Last month I told you about my favorite book that helps me with my narrative and descriptions. It’s called the Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, by Marc McCutcheon. There are some sections that I don’t use, like “French Cooking Terms” and “Surgical Procedures.” But if I want to know what a “hand-and-a-half sword” is, then there’s a definition for it. (It’s an intermediate or small sword, smaller than a two-handed sword, by the way). There’s also a section on clothing, separated by major historical eras or shifts.
Hey, have you heard of a “ha-ha”? No, it’s not laughter. It’s a sunken fence or moat around a garden to keep animals out of the area.
I like books that help me with research or language. I don’t like redundancy or interrupting my writing flow while I search for the correct word. Sometimes I put XXX to hold the place of a word I need and then go back to fill it in. Otherwise, that fleeting thread of dialogue or plot will evaporate. It usually doesn’t come back, whether it was good or bad.
When I tell someone I’m a writer, there are two questions that I’m always asked: 1. where do you get your ideas, 2. when did you start writing.
I’ll answer these questions in order.
My ideas usually come to me as I’m falling asleep. I tell myself stories as I drop off. When I’m in the middle of a first draft, I think about upcoming scenes and imagine dialogue and the interaction between the characters. Sometimes I come up with an idea during the day, file it away-either written down or in my memory-and then imagine the scene that night.
I started writing in middle school. My best friend at the time was an amazing writer and we talked about the process. It piqued my interest and I began a story. The other influencer was one of my middle school/high school English teachers. She promoted the idea of writing and even brought in a guest lecturer. He discussed creative writing and had us write ideas and chapters.
I think these two people built the foundation for my writing career. So, thank you to you both.
I miss my friend and am thankful that I am Internet friends with the teacher.
I hope you have someone, or several somebodies, who inspire you. Sonja
One of the most fun things is to get a box of books in the mail. From the covers to the pages, I love getting books.
These days, it takes a long time to get stuff shipped–since the shipping sources have been affected, as well as the supply lines. Order what you want and have the patience to wait. The people working to get it to you are battling a lot of negativity and unhappiness from the scarcity of several things as well.
Make sure you thank your delivery drivers–and wave when they drive by. It’s a good way to bridge the gap of social distancing!
I was out walking Guinness the Therapy Dog and waited for the Fed Ex truck to pass by before we crossed a side street. It wasn’t a big deal for me or Guinness, but it meant a lot to the driver and he called out a thank you. It was nice to show caring in such a simple way.
Tell me your ideas for bridging the social distancing gap! Sonja
I am a small business. So small, in fact, that I am the only person. Writing can be a lonely business. When I lean against the virtual water cooler to gossip, I talk to my dogs, including Guinness the Therapy Dog. They listen but don’t have any gossip of their own.
On the plus side, I am always the employee of the month!
I generally sit at the dining table to write. It is my designated writing space and gives me full access to my dogs, my tea, and my DVD player. I think my time in the newsroom made it necessary to have noise when I write. I usually stream Netflix or Amazon Prime or have one of my many movies playing. I don’t watch much, just hear the dialogue. Generally, I don’t even listen very closely, I just seem to need the noise.
Why don’t I listen to music?
It’s too distracting! Who’d have thought?
As I said, I think it goes back to my days in broadcasting when three or four police and fire scanners were blaring behind me, reporters were scanning their video or talking, and there was general ‘stuff’ going on around me.
Editing is a different story, and I need quiet. But during the initial creation (the icky first draft), I need the background noise.
I am asked frequently how I became a writer. I’m asked also how I come up with my story ideas.
My response is: how do you not have stories constantly running through your head?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. A wonderful lady used to tell how I would be going to sleep when we were all camping and they would hear my voice acting out some scene or other. That’s when I was maybe three or four years old.
Everything I see is filed away and it’s fun to take things out and examine them to see if they will fit into my current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes I’ll write a scene and a memory will pop up that I can integrate into the description.
The fun of writing the Guinness the Therapy Dog series is that I have the famous dog right here at my feet. If I want to see how he plays with a ball, I can throw it for him. It’s fun to have my subject ready to watch!
When I write longer chapter books, as opposed to the illustrated easy-to-read books, I need to keep track of characters, settings, and scenes. The ‘Fairies of Carlow’ series v. ‘The Voyage’ or the ‘Guinness the Therapy Dog’ series is a good example.
I keep a journal for each book with sections for characters, settings, chapter summaries, and events. This way I can map out rooms, homes, gardens, etc. to make sure my writing is consistent.
Since I like to write series’, I keep notes on the characters so when I revisit them in another title I can stay consistent with who they are and what they look like.
Consistency is the key when creating a world, which is what each book does.
I don’t have journals for the Guinness the Therapy Dog series since they are shorter and less complex. Also, I have the real thing laying at my feet so I don’t need to go far for inspiration or to see exactly how the white blaze goes from nose to the top of his head.
Let me know your tips and tricks for keeping track of details! Sonja
As a writer, you will spend a lot of time with your characters, so you should really like them. Most stories take multiple rewrites and if you get tired of your characters, so will your readers.
I love Guinness the Therapy Dog and it is fun to write about him during all his adventures. I equally loved each of the fairy princesses in The Fairies of Carlow series and their handsome princes (and one particularly handsome farmer).
I hope you have the chance to read all of The Fairies of Carlow books. I think you will enjoy each of them. Sonja
What’s a pantser, you ask? It’s the writer who can tell a good story without planning it out first. It’s not me. I tried to write a story ‘by the seat of my pants’ and it was horrible!
My stories are much better if I outline them first. I don’t outline them to death because I want the characters to be able to lead me and surprise me. But, I need to know where they are heading or else my stories tend to wander.
I like to outline on paper, usually outside, with some distractions around me. Then I go to my computer and start writing with the outline nearby. I still need some distractions while I write the first draft; I think it’s probably from my years as a news producer. I wrote for hours in the newsroom with scanners blaring and beeping, reporters coming and going; and lots of interruptions. During successive edits (and there are many) I like quiet, especially during the final edit. I like to focus all my attention on the story and try to find mistakes while around me it is quiet and still.
How many edits does a story go through? At least three. That’s why I like my computer. I save the story as a fresh draft and then start editing. I find that sometimes I like the previous draft and need to be able to go back to it. If I’m editing on that draft, oftentimes what I wrote previously is gone.
Don’t be afraid to write the first draft! It’s always unfit for reading. But it’s much easier to edit than create afresh. More on this in another post!