No writer can ever really tell you how to write. What I can do is share my experience of writing 16 books over the last 10 years — memoir, poetry, short story, self-help — and my process. I know that many of you want to write a book and get frustrated that it isn’t finished or perhaps hasn’t even begun. What I want to say before anything else is to not give up.
I write to heal something inside of me. That’s art to me. In my new book, The Last Painting, I describe it as perseverating over a piece of sand. All of my books are heavily based on life experiences and I find different ways of expressing my joys and sorrows. Those emotions refuse to be held to a publishing timeline but will emerge once ready.
I had to give up old school notions of publishing a book. In no way am I discouraging anyone from finding an agent, writing queries and hoping to catch the attention of publishing houses. That was once the only path you could take, but no longer. My original draft of The Reluctant Tarot Reader did catch the eye of a big NYC agent back in 2006 but I wasn’t ready for potential fame/exposure and I choked. Now with Amazon and Kindle Create, your book is published in 24 hours. I doubt that I would have my enormous output if I went the traditional path in the beginning because it forced me to create on my own. Publishers keep an eye on indie authors who blow up, so no loss. My gratification comes from writing and seeing how readers respond. If fame comes, great — but that’s not why I do what I do.
My books arrive in pieces in my head before paper. Fragments, conversations, memories, pictures — fleeting things I try to capture before they float away. Fortunately, they’ll come back as the Muse knocks again. Sometimes I have to do another form of art before I begin to write – such as painting. Once I have what I consider the bones of the book, then more information arrives. The character of Kat in The Last Painting literally talked to me as I crafted the book, so that made Part II much easier to write — but most of the time, I build from fragments.
I see a book in three part: bones, skin, pretty. I start with the bones. The Last Painting was a challenge because I am not a fiction writer but already knew the beginning/end. The trickier part was the rest of the bones! What’s the structure? What am I trying to say? What would make this interesting to me as a reader? Who are these characters? Would I enjoy this book? Once the bones are set, you work with skin: dialogue, scenes, character development. Then you move to pretty: flowing words, smooth sentences, making every word count. I find pretty the easiest part, so I don’t worry about editing or beautifying if I’m with the bones. You can always shape pretty — after you have a solid foundation.
I hope you have patience with your book. You never know when she will emerge — this month, next June or 30 years from now. I hadn’t written a book in 5 years and wondered if I ever would again. I gave up the expectation and started painting again — which played a huge role in giving birth to The Last Painting. So you just never know what will inspire you to write!