To say I am consumed by the Wythes would be one of the greatest understatements I might ever utter. I tend to be at my most creative when I am under the most pressure, the most stress and for the past seven months there could not be MORE pressure and stress in my professional life.
I still have not finished the artwork for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB. I have been grappling with negligent accountants, financial statements, and tax matters. I hate dealing with money, even thinking about money doesn’t interest me. I’m good at making a decent living as a writer and illustrator, but hopeless at managing the income it generates. Simply put, money just doesn’t interest me enough to pay sufficient attention to it.
Consequently, I worry about it quite a lot.
When I’m agitated I find it nearly impossible to draw and paint and stay focused on creating the best and most exciting and well thought out illustrations that I can possibly make. What I tend to do is avoid the drawing board, drink lots of coffee, think too much about the work I’m not doing (instead of just getting it done and moving on to the next project).
Instead I find myself unable to sleep and sneakily thinking about the Wythes and their story. In my agitation I have already written more than sixty pages of the novel (I think the finished manuscript will be approximately 350 pages), plotted out all the chapters and ebb and flow of the story, sketched out the setting and characters.
I am a fast typist and the mechanics of typing is something I do automatically without having to think about it. Therefore, when I’m writing I only concentrate on the writing, not the mechanics of writing. i can write an entire chapter from beginning to end in roughly two hours with the average length of a chapter being about fifteen pages.
I start at the beginning of the chapter and just write straight through to the end when the narrative comes to a natural stopping point.
It just works. I’m not exactly certain how. But it does.
I do have a “road map” of the story that I use as guide posts to allow me to move about in the story without having to think about it in chronological order. Each chapter is a stand alone incident that connects or preceding chapters and lead to the next chapter. Does that make sense?
As a writer of both picture books and longer novels I simply envision how much time I want to the story to cover, pick a starting point, and simply let the story unfold from there.
For example, I knew that I wanted the Wythes’ story to end at Christmas so I only had to figure out when the story started. May seemed the most logical starting point for various reasons, arbitrary reasons, so May is the month that the narrative begins.
That leaves with with a number of significant times in the course of the family’s story to make sure are included: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are obvious highlights in the year. That only leaves figuring out what happens that would be interesting, exciting, unexpected, and propel the plot to its inevitable conclusion for the rest of the months.
And believe it or not, this strategy works. I’ll give you an example as to how I think as a writer. The locale for the novel is on a rugged New England coast, a cape. Naturally, weather plays an important role in a coastal setting. And if there is a large, rambling house, with secret passages and hidden rooms, and dark secrets, there MUST be … A Storm! Think of the possibilities.
Here at Henwoodie we lose power every time there is a storm or the wind blows too hard. We always keep a supply of candles and filled oil lamps and firewood on hand so that we are not caught off guard by the loss of power. And now that we have a gas stove top we can still make coffee or hot soup.
So, whenever there is a storm there is loss of power. And what do you/we do when there is no power? We tell stories in front of a cheery, cozy fire or play board games.
Therefore, in this novel, there has to be a storm that knocks out the power and allows one or more characters to play the role of storyteller. And what stories do most families like to hear most? Stories about the family, of course! Especially something that happened in the family a long time ago.
Writing comes easily and naturally to me. My goal for the upcoming year is to do more writing and less illustrating. It’s a lot less stressful and a lot less pressure.
For now, I’ll try to get the finished illustrations completed so that I can give the Wythes my full attention. But like the sirens calling out to doomed sailors the novel beckons me to write “just one more scene, just one more sentence, just one more chapter…”