Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hand Me My Writing Hat!

Hello and happy new year!

It’s been a busy week around here. In addition to celebrating the holidays then taking down and packing up all the decorations, I’ve started a new book.

Or I should say, I started writing a new book.

Because, you see, I’ve actually been working on the book for about three weeks now, even though I wasn’t writing a word. I’m an outliner, and I spent those three weeks walking through my story again and again, filling in details, coming up with clues, picturing scenes and fitting them in here and there until the whole thing meshed. I ended up with a 22-page outline, and a thought about how many different hats a writer wears.

Wearing the outlining hat, I plot and plan, working in details, thinking of twists and turns. I’ve heard writers say they never outline and to that I say: three cheers. But writing by the seat of my pants doesn’t work for me. Especially when I’m writing mysteries, I need the safety net of knowing that my plot will work out in a logical, reasonable way. There’s a lot of A-to-B-to-C thinking when it comes to outlining, but there’s a lot of creativity that goes into it, too. After all, every new idea fuels that A-to-B-to-C and without those crazy ideas, the plot would go nowhere.

Once that stage is finished, I can go onto the next phase, and wearing the next hat. That’s when I actually write the book. Though my outline says what’s going to happen, it often doesn’t say how, so there’s a lot of creativity involved at this stage, too. Then there’s the actual putting the words on the page (or in my case, the computer screen). Creativity galore, and lots of writing, rewriting, polishing, changing. It’s fun to put words in my characters’ mouths, and not so fun to remind myself that every one of those words has to have a place in my book or it’s got to go.

The writing stage is, of course, the longest and that’s a good thing, too. It means that once I get my brain in writing mode, it can stay there for three or four months and settle in.

When I’m done with a book, the writing hat comes off and the editing hat goes on. This is the most ruthless phase of the book process. It has to be. This is the phase where I need to question every one of those carefully chosen words and each and every plot point that I thought was brilliant only a few months before. A writer really does have to divorce herself from her work at this stage. Otherwise, it’s impossible to be impartial and without that impartiality, we can never know if our work is good, great, or simply passable.

So hand me my writing hat. I’m settling in! With any luck, Pepper Martin mystery #7 will be done in plenty of time to meet my April deadline.

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