fictional character than a member of the family. And there is no danger of verbalizing them. The nice thing is when you get them on paper, they actually come out the way you anticipated. Never in real life!

The challenge with A Reasonable Lady was to get close to the style of language of 19th Century Britain without burdening the reader with unfamiliar jargon. For that reason, I didn’t spare the vocabulary (they did speak beautifully in the novels of the period) but did not indulge in a lot of the slang expressions of the time, even though they would be familiar to die-hard romance readers. I was hoping to make it accessible to a wider audience.

To help me with the geography of London, I bought a map of the city and quickly realized it did me no good. I found a wonderful vendor in London and was able to purchase an 1813 map of London! The help was invaluable. Many of the modern streets did not exist at that time, and I had begun by placing the little townhouse in Pimlico. In 1813, it was still Five Fields or sometimes Tothin Field, since it was just off Tothin Road.

I must admit I had always thought of myself as a very poor researcher. Often I can’t even read my own handwriting. In writing A Reasonable Lady and the books that follow, I have become fascinated with the pre-Victorian and Victorian eras in England. I find myself doing more and more research, although I am sure the book contains many historical errors. Reader, I ask that you please ignore them.