05 Aug A Peek into the Writing Process
A Peek into the Writing Process or How I Crammed 14 Stories and One Novella into a Book During COVID
Often in book clubs or other conversations about my writing, I’m asked about the creativity process, if I work on more than one project at a time, and how I get my ideas. This is how my latest book emerged.
After I got my book Lumberjack Jesus out of my head and heart and onto paper, I realized God had given me the gift of freedom to write anything I wanted—as long as I let Him direct the process. That book was a memoir, a testimony, a devotional, and a catharsis. When you bare your soul and you feel that God is actually speaking through you, it frees you to pursue topics that could be inspirational and impactful. There were times when I was writing that book that I knew exactly how the Old Testament prophets must have felt.
After its publication I stopped a novel I’d been working on because I’d gotten the hero into a dilemma and couldn’t devise a way to get him out. At the same time, I got swayed by kind voices in my circle of influence into writing about marriage and child raising. Write what you know, right? But the way I structured that wasn’t working. I envisioned three books: an allegory book that set the stage and introduced the series, followed by two more—one each for raising kids and flourishing in marriage.
I wrote the allegory, a shorter story like a novella, to introduce the concepts and characters and the second book with 33 strategies for raising self-reliant teenagers. I also began a longer tome (tomb?) encompassing 55 strategies about having a great marriage. Obviously, I got into number alliteration. Yes, tomb is the correct word—I felt tombed in. Where was this all heading?
Then God delivered another unexpected gift—a plot epiphany that jumpstarted that halted novel, The Resurrection of Johnny Roe. He opened a door, the hero walked through, and the rest of the novel spilled out. I’ve got to say, that’s one of the very best feelings—to have your writing flow like a fast-moving river. I published Johnny Roe’s story last summer.
A quick aside: My first book, Hard Left, in comparison was a raging torrent. I sat down one determined day and 35 days later had written 110,000 words—a finished novel. Hang on, cat 5 rapids ahead! Match that, John Grisham or Steven King.
But that novella lingered. No writer wants to almost finish a book only to have to shelve it, instead of shelf it, as in put the finished product on the shelf. In writing, lost on your hard drive almost doesn’t count.
So, I took a vacation. While in Tucson, Arizona, creativity showed up like a long-lost friend bearing presents. It was one of the most creative times in my life, in a sudden flashing burst of energy, like a 100-yard dash on steroids. Stories ideas arrived: dilemmas, life successes and failures, missed opportunities, regrets and laments, all glued together with a few happy endings. And since I’d already done some speculative writing about Biblical characters, their stories showed up, too.
I had 14 great ideas for stories, but no way was I going to write each as a book.
Hmm, what about a book of short stories? That’s how I got my start writing, if you don’t count the song lyrics I wrote in the 70s that nobody will ever see. (That is another story. Buy me a beer and we’ll discuss). Hard Left started as a short story, before my muse Nancy Anderson suggested that I write that as a book. I can do that? Yes, I can.
I had 14 story ideas, but it was still a little thin as far as books go. Even as I flushed out the details and took into consideration what I’d learned from my editor, Virginia McCullough, about not forgetting a sense of scene and setting in each story and crafting full-fledged female characters.
Enter The Carnival Chemist, the name of the novella. Insert story, click Save As, and presto, chango, I’ve got a book.
So, to answer the question that launched this post, yes, I often work on many books at the same time. Sometimes not even knowing if it’s a book or not. We’ll see if it all works. The Carnival Chemist and Other Stories is due out in September. Several of these stories are the best work I’ve ever done. They challenged me to write them with all the insight and depth I could muster. Some streamed out like that free-flowing river. Others got caught on the rocks and I had to muscle up and dig deep to dislodge them.
Some may shock you and you’ll want to call me to see if I’ve flipped over to whatever dark side you routinely visit. Some may make you cry because they will cut too deep into your life, ripping open a long-ignored wound not yet healed. I hope they all inspire you think, feel, and love just a little bit more passionately.
I’ll let you know when the book’s available. Let me know if YOU think it works.