When I began talking about wanting to write a novel, my husband said: “What? You’ve never even taken a writing class!” Well, maybe his challenge motivated me. I don’t like to think I can’t do something I set my mind to.
So, after I wrote the entire FIRST draft of the story (and I put that in CAPS because there were about 50 revisions after that), I was elated. This kind of writing was way more fun than professional or non-fiction writing, which was what I’d done before. I told writers I met that I felt I was channeling the story, that I would go to the computer wondering what in the world was going to happen to Miriam, my protagonist, today. She had her own life, separate from my hand or my mind. She just wrote her story through my hand. Writers told me that was just the way it should be … for the first draft. Channeling. That sounded a little woo-woo to me, but it was mesmerizing. I couldn’t imagine how fiction writers could have writer’s block.
Once I got through that first draft, I had to be the driver of the story, embellishing, deleting, tightening, clarifying, paying attention to what the reader already knew or didn’t know. So that was a different process, one that still drew my intense attention, but not quite as exhilarating as that first draft. But, I found I loved being able to fashion characters and scenes and action based on my whims or desires or curiosity.
I realized that my husband was correct.I needed some direction. So, I engaged Susan Monsky, a Boston College creative writing professor, to be my writing coach. She turned out to be a wonderful teacher and mentor. She never disappointed, in her interest and patient instruction of the essentials of writing fiction. I also read, read, read… I counted 30+ books about writing fiction on my Kindle. And I went to a writing conference sponsored by Grub Street, a well respected writing organization right in my town. And when I thought that my novel was almost there, but not quite, I hired a developmental consultant whom I found through Grub Street. Her name is Amaryah Orenstein and she was terrific in helping me to deepen the part of the story that had to do with Miriam’s Jewish heritage; she is Yiddish-speaking herself, so she could note dialogue with Miriam’s parents that did not ring true. And she is smart and fast and thorough.
I learned that my way of writing is one style. Just go for it… get that story all written and then revise till you can’t look at that story one more time. Others write completely differently. They use an outline. They write out complete life histories of each character, They know exactly where they’re going and how to get there. They might even write the ending and then work backward. That would never be my way, although I see the value of that method, especially for a mystery or thriller. But, I’ve always been someone who can only think if I’m sitting at the computer, writing.
“Planning to Outline Your Novel? Don’t” speaks to what I experienced. https://nybookeditors.com/2013/09/outlining/
Since Beguiled is a historical novel, I also had to do a lot of reading and visiting sites and interviewing people about the period of the early 1900s in Boston, in New York City, and in Provincetown, MA. I’ll talk about that experience in another post. But, that was all part of the learning to write a credible period piece, which I hope I did.
If you’re a fiction writer, reading this, please comment about how you go about writing your first draft.