Monday, December 03, 2007

Ask Tracy, Get Mental Spew in Return

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In the comments section, Mariann asked: I have this one nugget of an idea for urban fantasy, but lack the persistence to see it through. Tell me, how do you get from idea to outline and then novel??

Can I just say that from a book junkie's point of view, I would LOVE for you to finish this, Mariann? I think the best paranormal and urban fantasy romances are written by people who regularly visit the sci-fi/fantasy horror sections of the bookstore.

I'm not going to be a whole lot of help here, because what made me finish my first book was a giant stroke of good luck in the form of a book contract based on three chapters and a synopsis. Basically, the pressure of not wanting to disappoint my editor combined with also not wanting to have to forfeit my advance check helped move me along. : )

But I did get close with my first manuscript (a horror show calld Tell Me Everything that's currently under my bed awaiting burial at sea). One huge motivation came in the form of my critique group in Washington state. We met once a week over drinks (mostly non-alcoholic, sometimes not) and would talk about the scenes we'd exchanged with each other and had read during the past week. The group was always a lot more fun if we actually had stuff to critique, and I trusted those women enough that I looked forward to their feedback--so that got me to actually write so I'd have stuff for the meeting.

Another thing that helped me was Carolyn Greene's (aka the Plot Doctor) Prescription for Plotting notebook. I have a notoriously short attention span, so-- Look! Something sparkly over there!

Ahem. As I was saying, I have the attention span of an ice cube, so I write in short and sporadic fits. The notebook helped immeasurably because I could complete a worksheet in one all-too-brief sitting that asked me the right questions to help me figure out my plot.

Carolyn's honed the plotting process down to the essentials, so once you've thought your story through enough to complete the worksheets, your plot is essentially in your head just waiting to be spewed onto paper. I totally needed that when I first started writing, because I had a tendency to follow whatever "plot" line or character quirk caught my fancy at the moment, and I ended up with a lot of meandering scenes and no story to speak of. The manuscript under my bed is basically the literary manifestation of adult ADD. It scares me sometimes.

Carolyn's notebook functioned very much like a pair of training wheels for me. Now, I can sketch out a plot on a single sheet of paper, without having to even look at the notebook worksheets. People who write by the seat of their pants seem sort of magical to me--I could never do that. I have to compose the WHOLE thing in my head before I can even start putting more than one chapter down on paper.

In fact, I like to compare myself to Mozart when I'm feeling grandiose, because he also wrote his works in his head before putting them down on paper. Although my books are hardly the literary equivalent to Don Giovanni (Best! Opera! Ever!) or The Magic Flute. But whatever.Long story short, having the whole book sitting in my head is enough motivation in and of itself for me to get it down on paper and out of my poor, overworked mama brain.

And finally, I find that if I can write at least a paragraph every day, I slowly start to slap my narcoleptic muse awake, and the words just start to flow. By the end of a book, for example, I'm churning out at least 20 pages per day, and they all tend to fall into the not-bad-and-definitely-fixable category. There's just something about several consecutive days of writing that pushes me along and sparks my creativity like nothing else can.

It's only after several consecutive days of creative writing (i.e. not work-related green news articles or green living advice, not emails to friends, not the massive to-do lists I'm forced to do because of my post-partum short-term memory loss) that I start doing that wake-up-at-3-am-with-a-great-idea-for-a-story-thing. And when I get there, I know that writing has gone from a battle to something that's actually fun.

I heard a REALLY great workshop from RWA National on what to do when life has you so bogged down, you feel about as creative as a potato. It was given by Susan Mallery and called "Screw the Muse, I'm on Deadline." I highly recommend it! (Email me if you need to know where to find it.)

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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