Dec 1, 2009

Karen White on Writing

Karen White recently published The Girl on Legare Street (click for my review).  And she graciously agreed to compose a guest post about her writing habits and routines.  

Please give her a warm welcome.

      I just yelled at my husband for stepping on a pile of papers on the floor in front of the printer.  Our brand new printer isn't working and he's checking the serial number so when he calls India for technical support, they'll know which model we're discussing.  That kind of made me laugh because I'm supposed to be writing about my organizational methods when writing a novel, and a pile in front of the printer doesn't bode well.

      In real life, I'm pretty much of a neatnik.  In fact, friends and family have compared me to the anal-retentive and super-organized protagonist Melanie Middleton in my book The House on Tradd Street and the sequel (November 2009), The Girl on Legare Street..  I actually think that's a compliment.  I'm the mother of two teenagers with a dog, a guinea pig, and a husband who travels all the time--and I'm in charge of all things minute.  Everything is scheduled on my Palm Pilot--I even have an alarm set every month to remind me when to give the dog his heartworm and flea medication.  I do laundry every Thursday without fail, and grocery shop every Sunday.

      But somehow, all bets are off when I write a book.  I don't outline.  I don't do heavy plotting.  I don't do character sketches.  In fact, it's not all that unusual for me to not know exactly how the book ends when I start.  

      When I get a story germ that I think is good enough for a book, I don't write it down.  I let it stew and simmer into something bigger--usually a couple of months or more.  I've found that if I write it down--or worse, tell somebody about it--it grows stale.  Then after the idea has finished simmering (or when I realize how close my deadline is and I need to get started) I sit down and start to write the first three chapters.  I don't write in drafts, but clean up as I go so that by the time I'm finished writing, it's pretty much a clean copy.

      However, with writing two big books each year for the last two years, I've refined the process.  It's what I call my 'soldiers and generals' technique.  My first go of my chapter I'm the general looking at the big picture and deciding what needs to be done.  I put the bones of the story down, setting the scene, moving the characters around.  Then I send in my soldiers on the second pass--I add the pretty stuff like descriptions and emotions.  Sort of like adding flesh and hair to a skeleton.  That way I don't obsess as I sit down to write--I just get the story down.  Then I can relax and have fun with it--sort of like Michelangelo and a block of marble.

      To go to contract, my publisher requires some sort of synopsis so, after writing the first few chapters, I jot down my ideas for the book and turn it in.  Luckily, I'm at the point in my career where my editor (who should be sainted) realizes that my book will bear little resemblance to the synopsis.  Because after I turn that synopsis in, I don't look at it again.  I'm driven by the characters and their story, and whatever unfolds on each page.  If I come up with an idea for a later scene or dialogue, I skip to the bottom of the manuscript and take notes or write the bits and pieces to be used later, then go back to what I was doing.

      The only thing about my writing method that's semi-organized is my research area.  Even though I have an office in the home (where I am right now), I use it strictly for the business side of writing.  For my creative side, I use my pink Mac Airbook and write either outside on my screened-in-porch (when the weather's nice) or in my sitting room.  This room has huge windows, bookshelves, a fireplace, a coffee bar and a refrigerator (for those Diet Dr. Peppers).  

      When I finish a book I clear out and file all of my research materials and empty the low-lying shelf next to my writing chair (big enough so that my dog can fit next to me).  Then I start acquiring books on whatever subject I need for the next book and fill the bookshelf.  I take notes in no particular order, on the backs of other notes or on scraps and hope I can find them later.  But they all get put on that shelf so that I have a good chance of finding it later when I need it.

      Right now, I'm heading toward the end of my next book (On Folly Beach, May 2010). Half of the book takes place in 1942 and the other half in 2009.  You can only imagine the amount of research this book has required to get all of the 1942 details straight.  Notes are everywhere (hence the pile by the printer--I haven't brought them upstairs to my shelf yet).  I wish it weren't such a mess!

      Yet, when I'm writing a book all I want to do it write. I just can't be bothered with filing stuff because it takes away from my writing.  Maybe one day when I'm not chasing my family around, I'll have more time to be more organized about my writing.  But for now, this method works for me.

      I've got to go sort laundry now (tomorrow's Thursday) and then get to bed a little early because my Palm Pilot just sent out an alarm to remind me that my dog is scheduled for his annual vet checkup tomorrow morning at eight am.  If only my writing life could be so simple!

