Thanks to the adorable and very talented Sarah Shotts, I’ve been tagged to participate in The Great Blog Tour, aiming to make a web of authors that stretches as wide as the internet is long! I’m so honored to be included, and I’m excited to talk about my writing process (and to show off some cool pictures I took for the question headers)! So, shall we begin?
Since late middle school/early high school, I’ve been building my own fantasy world filled with characters, which has grown and changed throughout the years, as I have. I worked on it tirelessly, until college, only pausing to focus on my studies, with just a little time to jot down ideas or steal an hour here and there for scene writing.
After graduating and moving out on my own in 2008, I decided to write a fresh manuscript, since the main characters and locations had changed so much over the years. According to my notes, I finished a first draft I really loved of my first book–which I’ve been calling “The Sign of the Sparrow”–sometime in 2008 or 2009. It’s about an orphaned girl who finds a mythical, moving forest and how she and her new friends discover the secrets it holds about their pasts, presents and futures, with lots of magic, danger, family drama and slice of life thrown in.
By July 27th, 2010, I’d completed my second draft, and so began the sending out to proofreaders and friends, and the subsequent meticulous editing. By 2012, I’d completed the 5th draft, and was starting to feel burnt out and eager to publish it.
In November 2012, I attended the Atlanta Writer’s Conference and pitched my book to an agent, who told me to send her my manuscript! This was huge! It was ultimately rejected, but her rejection letter was so encouraging that I sent it out to one more since then! I take a bit of pride at now having two rejections under my belt. Hey, it means I’ve put it out there. I need all the self-encouragement I can get.
This series, (which I’m calling “The Tales of Thoglan,” barring a better name) has been the main focus of my writing endeavors. I’ve written a prequel story for my series, which I completed during Camp National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), April 2013. I still haven’t edited it, but now that I’m thinking about it, I probably could start that. I’ve tried writing a few drafts for the second book in the series, continuing the story set up in “Sparrow,” but they’ve all fallen flat, so I’ve been collecting notes and waiting for a few more life things to happen (like finding a stable job) before I launch back in full-time…or part-time, whatever I end up doing.
I strive to find a way to make my stories exciting and compelling and redemptive, and also make them incredibly human and incredibly personal. There is a lot of me in the themes and the characters’ struggles, many of which I’ve had to face in my own life. Of course, every writer puts himself or herself into their writing without even trying to, so I’d say the main reason my work is different can be discerned based on the books I most love to read and stories I most love to tell.
I absolutely love fantasy and speculative fiction, like Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, and many works by C.S. Lewis, Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, but I also love series like Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, as well as many, many children’s books. Fantasy books already have a tendency to really flesh out their worlds, slice-of-life books do that even more, and good childrens’ books meander and play and really draw you in with the charm and wonder of experiencing our world with fresh eyes. I also love being inspired by what I learn while researching my favorite historical eras, which I think adds good detail and really inspires me to think creatively when building my world.
So, in my novels, in addition to intrigue and magic, I love lots of character development, cultural richness and world texturing. I try to distill my favorite parts of these favorite genres, which, when I tried to pitch my first book to prospective agents at the Writing Conference in 2011–“It’s like Anne of Green Gables meets The Chronicles of Narnia!”–got me a lot of confused looks. It’s still hard for me to explain in industry lingo that will actually mean something, but for now, most of my friends understand what I’m trying to say.
I’ve always loved fairy tales, folklore, legends and mythology, devouring it in books and movies my entire young life. My first favorite cultures were the Egyptians and the Native Americans (I have birthday party photos to prove it), and as I grew I started to memorize stories from Greek mythology, but I loved all things Medieval before I even knew what that meant. That fateful day when I asked my mom what kind of music Gregorian Chant was, when I put a name to the Robin Hood and King Arthur aesthetic, I knew I had found my one true love. Western fantasy as we know it was born out of this beautiful and surprisingly misunderstood era, and so fantasy has resonated with me my whole life. As I’ve met more people and taken more anthropology and humanities courses, I’ve grown to treasure any bit of a folk story you’d tell me from any culture, particularly if it’s from any time between the Roman Empire to the Industrial Revolution. I realize this is very broad, but I refuse to limit myself to certain stories unless I absolutely have to!
To press even deeper, what is it about these things I love? For a long time, culture was essentially seen as “unenlightened,” still grappling with the mysteries of the unknown before science revealed the underlying logic of the world as we know it today. Though knowing how things work is fascinating, sometimes it can be boring to have all the answers. I love learning about the different fanciful explanations of how people used to think things came to be; it really cranks my creativity. There are just so many cultures with different ways of seeing the world that I hate to think I’m limiting myself to my own narrow worldview, especially when it comes to creative expression! This is one reason I love foreign films and literature, because I enjoy seeing how their storytelling differs from our Western models.
