One of my friends recently asked me how I go about writing. She was impressed with the size of both Daram and Varashti and is waiting impatiently for P.J. and I to finish the new book, Anostarja. Her questions were many and varied: what’s my set up like? What are the obstacles I face when I sit down to write? Do I write at a specific time of day? Do I write every day, or do I binge write when inspiration takes me?’
So I had to think about her questions as we chatted over tea (or kai), and I thought I would share my experience with others who have read Daram and Varashti, and who may be curious, or who may be working on their own novels and thus interested in different people’s writing processes.
P.J. and I did not start out wanting to be writers; that is to say, not exactly. We love books, and both read voraciously. We both did our degrees in English literature because we love books. It was only natural that eventually we would want to write one ourselves.
When we started writing Daram, P.J. was a stay-at-home mom, busy with three little ones, and doing some part-time work at her local library’s Story Time for kids. I meanwhile was working as a medical secretary, while finishing university in the evenings while my husband was in graduate school. We lived at different ends of the country, thousands of miles apart, and wrote long letters to one another late in the evenings and on weekends. We began the story simply as an amusement for ourselves, taking turns telling the story, and leaving each other with cliff-hangers to giggle over and resolve.
But as our circumstances changed, her kids went off to school, and I graduated with my BA, and started work in a bookstore, we started taking the storytelling more seriously and set about to make our letter stories into a real book.
In those early days writing Daram, we both scrambled to find time to write, and it was usually late at night, after the day's work and chores were done, and our respective husbands were in bed. The travails of daily life – work, family obligations, and so many disruptions to our best laid plans – often made it impossible for us to write for months, even years at a time, and the ‘book’ was shelved often enough, gathering dust. I also did a lot of volunteer work, setting up and running a local spay/neuter companion animal charity, which became a full-time job in itself. And of course I have hobbies that interest me and take a fair bit of my free time – quilting and painting. But never far from our minds was the landscape and world of Taihandria. Our imaginations lingered there, thinking about our characters, and we were determined to finish telling their story.
These days we are both lucky enough to work exclusively as writers. We don’t make much money with our books, but then we don’t write these stories for money. We write them to satisfy our imaginative lives and to explore the craft of story-telling.
Some authors are very professional and have a strict daily routine and even set themselves goals of writing so many words per day. These kinds of writers are far more organized than I am, though I take that kind of goal-oriented advice to heart and have tried to work to a schedule. In actuality, I am not very successful at that kind of writing because I find I simply cannot push aside other considerations and needs that control my time.
Other writers don’t emphasize a schedule as much and instead rely on inspiration and can produce copious numbers of pages when the spirit moves them. I am somewhere in between. I do need inspiration, but it can’t be summoned up at the drop of a hat, or the dictates of a clock, and there are dry spells when I am flatly uninspired and writing is like pulling teeth. So I do work at it. I struggle through those difficult passages until inspiration deigns to visit me again, and when she does, I tend to make real headway.
I do spend a lot of time (virtually) with P.J., plotting, drawing diagrams, making notes, doing research here and there.
Before I write a pivotal scene I need to see it in my head, like a movie. But even then the scene or ideas are incomplete. In the act of putting words on paper (or screen) the plot can change as different aspects of a moment or a character I’m writing about occur to me, or reveal themselves to me. Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “a man’s character is his fate,” and I find this true when my characters take the stage to either speak or act. Their ‘character,' their innate virtues or faults, dictates what they will do or say, how they react to outside events, or how they change or influence events based on their actions.
As for how I organize myself to write, I start every morning with the idea that I will sit down when the daily chores and errands are done, usually by the early afternoon, and I’m fresh enough to enter into that part of myself that is the 'inner' life, the world of the imagination. I find a comfy chair, get my pad and paper or my laptop, and a big cup of tea (kai). I always start by thinking this will go well, sitting in a comfy chair, tea beside me, the sunlight streaming in through the window. Then the phone rings. I answer it, deal with whatever it is about; but sometimes it’s a sister or friend calling, and soon a half hour or more has passed chatting. I get a fresh cup of tea and sit back down in my comfy chair ready to begin writing.
My twenty-pound cat Buttercup appears and starts poking me. He wants more food. I ignore him for about ten minutes but his paw poking my leg is relentless. He knows the ideal time to get my attention is when I’m stationary in that chair. So I get up and get him more food.
My tea is now cooling and so I take it to the kitchen and nuke it. I go back to my study and sit back down, but now my little rascal cat Harry Potter has woken up and is howling to go out. His temper tantrum continues until I give in and agree to go out with him. Although we have a fenced yard, I play schoolyard monitor with Harry because he has a real tendency for trouble, like his namesake. If it’s a nice warm day I can take my pad and pen and tea and sit outside. But of course I can only write one or two sentences before I am distracted by Harry’s antics, chasing squirrels and birds, and generally creating a ruckus. By the time he settles down to snooze in the sun another hour or even two have gone by. It is now mid to late afternoon and I need fresh tea.
The phone rings again, and after this short distraction, I find myself thinking I should check my email, and Facebook. The email generally goes well, but once down the rabbit hole of Facebook, hours flit by like seconds. And then it’s time to organize supper and get more tea.
After supper I get more tea and try not to get distracted by television. There is always the news one has to keep up with, especially in these days of the pandemic. And as of right now, there is a return, in ‘pandemic bubbles,’ of two of the sports I love, basketball and tennis. So if my teams are playing, there goes the evening. So that leaves me with trying to sit up late like I used to be able to do and write, only these days I find I’m mentally done around ten p.m.
Also, this specific time of the pandemic, both P.J. and I have been volunteering making masks for people, and that work has eaten up a great deal of the spring and summer. However, since August, that work is finally under control and I can put aside mask making. Realizing how time has flown, I am doing my best to prioritize writing and am trying not to get distracted by cats, Facebook, and sports. I can report that I have been having success. P.J. and I are on the home stretch of Anostarja. With any luck, we will have the book out before Christmas, the Danae and our editor willing.