The writing process is as individual as it is creative. There is no “right” way, although there are certainly some which are probably wrong. Over the course of twenty-years and over ninety books I have tried different ways, evolved, and I continue to change and evolve. Overall, what I’m trying to do is impose some sort of order and organization on a process that is almost by definition disorderly and disorganized.
With that said, I begin each new book by creating a writing book. It is a hard covered duo-tang and on the front I write the title of my story and often an illustration that goes with it.
This illustration for me is an essential part of the process. This scene sets the tone for me. I imagine myself – my character – walking across the Mara, and that tree is THE tree for me. I have hundreds of pictures I’ve taken of trees like that as the sun sets. Even at this early point in the process, I wondered if my characters would take refuge in a tree like that one night.
The title is essential for me. I always want to start with a title. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to change – and at least a third of the time it does – but it gives me a starting point. Sometimes the title instantly comes to me. Other times I struggle for a title, describe the book and ask others for suggestions and brainstorm with my family and friends. In the case of Walking Home, the title just came to me.
Working without a deadline or schedule can lead to not writing. I always being by setting up a schedule and my own goals for progress. I want to write two pages a day and try to write every day. Of course, sometimes life gets in the way of writing – or at least writing this story. Another novel comes back for revisions or editing, another idea jumps into my head and then I need a few days to make rough notes on that. Maybe I’m travelling – although airports and airplanes can be incredible places to write.
I use a variety of versions of this but generally it looks very similar to my schedule, pictured below, for Walking Home and contains the Days (how long I’ve been writing), Date, Pages Written, Cumulative Total of Pages and my Predicted Number of Pages.
These page totals are not for rough notes but for pages on the computer. While I eventually always use my computer there are times – climbing a mountain, crossing a desert or walking through Kenya, for example – when the computer is the second step. On these occasions, I always have with me a writing book, a smaller pad. Depending on the trip, it may be something so small it fits into my pocket. With it, I make rough notes, jot down chapter ideas, or specific words or phrases of conversation but also passages of writing. During our walk through Kenya, I was continually taking notes and writing, but didn’t necessarily have time to transpose my notes in to my computer. After walking twenty-five or thirty kilometers I was too tired or it desperate need to mentally process what I’d seen. There were also so many instrumental tasks involved – making sure we coordinated our ride, arranging for food and water, settling everybody into their accommodations for the night.
When the story starts as hand written the move to the computer actually acts as my first edit. What I’ve written by hand and what I typed are different.
You can compare these first notes with the finished product – this is page 239 in the novel.
An interesting side note. This writing book was given to me by Connor – who walked across Kenya with me for the novel Just Deserts and was one of instrumental participants in our walk across Kenya. This is the inscription from the book.
This is, once again, my attempt to apply order to disorder. I’m trying to figure out where my character has been and where he is going to, to keep track of the story.
Potential chapter ideas are listed on the next pages and are sometimes listed in order but often are just plot ideas.
This is a continually evolving list as I discover new things about the character or insert something that will allow the character to do something needed. I change the backstory to allow the character to act in certain ways necessary for the flow of the evolving story.
The next sections of the book are:
Writing – lots and lots of blank lined paper
Research – notes I’ve made to understand the situation
Rewrite (Cha-cha-cha-changes) – things I want to insert in the next draft
This was my writing process in general and for Walking Home specifically. This doesn’t mean it should be your process. In reality, one of the last books I wrote was almost completely without plot direction. It was character driven so I allowed my character to determine the direction of the story.
Discover your process, and above all, simply enjoy the journey!