Today on The Australian Bookshelf we have author Jennifer Caloyeras on tour with Diversion Press. She is promoting her novel, Urban Falcon.
Thanks so much for having me!
As a writer, I think one of the most useful bits of information I received was learning how different writers operate. My own writing process has become a bit of hybridization of various writers’ methods as well as my own unique way of organizing my work.
So today, I offer you a rundown of my approach. Hopefully, you can glean something useful from this!
Most people think of writing as a linear activity. Begin at the beginning and write your way through to the end. For me, writing is a balancing act involving simultaneous layers of organization.
Sure, there is the actual act of writing the story (this becomes more complex if I am working on a novel-length work as opposed to a short story). I’ll call this, the manuscript – or what actually gets read by others. But I also have a myriad of other documents either open in Word or scribbled on pieces of paper next to me that I reference.
Often when writing, I’ll stumble across a problem. For example, in my current project, the protagonist’s mother is dead. That is a fact I need to work around. The problem I needed to solve was: how did she die? I will go to my Problem – page where I can state the problem, “how did this character’s mother die?” and begin brainstorming circumstances surrounding her death. Was it accidental? Was it health-related? How did my protagonist react when she found out the news? In this example I’m exploring a big problem, but I’ll still use my Problem – for small things. “What kind of student is my protagonist?” for example.
Through trial and error and getting to know my own style of writing, I have learned that I work much better with the help of an Outline. I think some writers are scared of outlines because they seem so final, but I like to think of my outline as just a general guide to get me from the beginning of my book to the end. This outline is ever changing, but as things change plot wise in my story, I reflect these changes on my outline page. There is no specific way to write an outline. Some people like numbers or roman numerals or bullet points. I prefer dash marks.
Research is my favorite way to procrastinate actual writing, so of course I have pages and pages of research! As I’m writing (but mostly during times of revision) this is where I jot down questions that need answering. For the project I am currently working on, my research questions included, “What’s the name of a school newspaper? What’s the violation code for the crime my protagonist committed? What are the various parts of a bicycle?” When I’m in a writing rut, I simply visit the research page and begin answering these questions one by one either with the help of the Internet, the library or an expert in the field.
My paste-it page can often seem like a cemetery for material that has been cut from my manuscript. It’s hard for me to let go of lines, paragraphs, pages and at times entire chapters that I’ve written. So instead of hitting the delete button, I cut and paste them to the paste-it page. If there’s a line I love or a concept that can be added later, I can visit this page and give these discarded words new life.
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (a must have for writers and writing instructors) inspired the next tool I use. I call this section The Bones. This is the back matter of the story, the ideas that never make it to the page because they are the skeleton that the meat of my novel sits upon. Things like, “what was my protagonist’s life like before the story begins? What’s her favorite activity? What color are her eyes? Has she ever been in love before?” Any of these kinds of pre-writing activities I might do before a character or plot line is fully formed lives here. The Bones reminds me who my characters are and perhaps why they are the way they are and how they might change throughout the book.
Finally, there’s the acknowledgements page. Every book has an acknowledgements page where people who have helped the writer along their book’s journey are thanked for their efforts. I keep track of anyone who has helped in the shaping of my novel, from the friend who answered questions about a particular city or line of work to a police officer I may have randomly questioned about juvenile defense. If I were writing under any sort of grant, I am sure to thank to the foundation. And if I gave anyone my manuscript to look over before sending it out, they are also thanked. While writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, producing a book definitely takes a village!
I find that the more organized I am, the more freedom, time and energy I have to be creative and get writing.
I hope you have found this information helpful!
Thank you Jennifer for being a guest on The Australian Bookshelf. If you have any questions for Jennifer please leave a comment below.
Read my review of Urban Falcon by Jennifer Caloyeras.