My dear friend and critique partner Jessica Bloczinski tagged me for this sweet little writing process blog hop, and since I’ve been long overdue for a blog post, I thought I might give it a whirl.
What am I working on?
Right now I am finishing up draft number 17,000 of my Celtic Urban Fantasy The Children of the Fianna, which features the adventures of Irish Medievalist graduate student Elizabeth Tanner who is plunged into a Faerie Civil War between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians, two mythical tribes vying for power over Tír na nÓg.The eternal struggle will only end if she decides to marry the (evil!) Fomormian Lord Bres (no!) thereby fulfilling the covenant her
fae mother had forsaken years ago (dang it, mom!). Her only ally is Finn O’Connell, a member of a mythical race of Celtic warriors called the Fianna. Of course they fall in love and terrible things happen to tear that love apart. It’s been a blast to write, and I’m so pleased with how the story has turned out.
Why do I write what I do?
I walked around with the idea of CoF for years, and the first scene I ever imagined came to me in a cinematic flash of images: a young woman in a room full of books, a giant snake ripping apart her beloved advisor, blood spurting everywhere, a handsome warrior dude with a big sword swooping in, an evil wizard stealing a book, and not just any book, the subject of the young woman’s Master’s thesis! She’s the only person left alive who knows what’s in that book, and everyone wants that information! Who can she trust? Oh no!
So I rolled this scenario over and over in my head, but I never had time to write because I was finishing up my doctoral thesis on Irish Romanticism. My husband and I moved across state to the driftless area of Wisconsin, and the only job I could find was adjuncting, which was fine. FINE. But I had all this…Irish stuff…inside me, so much passion for the culture, the history, the language, the myths, the folklore…and nowhere to put it. I did do a considerable amount of research in my “spare time,” but one day I was sitting at my desk working on an article, and I asked myself, “Is this making me happy? Am I doing this because I love it? Because it brings me joy? Or am I doing this because I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing?” I started NaNo and wrote 10K words in a matter of four days, and I haven’t looked back. I don’t know if there will be a CoF franchise with a spinoff series and little Celtic action figures, but I do know that I will not stop writing the adventures of Elizabeth and Finn until I finish writing their story. I write what I do because I have no other choice, because it would break my heart not to tell this tale.
How does my writing process work?
I am what they call a “pantser,” meaning I like to write “by the seat of my pants.” I never heard this term before I started frequenting the NaNo forums, but it suits me. I start with a situation and just dive in and keep going. I’m a huge believer in Anne LaMott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” and I really don’t care if something sounds stupid or isn’t working. I write notes as I go, draw a lot of maps, talk into my phone, and draw little stick figures moving around poorly drawn castles.
But one thing that’s paramount to my writing process is the idea of small attainable goals. Some wonderful colleague of mine in graduate school recommended that I read the book Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day before I started on the dissertation journey. That book is amazing, and I think the principles work well for any extended project. For me, it wasn’t 15 minutes a day, but a word count–250 words to be exact. Some friends of mine even started a group called 250 Words! which we still use as a hub for academic writing discussions. In any case, I write every single day, even if I’m exhausted, even if I have a headache, even if the little monkeys are running around and tearing up the house, I write just a little bit each day. A thousand words if I’m drafting, or revising five pages if I’m editing. I find small ways to make this quota, maybe it’s during my lunch break, when the spaghetti sauce is simmering, or after the kids go to bed. If I go over, great! If I’m short, well, I made half my goal! Happy dance! I think what kept me from committing to writing in the past was a lack of discipline and routine. I wanted to write the Great American Novel in one night! But writing books just doesn’t work that way. You’re in it for the long haul. You can’t rush it. Sometimes you might get these great flashes of inspiration, but most of the time it’s just banging it out on the keyboard until you reach your quota and can go about your business.
Those flashes of inspiration are great though, and I love tapping into them during the revision process. I get into my “poet mind,” which is very hard to explain to people, but it feels very much like Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” where I’m pulling the bones out of the earth, sifting through debris, unearthing the words behind the words. Yeah…um… It’s kind of like that, but there’s also a sky mind where I throw my feelers out like Whitman’s spider and reach into some dark galaxy for the carbon that is essential to everything I want to say, and…yeah, forget it. I sound like a hippie. Writing is this very measured, pragmatic endeavor, but it can also be so mystical. Why else would we do it if it weren’t for those random highs, those moments when we tap, tap, tap, and then stare at the screen wondering where it all came from, what source opened up for us, spoke to us, made it real? I think intuition is a big part of my process, trusting my characters to play out a scene, listening to them when they have something to say, following their passions, their drives. Is think my revision process is more about getting out of the way of my characters and letting them speak authentically, and sometimes that comes with the first take, and sometimes it comes through a process of discovery on the ninth, tenth, hundredth draft.
Thanks to Jessica for tagging me! I’m hoping to be back on a more steady blogging schedule in the next few months after all my training is over for my NEW job. No more adjuncting, hooray!