I didn’t set out to become a writer. And when I started writing that first story, which became a book, it was only for me. I never intended to publish anything, except the math textbook I co-authored years ago.
I remember talking to an English teacher friend who’d lured me away from reading only science fiction to reading science fiction romance. For three months, every night when I went to sleep, characters came to me, and it was like I was watching a movie. I’d watch the previous night’s scenes, revise them and then see what the new scenes brought until I fell asleep. I thought maybe I was going just a bit crazy.
My friend suggested that, since the characters were “sticking around,” maybe I should write their story, which I did. When I saw her once a month at a state education committee we both worked on, I’d take the chapters I’d written to her. She read them when she got home. The third month she called me the day after we’d flown home.
The previous night she’d taken my pages to bed. When her husband was ready to go to sleep, she wanted to keep reading, so she went into their bathroom and kept reading…until there were no more pages. I’d ended the chapter with a pretty good hook. She told me that she almost called me at three in the morning to find out what happened, but she waited until early the next morning. And she gave my half-finished book to her husband, a writer, to read. He pronounced it “good” and suggested I join a writers’ organization to learn a bit more about the craft. After all, I am a mathematician, not an English major. (He and my husband went sailing, and he told my husband I could make some money if I sold a book. My wonderful husband started looking at a bigger boat and encouraged me to write, write, write.)
I never learned to plot or outline a book. I did well in my grammar classes in high school, but I’d never taken a creative writing class.
A month before I finished that book, while working full time teaching math, two new characters started “talking” to me during the day. I wrote their book next. Each of my first two books could have been the beginning of their own series. In fact, my third book was a “sequel” to the second book. By the time that book was finished, the next book, a young adult science fiction romance about a prison world, was pretty much written in my head.
Even though I’m a “pantser,” I don’t begin to write a book until I know the characters, their backstories are very fleshed out, I know what happens along the way, and I have a very definite ending. So far, this has happened before the previous book is finished. I take a week or two to think about the new characters and their own “stories” before I start writing the new book. By this point, I can’t wait to tell their story.
If the characters come to me very early on while writing the current book, I write a page or two about them, important backstory features, and anything else about them or the story that I’m afraid I’ll forget. That way I can concentrate on the current story, even though thoughts of the next book do distract me.
In some ways, I think that perhaps I’m writing future (or past) history, that my stories are about real people in the far future and somehow they reach back in time to tell me about their lives. Does that make me crazy? Maybe, but it keeps me writing.
I don’t have folders of ideas. I’ve written the first books of three possible series (only one is published so far), and have ideas about books for the characters in those books. I’ve finished a second book in one of the unpublished series (the first book in that series will release during the holiday season this year), and am finishing the sequel to the first book that is already published. It’s due for release at the end of October.
I enjoy sitting at the computer because I love my characters. I love their stories. Yes, I’ve had to revise a lot. Hundreds of pages have been cut. Sometimes I think maybe I should outline and follow a sequence of scenes that grows the novel structurally. But I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I love the spontaneity of seeing the story unfold on the screen as my fingers work the keyboard.
And because I’ve “lived” with my story for months before I ever set down to write it, I’m listening to those imaginary friends tell me about their lives, show me what happens to them, and let me feel what they feel. I just hope I do them—and their stories—justice.