Today’s guest blogger is Cathleen Holst, author of Everleigh in NYC.
As a newly published author, people will ask me, “How did you do it? How did you write a novel?” And most folks don’t like it when I say, “I sat down and wrote a book.” They want details. Well, no two authors approach the art of writing the same way. It’s as unique as the fingerprints on your hand. But here’s how it works for me:
The birth of an idea: I’ve heard some writers say that an idea has come to them in a dream, or it’s something they’ve witnessed or experienced, or even a song provided the inspiration. I can’t say that. Not yet, at least. So far, my stories have literally come from my characters. Although I don’t have the slightest clue who the characters are at the time, I still hear them. Unfortunately, they’re not shouting their story to me. (Wouldn’t it be great if they did?) Instead, I hear bits of dialogue or just something that the character wants me to know, like how they hate fighting crowds at Christmastime. Or how their house must be in pristine condition before the housekeeper comes, lest the maid thinks they live like a slob. Once I begin fleshing out the character, they finally open up to me and begin telling me their story. And I don’t always get it right the first or second time. It takes several passes before I can really hear what it is they have to say.
Outlining a plot/storyline: I’ve spoken with several writers who can plot out their entire novel just based off an idea, before they’ve even written the first word. It blows my mind. Honestly. And in some ways I envy that, and in other ways, I don’t. To me, it seems like it would take the surprise out of getting to know your characters. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. I just know it doesn’t work for me. Once I’m a few chapters in, and really feel like I know my characters well enough, then I can draft a rough (disgustingly rough, really) synopsis. That way, I still feel like the story belongs to the characters, but now I kind of have a roadmap, if you will. I think, for me, the most important thing to remember while writing is that you must, must, must respect your characters. They do not work for you. It’s the other way around.
Be aware: I love people watching. I think most people do, in fact. Unfortunately you can’t do it without looking like a creepy stalker or something. But it’s important to notice things. Listen to people’s speech patterns, watch their mannerisms, everything. As writers, it’s our job to notice these subtleties and capture them in order to make our characters not only believable, but relatable.
Getting it done: There’s only one way to do that, and that is to sit your behind down and write. You have to treat it as if it were a full-time job. If you don’t, that great American novel you have brewing inside you will never get out. And we can’t have that. The world is waiting to read your story. But this is far easier said than done. It takes tons of self-discipline to do this each and every day—especially with no one to hold you accountable. No real deadline to meet. Believe you me, I’ve had plenty of days where I wanted to do anything, anything other than write. But I had to. One, I did have a deadline, and, two, if I gave in to that feeling all the time, I never would’ve finished. So buck up, and write that story!
The end: Yeah, right. Time for a celebration? You bet! Pop open that bottle of wine. Eat a chocolate bar. Treat yourself to a day at the spa. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just celebrate. You’ve done something millions of people just dream about. Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say, “One day, I’d like to write a book.” Well guess what? YOU DID!! But when the celebration ends, sit back, take a breath, and start over. Yes, I said start over. Revision is where the magic happens. This is where you can plant trees in your character’s yard. This is where you can slap a fresh coat of spring-green paint in your character’s home. This is where everything truly comes alive. In the first draft, your character’s live in a beautiful world that you created, yes, but perhaps someone has a garden that you hadn’t noticed during your first visit and it’s blooming with the pastel colors of spring where it’s home to a variety of brightly colored butterflies and plump black and yellow bumble-bees. Maybe the neighbor has an annoying dog that barks all night. The possibilities are endless.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Cathleen Holst is a bonafide “Georgia Peach” with her stilettos firmly planted in the South. She currently resides in a small suburb of Atlanta with her husband, three children and two rambunctious dogs. Her writing influences include Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts, Helen Fielding and Beth Hoffman. Everleigh in NYC, her debut novel, was published by Canonbridge LLC in December 2010.