Ashes and Rubble

Ashes and Rubble

Every once in a while I’ll address some personal questions sent to me on social media, because apparently, burning questions about a forest weirdo slinging ink in a tiny house are keeping people up at night. But the questions I really love to answer are the ones about writing…The bones of writing, how the ink that lands on the paper turns into vivid characters we love, the ones lurking in the background of our minds when we finally go back to our real lives.
I get 100-175 questions a week and it’s impossible to answer them all because it cuts into my whiskey time. But let’s take one of my favorite fan queries about writing and get stuck in…

What are the stages of writing a novel, if you had to label them? Is it always the same? Do you outline the book before you sit down to write it? 
Gina Barnes, Alaska

What is this thing you speak of, Gina…the “outline?”
I’m kidding, the reason I’ve never outlined is because I don’t know what’s happening until I write it. I think the majority of other authors do outline, in fact, it’s the norm in publishing, but to put it in technical terms, I don’t have a fucking clue what happening until it’s on the page.
It’s been said that plotting is the death of inspiration, and I think that’s true. But to answer your question, there are definite stages that are similar in every book, and here’s the inside scoop. Might want to sling on your safety gear, this ain’t pretty.

Word count 0-1,000.
At this stage, I’m pretty convinced I’m brilliant, and that this book might win some sort of Nobel Prize for authors. I’m laughing at my own jokes, patting myself on the back for my intriguing characters, and utterly impossible to be around because I think I’m so clever. This is why I live in the woods.
You’re welcome.

Word count 1,000-7,000. 

The characters have started wresting the pen from my hand and smacking me across the head with it.
The femme with the philanthropist’s heart and a charming vision for a self-sustaining goat farm in Vermont? Suddenly she’s yanking her high school girlfriend into a utility closet at a reunion and necking shots of tequila faster than a Jersey Shore starlet. Fabulous. (What book is this? Can’t tell you yet.)
The butch with enviable biceps and a killer smile? She’s languishing in a dead end job as a short order cook because her boxing career tanked and she can’t deal with it. Oh, and she’s fucking her boss’s wife on the prep table after hours. (Wild Wales)
The relationship between the previously perfect two main characters (Alex and Lily) crashed and burned because of some bullshit that didn’t even happen, and is now hanging by a single nerve-wracking thread. (Return to McCall)
I’m still secretly convinced of my cleverness at this stage, though, and fairly confident I can still pull the story from the jaws of disaster. If I could just get the characters to shut up.

Word count 7,000-35,000.
Everything has gone to shit. Absolute chaos.
The characters have launched their plan for mutiny and I’m left on the sidelines watching the acrid wafts of smoke rise from the ashes of my previously perfect, award-worthy plot.
Supporting characters are taking over, (In Return to McCall, Moxie was supposed to disappear after the first scene. Ha!) relationships are falling apart right and left over stupid shit (In Laying of Hands, I had to get the FBI involved to bring Adel and Grace back together) and I’ve lost the plot. Literally. It’s under the shifting rubble that was my gorgeous book. Theoretically.

Word count 35,000-55,000
Light begins to filter through the dust and vapor rising from the rubble that was once my book.
Characters start to connect in ways I would have balked at initially, but it’s literally mesmerizing…I’m leaning into my keyboard to see what they do next. Bonds form between characters over details that seemed insignificant before they settled themselves into the story… (When Jaq and Bronwyn realize what really forced them apart in high school (London) and magic happens that turn the characters into the people I’m slowly falling in love with (Sabine’s aunt and the forgotten love letter in Windswept.)
Sex scenes slide into edgy territory (rope play in London, relinquished boundries in McCall)…and characters start to fall in love. Real love, the kind that keeps me up at night wondering how they got there.

Word Count 55,000-85,000
Utter despair. So many things have happened I can’t remember half of them and all I’m getting is the middle finger from the characters that are furiously penning the script. Also, there’s the doom scroll of constant inner dialogue.
What in the world made me think I could write a book? Shit, there has to be an ending….and I have to write it. I wonder if Starbucks is hiring? I hate those aprons though, I look terrible in green. 
But I’m also looking back at this stage, thumbing through the pages and reading parts of the story for the first time that have written themselves, finding ways to dovetail them together, listen for the click, then sand down the edges. Finding ways to make them into a book.
And then, I’m immersed in the ending… (Jaq seeing her unborn children in Bronwyn’s eyes in London, the ancient gold ring in Windswept, the name of the diner in McCall no one saw coming and the identity of the sniper in Last First Kiss that I literally didn’t predict until I wrote the last page) …and I’m swiping at tears with the back of my hand and writing so quickly the keys are literally hot.

And then I realize all over how lucky I am to be a writer, to watch the characters appear from the rubble like magic, that ones that you and I fall in love with at the exact same time.

(Ready for more magic? Undercurrent drops July 1, 2024…stay tuned for some unforgettable first looks at Tala and Wilder.)