Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Talk-time :: Writing and Fairy Dust

Long-time PHS columnist Anne McAllister discovers the "fairy dust" that all writers need to succeed.

A few months ago I began to work on what was supposed to be the first of a four-book series.  Life, being what it is, intervened, and I realized before long that the second book, which was the Christmas book, was going to be finished, oh, about by Christmastime. So . . . not a good thing.

I discussed this with my publisher.  They adjusted to accommodate. No, they didn't move Christmas. They told me I should rethink the order of the books.  So I did. And in doing so, suddenly I had the fourth book first, the first book second, the second book (can you say, Christmas?) third, and the third book (good-bye Valentine's Day), fourth.

That is the part where things change and stay the same because this has happened to me before. And I imagine it's happened to others as well. Not always for the same reasons, but still . . . it happens.

But I wasn't worried.  That works, I thought.  I'll just write book four.

Trouble was, I had no idea what book four was about. I knew the people, but I didn't know anything about their story. That was supposed to occur as the result of the other three stories.


So I have spent the last three months wandering around in a maze of all four stories trying to work them out.  I taught myself Scrivener (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks) by reworking a reprint of Cowboys Don't Cry, and I realized that using Scrivener and putting all four books in one project would allow me to see their inter-relations graphically in the binder. I could color-code them and intersperse them, which I did.

I made tons of busywork for myself. Every day I color-coded and revised my color-coding, and tinkered and messed and did a whole lot of dragging and dropping, and then re-dragging and re-dropping. And all the while I asked myself every fifteen minutes or so, "What are you doing?"

Because, honestly, it seemed like I was creating vast amounts of busywork for myself that wasn't producing anything, much less a book.  I did have rather neat strings of red, green, blue and aqua scenes though, interleaved with yellow-coded "backstory" bits all laid out in a timeline. I love timelines.

But I didn't have a book.

And then, all of a sudden, like magic, I did!

It was that "fairy dust" we always hear about at writers' conferences, I think.  It was getting up one day all ready to tackle my color-coded scenes again and stick in new ones and move old ones around, and then, suddenly, there they were -- hero of the first book, Shea, and hero of the third book (my Christmas guy), Quinn, striding across a ranch yard talking to each other.

I almost had to run to keep up with them. I typed fast, and hurried after them faster, and Shea (the most elusive of men for months) suddenly had a lot to say. Some of it he said to Quinn. Some of it he said to me -- in his head -- and, glory be, I have the beginnings of a book!

Actually I have the beginnings of four books!  All these people are finally coming out of the woodwork, pushing and shoving, and saying, "It's my turn!"  "No, I want to talk. It's mine!"

Who knew?

Well, truth is, I dared hope.  I've been writing for a lot of years now.  And I don't know about other writers, but it often happens like that for me. Which is to say, it never happens the same way twice.

Some books, when I sit down, just start to flow, and I go with that flow. Others I have to wrestle to the ground and choke to get words out of them. And these four, apparently, required me to spend hours moving little rectangles of color around while my subconscious -- and Shea's and Quinn's -- started to work.

The moral of the story, for me at least, is to show up and trust the process.  To just turn up, sit down at the computer, and do whatever seems to need doing.  And one way or another, whatever I'm doing eventually begins to act like a book.

The moral for everyone else is, I guess, that writing is not an exact science. Stories come out of us in whatever ways we find to let them.  You do what works for you. I'll do what works -- at the moment -- for me.  Be there. Show up.  Trust your characters -- and yourself.

And hopefully next year we will have some great books to read!

I wish you all a joy-filled and interesting new year!

1) wishingtreestudio.com


  1. I love it when that happens. In some ways, I think the more tricky the circumstance, the better the book that comes out of it.