But even with the many differences, I love how similar many stories can be. As a kid, I was shocked when I read an anthology of fairy tales from around the world that had similar themes. How could stories from almost completely different–and sometimes isolated–cultures be so similar? Years later I discovered the theory, and ever since I have been in love with the idea of The Hero’s Journey, the concept we attribute to Joseph Campbell, also known as the Monomyth. If you want to learn more, you can read The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Campbell (which I still need to do), or watch this Glove and Boots video for a really quick overview (and a giggle or two), but since I don’t have time to write a dissertation I’ll try to make it simple. As a true lover of stories, I really love the fact that there is an underlying story that everything in the world draws on, I love the connectivity of it, how it can make a more level ground for understanding and communication. The best examples of the use of The Hero’s Journey that I’ve found are all solidly in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which also have great capacities for using metaphors and themes to resonate across a wide audience. You can express your feelings about our broken, messed up, but redeemable world through a different lens that sheds new light on old things, and makes us see them differently.
To sum up, the fantasy toolbox is ENDLESS! It’s just an exquisite mountain of deep and shallow reasons to never get bored, and I’ve never felt a strong desire to write any other way.
Well, right now I’m doing mostly research. I seek out books or movies or TV shows that would be relevant to my interest, based on what I’m writing (so for researching Book 2 I like to check out historical documentaries, specific books on calligraphy and medieval universities), or anything at all the catches my fancy. If I get a good idea, I write it down, usually in Evernote (not a professional endorsement, but I do love them!). Evernote makes everything from jotting down ideas in the middle of the night to basically summing up a detailed history book SO easy with different kinds of full-immersion note-taking methods on my phone, and I dunno what I’d do without it. It also syncs with my computer so I can copy and paste the notes right into my editing software Scrivener when I need to corral notes in preparation for writing (which I got on sale thanks to winning NaNoWriMo one year — again, NOT an official endorsement but I LOVE THEM!). And once I’m using the program, it helps me lay everything out as meticulously or haphazardly as I want! There have been lots of reviews of the program itself, so I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, I freaking love it.
Once I’m ready to write, and write seriously, in addition to something to drink (usually tea, coffee or water, and maybe a snack) I need quiet. Like no internet quiet. No TV, Youtube videos, music with lyrics, I need complete and utter quiet (or at least wordless music) for my brain to really get into its writing groove, or it will get too distracted. If I get bored of working on the couch or the dining room table or desk, I will try taking my laptop, or maybe just a notepad out to the little studio in the back of my yard (pictured above) to get even farther away from distractions. I could also see myself going to the library for a change of pace, but probably if I wanted to do some research before I started writing. Since I haven’t really tried this in my new location yet, this is more of a plan than anything.
If I’m on a writing schedule, I MUST have a word count to meet, even if this changes day-to-day. I’ve always liked the idea of at least writing a page a day, but at least once a week I want to sit down and write 1000-2000 words. This is hard to do when I don’t know what to write, or if my week is busy, but I’m flexible with myself, allowing the count to vary somewhat depending on the day’s events. Sometimes I do force myself to write if I feel like it’s just a matter of pushing past my desire to procrastinate to get to something good. Often forcing myself to sit down and write really gets the creative juices going, and I get so many more ideas while I’m writing than when I do just sitting and planning, so it’s good incentive. If I need more space to lay out what I’m writing to connect the dots, in the days before Scrivener, I’ve been known to write out plot points on sticky notes and lay them out chronologically along the wall, so I know what gaps I need to fill. It helps me map out the big picture when I need to get away from the world of the screen.
It’s hard work, but I look forward to getting back to my writing schedule. When my time is wide-open, I actually get less writing done. I need more hard deadlines to manage throughout my day to get myself to write, sometimes. My priorities get sorted, and I know that if I don’t write that day, I won’t get anything done at all. If I don’t feel like writing, but want to be productive, I strike up the agent search again for Book 1, but that’s a blog post of a different color.
I hope this was helpful and interesting! I know I enjoyed writing it…once I sat down and focused on it 😉
And now, may I present 3 writer friends who must continue the tour on their own blog! I met Sarah and Wendi at the Atlanta Writer’s Conference in Nov. 2012, and I met Katie through church! They’re very talented, and all around awesome, so PLEASE check them out!
Sarah Madsen is an author living in the wilds of North Georgia. She writes best with a steady IV drip of Pumpkin Spice Latte and the deafening background noise of Dubstep. Offerings of alcohol and hot tubs are always welcome. She is currently [as of this posting] a finalist in Simon and Shuster’s Simon451 Student Novel Contest!
Wendi Nunnery is a blogger and author living in Atlanta with her husband and their new baby girl. She is a regular contributor to The Simply Beloved blog and, when she’s not writing, she enjoys eating, trying new things with her little family, and reading.