Thanks, Karen for sharing a bit of your writing life with us.  What do you think about Karen's methods and her cute refrigerator for Diet Dr. Pepper?

***Giveaway Details***

1 copy of The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White for U.S./Canada reader

1. Enter a comment here about what you thought about the guest post.
2. For a second entry, comment on my review, here.
3. Become a follower and receive an additional entry.
4. If you purchase The House on Tradd Street by Karen White through my Amazon Affiliate link and send me an email with the invoice or receipt information, you can get an additional 3 entries.

Deadline is Dec. 7, 2009, at 11:59PM EST.



Sandy Nawrot said...

I really enjoyed that! I love a girl that is organized! I haven't read either of her books yet, but my right hand keeps shaking and twitching, wanting to buy them both on my Kindle. (Which I can do with the press of a couple buttons...this is dangerous!)

Serena said...

Sandy: That Kindle sounds more and more dangerous!

Janel said...

I think it's fascinating that she is so organized in her home, but doesn't outline her books before hand. Very interesting!

Care said...

I MUST read this book now. First, I love her process and I love Diet Dr. Pepper. and my printer just broke and I'm trying to set up a new one and that's just too much coincidence!

bermudaonion said...

If I didn't write the idea down, I'd forget it by the time I was ready to start writing the book. Great guest post.

Anna said...

Loved this post, and I can't wait for her next book!

I'd love to be more organized in all aspects of my life, but alas, there's no time for organization.

And the yelling at her husband for stepping on the papers in front of the printer sounds like me yelling at my husband not to touch my books when he goes to move things around in our room. LOL

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

Janel: I love that she's organized at least some aspect of her life...I'm her opposite! I'm very unorganized.

Care: Love the story about the new printer...

bermudaonion: I have ideas in my head all the time and I rarely write them down...

Anna: I can totally see you yelling at the hubby right now! LOL

Alyce said...

I really wish that I had my life that organized. I'm lucky if I get a load of laundry done each day, and my husband does the grocery shopping for me every Saturday (and I know how lucky I am). :)

Thanks for sharing about your writing habits - I love reading about the different ways that authors go about the process of writing books.

Anonymous said...

I need at little of her neatnik style. I have none of that. Fun post.

Jo-Jo said...

I love how she admits her disorganization during certain times. I guess we are all human!

I would love to win a copy of this and I am also a follower. I will be sure to add the contest to my sidebar.

joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

Loved this post...always enjoy Karen's writing...thanks for the opportunity to read this masterpiece...


Dar said...

No need to enter me Serena. Just popping by to say I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Serena said...

Thanks, Dar.

donnas said...

Awesome guest post. Thank you so much for sharing! I loved The House on Tradd Street. I wish I had a space for a dedicated fridge like that.

I am a follower.
Commented on review

bacchus76 at myself dot com

Martha Lawson said...

Loved the interview! Wish I was organized! I would love to win this book, it looks amazing!!

I am a new follower

mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

bevsclark said...

I truly enjoyed reading this. My favorite line is "Sort of like adding flesh and hair to a skeleton." What a great way to phrase it. I haven't read Karen White before, but reading this and your review makes me want to start.

MoziEsmé said...

Love the idea of a pink laptop!

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

Martgie said...

It's interesting that she might not know the end of the book when she starts...starting with the characters and letting them go where they lead her. I also like that she loves her dog...and she is very organized about getting the shots, checkups, etc. Cute. I'd love to read her book.
mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

Charleydog said...

The cover of this book alone entices me to read it.
I am a follower.

pboylecharley AT hotmail DOT com

holdenj said...

I like Karen's soldier and general idea of attacking her novel. Very efficient and cute. Would love to read and win! Thanks for the chance.

Ladytink_534 said...

I'd just love to be a neatnik. I've never been really bad but I do have organized chaos wherever I go! That fridge thing is a good idea.... I may just have to put one in my library!

I left a comment on the review

Already a follower


FrankSandy said...

Please enter me. Great post.

I think we can all be more organized!

Esme said...

The way she writes is interesting-but I think that often times we start off with an idea and then something completely different blossoms from that.

dsandyboy said...

Count me in. Great post.

Margie said...

I like that she is organized in most areas, with a time and place for certain tasks. And most importantly, she loves her dog.
-I just became a follower.

Margie said...

oops...forgot my email, sorry
(should not be a separate entry!!)