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Your lifestyle, your quirk
Last week, at my managing editor’s urging, I decided to chronicle my efforts in self-publishing something under this particular pseudonym. I’m not a newbie to the process, but I learned some things my last time around, and I’m going to apply them in this case.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the creative process, which I’d like to talk about today.
I had a cute idea for a romantic comedy kicking around in my head for awhile, and I decided to see if I could work with it. Romance fascinates me – not necessarily the bodice rippers of yesteryear, but the ones that explore the human condition, and the strengths and vulnerabilities love brings to us. I’ve ghostwritten a number of romantic pieces, but they were always someone else’s idea. This time, I wanted to write something romantic for myself.
I think most ghostwriters become good outliners out of necessity. My clients will usually furnish me with an idea: “Character A and Character B need to stop Character X, but also fall in love” is an example of a prompt. Granted, that’s a very, very thin prompt, but I’ve received similar ones. Some clients include themes (“love conquers all” is a popular one), character names and biographies, and some even include full plot summaries, which always makes my job easier – all I have to do is write the thing! But a lot of the time, I’m left to come up with the story and characters on my own. I’ve become pretty good at coming up with a workable idea, turning it into a plot summary, and then getting the client’s input on the story. Sometimes they have some tweaks they want made to it, but if they like it, I’m off and writing, usually against a deadline.
This probably all sounds very businesslike and probably devoid of passion to many writers. That is, unfortunately, part of making writing part of your business. If you want to keep a roof over your head, you learn to adapt. In my case, that meant plotting and writing fast.
One thing I’ve noticed is that after five years of ghostwriting, my ability to write by the seat of my pants has atrophied somewhat. Even blog entries end up stalling out if I don’t have some idea of what I’m going to write about. I had to sit down and actually plan this article. I can still freewrite a little bit, especially for character biographies, but if I try to write a scene without an outline…well, I freeze.
I’m a little bit ashamed to admit it.
As a result, I needed to work with the romantic comedy idea, massaging it into a paragraph, then several paragraphs, and then finally a two-page outline that I could work from. The story itself will continue to grow and evolve as I write it, but I have the main plot points I need to hit lined up, and I have a good idea of what the characters will be doing and who they are when things start out.
Themes are a little bit harder for me. I don’ t believe that all stories need a theme, but I think they can make the writing process a little easier, particularly if you have a message you want to get across. I don’t know if this story has a theme yet. The problem is I’ve gotten so used to working with them, I almost want to hold off on writing until I can come up with one…but that isn’t going to help me or the story.
It’s not a full-length novel – I’ll tell you that right now. I’m looking at 40,000 words here, better known as a long novella. Generally I write a bare-bones first draft, just to get it all down on paper, then I go back and flesh it out, improve descriptions, tweak dialogue and the like. The first draft gets the story down; the second draft makes it readable. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
I’ve written out the first few scenes, and I’ll be back here with weekly updates, letting you know how it’s going and what I’m doing. If you’re a writerly type, you might like all the lurid details about life with the craft…if you’re not, I’ll probably end up putting you to sleep, but that’s all right.