Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Ways

Okay, I admit it: I am a closet pencilphile. Seems silly, I know, in this electronic age, but I write in pencil on loose-leaf paper. There. I’ve outed myself. I feel so much better now.

I am not being contrary. I do have reasons. I have a better mind/writing connection using pencil and paper than I have with a keyboard; a mechanical pencil is easier on my fingers than pen, and paper is easier on my eyes than a computer screen.

(The above photo is the handwritten copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire.)

For me, fiction writing is largely a matter of thinking, of trying to see the situation, of figuring out the right word or phrase that puts me where I need to be so the words can flow. I can do this better in bed, clipboard propped against my knees or on a pillow than sitting at a desk. If, as Mel Gibson said, “A movie is like public dreaming,” then novels are like shared dreaming, and where better to dream than in a comfortable bed?

I don’t know the entire story before I writing, but I do know the beginning, the end, and some of the middle. That way I can have it both ways: planning the book and making room for surprises.

I need to know a bit about the hero, but most of the time I get to know the characters the same way a reader would — by the way the characters act. In my work-in-progress, I thought I had a mother who was manipulative, but a reader pointed out that if that’s what I wanted, I needed to show it better. I reread the sections with the mother and decided not to impose my will on her. Although she drove her son crazy, I saw her in the rereading as sad, as if she were trying to find a way to fit in the world or make it fit her, and that was much better for purposes of the story.

I need to write the story in the order it happens — it’s more satisfying for my logical mind and easier to keep track of — but if I get to a place where I know something happens without knowing what, I will skip it and go back later when I know what is missing.

So, there you have it. That’s how I write.

What about you? How do you write? Do you have a favorite place or a place that puts you in the proper frame of mind? Do you write from start to finish, or like Margaret Mitchell, do you start with the last chapter and work forward? Do you have to search for the words?


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

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