This Is What I Do

This is what I do.

I try and take something that has moved me—a book, a movie, or a song—and I try to weave a story around that.

That’s the framework I start in. I don’t start in a genre or (Heaven forbid) my “brand”. I take something I’ve loved and start in that structure.

It’s a bit like staying overnight in a Cape Cod and loving it so much you decide you want to build one yourself.

I know that even if I tried to completely copy the Cape Cod, the end result would be different. What happens is I put myself in that framework. I put things that interest me and that I’m struggling with for the moment. Curiosities, frustrations, joys. Even if the story has absolutely nothing to do with me, I manage to show up in it. This is like putting pictures on the wall inside that Cape Cod. You have to decorate it and make it your home.

I figure out the story I want to tell and then I try to figure out a way to break it. A way to make it just a bit different. This could be a twist, or this could be slightly altering the normal way of telling that story. I don’t do this because I’m trying to be clever. I do it because I want mess around with expectations and hopefully deliver in the end.

The characters are cast with either big-name stars or unknown faces I’ve seen. Then, each main character is given a theme song or playlist that helps define him or her. This helps me when I’m getting inside of that person.

I deliberately avoid pressing the REPEAT button when it comes to writing that next novel. I try and think what would be the best way to tell the story. What’s an interesting perspective? How do the chapters flow? What’s the timeframe? Is there anything interesting I can do between chapters, in the middle of them, at the beginning and the end of the novel?

I usually try out some pages to see how they sound. First person, third person, the tone and the texture. Sometimes I just nail it and keep going. Sometimes I try and it feels stale. Sometimes I end up sounding like the last novel I wrote so I try again.

The story usually unfolds in a chronological fashion, with one chapter following the next. But I deviate at times, writing the end or writing bits and pieces when the mood calls for it. I know each story is a marathon, regardless of how many words it will be. I know each tale is a trip I’m going to travel alongside my characters. Sometimes I look forward to the journey but more often than not, I end up not wanting to go to those dark places. Yet I always end up going there.

Music and movies fuel the writing. Sometimes I find a novelist that has exactly the sort of thing I want, yet I deliberately avoid reading too much by them because I don’t want to simply imitate. I want to try and find a voice that fits my character and my story. And yes, a voice that fits me.

I write the story trying to think of the publisher and the editor and the reader. But I still end up thinking about how much it moves me, how well it feels, whether it works or not. I know I’m wrong many times. I know not everybody likes my voice or my style or my inconsistencies. But I’m growing confident because I know there are people that really do enjoy all those things.

Everything I do is to build toward the end. The end is what matters. The end is what it’s all about for me. Yes, that opening line and opening page are important, but for me, the most important thing is the end. The takeaway. The feeling when they finally get to the end. The truth on that last page.

By the time I’m done, I’m usually emotionally drained. Most of the time, there is a point in the writing when I’m moved to tears. That doesn’t mean that portion of writing was necessarily that good. But I know it moved me and brought me to a special place.

Some days and hours and moments I end up just getting the words on the page. Not every scene and writing bout can be one where I’m moved to tears and full of emotion. But these moments are more rare than not. I don’t go through the motions. Whether the story is wonderful or woeful, I don’t go through the motions.

I don’t know how many novels I’ve written. I’ve had 18 published. More are on the way.

Every hour of every day is spent thinking of these stories. I dream about them. I see glorious things and file them away for those tales. I research for them. I wait to find some wonderful bit of inspiration for them.

I love the theme of brokenness because that’s exactly the kind of writer I am. A bit messy and undefined, a bit hard to categorize, a little bit of everything that’s sometimes overdone. But hopefully in the end, the pieces come together. Hopefully in the end, there’s a portrait of peace.

Each journey I take is a learning experience. And there’s something else, something I’ve learned and finally realized that has been like a prisoner in a dark cell seeing the sunrise for the first time. But that—well, that’s for another time and another late night blog.

Tonight, I’m listening to the main theme I discovered for a central character in a three-book-trilogy. A trilogy that may or may not be written. She may or may not come to life. But I hope she does, because I’m already madly in love with her. I know where she shows up at the beginning of the story and I know where she ends up at the end of the tale. This is what I do for fun, putting down the other stories I'm working on so I can—well, yeah, think of more stories.

It probably won’t always be like this, but for now, this is what I do.

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