“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
- Thomas Mann
In writing and releasing my first children’s book, I’ve had the opportunity for some fantastic conversations with people about the writing process. I’ve met and talked with a lot of people who would love to publish a book, but like me at the start, they have no idea where to begin. Which is fair! It’s a daunting process and one that you can’t undertake without a little help! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through my entire book process, from original idea to final release and marketing, in the hopes that you might learn something about what’s required and what options you have to pursue it.
Before I start talking about my process, though, I have one absolute, total rule. The only rule that I will tell you to follow me on in no uncertain terms.
Find what works for you.
Writing a book is an intrinsically creative process which means your experience is going to be completely unique to you. So don’t beat yourself up if everyone swears by one tactic or practice that doesn’t work for you no matter how hard you try. That’s ok! You just have to find your process! So bearing that in mind, I’m telling my process to give you more tools to play with, not tell you a hard and fast way to do things. Spend some time tinkering with your approach and give yourself time to find your process!
So part one! Getting inspired and beginning. If you’re anything like me, it feels like this should be a no-brainer. That is, until you actually go to take it and already feel overwhelmed. There’s a huge difference between writing just for grins and giggles and actually setting out to write a book. I’d wanted to write The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Acorn for years before I ever wrote the actual manuscript.
As far as inspiration is concerned, that will be a personal experience for every writer. However, if I could recommend anything to new, young, or any writer in between, it would be to fill your ears with music. Listen to music that makes you get lost in thought. Listen to music that makes you think of anything but your life as it’s present for you right now. The farther you get out of your own world, the more prepared you are to start making a new one. And isn’t that what writing’s all about?
I like to take it a step farther and get out of the house, I always daydream much better the closer I am to the outdoors. Some of my favorite book ideas have come to me on walks along the lake with earbuds firmly planted in my head and dreamy music blaring. In a pinch, car rides work brilliantly too. It was on a drive back from Bend, Oregon that I finally worked out exactly how I wanted to write The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Acorn.
If all else fails, “what if” questions are a great way to fill in the blanks of your mind. What if you found a dragon in the woods? What if your cat could talk? What if there was a hidden secret in your town? What if a squirrel decided to sail on the high seas? Some of the best books in the world, children’s or otherwise, are an author’s answer to an absolutely fantastic “what if” question.
The closer you get to putting words on a page, the more concrete and familiar to other author’s experiences the whole process becomes. For me, I’m never able to really undertake a writing project until I’m able to answer a few questions. I don’t necessarily sit down and answer them one by one, or am even really aware that I’m answering them. Often times I’ve already started writing a few key scenes in the book. Nevertheless, once these questions are answered for me, I know I have a book and not just an idea and that makes all the difference.
How do I want it to sound?
The lens through which I write a book is a huge matter for me. If I don’t like how my writing is sounding, nothing else works. To me, it feels like trying to watch a 3D movie but without the glasses. Everything is so blurry and disorienting it just makes your head hurt. My book has to have a lense that matches the story I’m trying to tell. This question often makes or breaks if I will truly undertake an idea. I have notebooks full of partial scenes from book ideas that have yet to become anything, all because the lens is still eluding me.
One of the reasons it took me so long to write Captain Acorn’s adventures was because I had such a time of trying to find the right lens for the book. There are actually a few attempts that I scrapped because they just didn’t fit what I wanted for various reasons. They were all wrong somehow, whether it was the voice, the pacing, the content, the perspective, or the arc of the story. It wasn’t until that drive back from Oregon that I had the idea to make Acorn’s adventures episodic in nature and things started falling into place. After that, there was no slowing that children’s book down.
What are the main character’s names?
This is the question that keeps me from writing anything. Call me crazy, but I can’t write a word until my characters and I have been properly introduced. I always think this process is going to be simple, and after all these years it never is. I can tell you all sorts of stories of me muttering angrily under my breath as I browse bookmarked baby name sites. Most recently, my poor roommate had to endure me making all sorts of angry mutterings and exclamations for over an hour. The reason? I couldn’t find a boy’s name I liked that was associated with turtles.
I could go into a lot more detail about this process. So much so that I will likely do a separate blog post just about naming characters and the process that I use there. Believe me, naming a character is never a simple thing.
I don’t have to have all the characters named to start, but nothing gets done until my main character has a name. Nothing in the story or about them can really begin in earnest until they have a name. In the case of Captain Acorn, I was incredibly lucky that she had already been named years before I ever set down to write the book. In other book projects, I haven’t been so lucky… Again, ask people who have watched me write...
What’s the biggest moment in the story?
I’m one of the writers that never have the whole story figured out when I sit down and start writing a book. I do, however, have to have a firm grip on the climax of the story or I have nothing to work with. I need to know exactly where everything is heading so I can decide how everyone is going to get there and what they are going to do afterward. I need to make sure I have a punchline before I start setting up the joke.
A lot of the time, it’s that climax that I put through the wringer to find the right lens when I’m scribbling the idea on paper. It takes a lot of tinkering, but finding the lens and finding the climax of my book often go hand in hand in my writing process.
In the case of Captain Acorn, this process was a little different in that each chapter is almost its own individual story. So the process was still there but on a much smaller level. As I wrote each chapter, I had to know what the climax was going to be in it. It was less a process of “what does Acorn do in this chapter?” or “What does Acorn learn?” and much more a process of discovering “what’s the biggest moment for Acorn in this chapter?”. As long as I had that in mind, I had the room to tinker and play with how all the characters got to that point until I was satisfied with how it looked.
By finding those bursts of inspiration and answering these questions I’m well on my way to my next children’s book project. It takes a lot of tinkering and tweaking, but that’s the core of the creative process! Play with your ideas, don’t shy from the questions, and above all else, find what works for you.
Let’s find some joy,