How an Author Chooses What to Write Next

Momentary+Lapses+of+Reason.png

I’ve been in a strange sort of limbo for the past few years. My last 4 solo books were planned and written a couple of years prior to release. NO ONE KNOWS was five years in the making, LIE TO ME was started back in 2014. FIELD OF GRAVES I obviously wrote ten years ago, as it was my first, and the new novel, TEAR ME APART, was originally conceptualized in 2011, replanned in 2016, and brought to life during a brief writing stint last year. 

Add in a Catherine book every year since 2012, and the long-standing Sam book to follow up WHAT LIES BEHIND (which is still sitting in its Scrivener file with 15,000 words written), it’s been a long while since I’ve had to develop and plan for a new novel. 

(Yes, I do plan to finish the Sam book, and yes, Taylor is in it. I swear to you, it will happen, and soon.)

I thought for the longest time I would write a standalone or two then dive back into my franchise series, but I’m finding the standalone world quite seductive. There are pros and cons to series and standalone writing — mainly, the challenge with a standalone is developing an entire world construct and wrapping all the threads versus the series in which your world is already built and it becomes a bit like paint by numbers, plugging in new plots to people who are already established. One is not better than the other; in my mind, they’re both fun.

But since I’m writing a big international series with Catherine, it’s been easier to write standalones on my own. I have another series idea. And another series idea. And a few more book ideas based on previous characters who’ve appeared in novels and short stories. All of these have been in the idea file for years, though. 

Full circle back to what’s possibly next: 

I was watching International House Hunters this morning, and the family was moving to Surrey, England, so the husband could teach at a private all-girls school. The building was so charming, with its Gothic spires and red brick front, my latent brain starting churning. 

I like the idea of doing something totally new, fresh, different. Something I plotted recently… Perhaps…

A boarding school. Dark. Gothic. Nasty. I kinda like the sound of that.

I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write a boarding school novel. I went to an all women’s college that required the students (except Prime Time—older/married students coming back to school) to live on campus. We lived behind the “Red Brick Wall” and our buildings were attached by covered trestle bridges, so we could literally move from dorm room to class room to dining hall without ever going outside. The school was haunted, as all good boarding schools must be. We even had a staircase painted blood red, because legend had it a girl died in the stairwell and they couldn’t get her blood out of the concrete, so they painted it to match.

Yeah......

The moment the show was over, I opened my Day One app, titled a Story Idea entry (this is how I file ideas and things that don’t have titles), and pulled a plot out of thin air that actually might have promise. It will take a lot of work, but I may have a line on my next book. And in the subsequent days, bits and pieces are floating toward me out of the ether. It's cray cray.

Interestingly, the last time I had a "gut feeling" about a novel like this, I felt compelled to write a haunted house book set in Scotland, and I ended up with WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE... 

So… since this is getting to be an actual possibility, a little help please? What’s your favorite boarding school novel?

What an Author Reads While Writing

What An Author Reads While Writing

I know so many writers who don’t read while they’re creating, and I can’t even imagine such a thing.

I’ve learned, for better or for worse, that if I’m not reading, I’m not writing.

I can track my Goodreads logs against my daily writing goals, and see the wax and wane. The more I read, the more I write. The sheer joy of story is what drives me to the page, day in and day out. 

I’m not at all concerned that another’s voice might slip in, or an idea, a concept, a character. My voice is strong enough in my head that these things don’t happen. 

I read widely, and I read a lot, a minimum of 2–3 books a week. Right now, I’m listening to a literary novel on audio, reading a mystery novel for a blurb, reading a fantasy ebook for fun, and leafing through a cookbook. So 4 books at once, not at all unusual. In a few weeks, I’ll be transitioning to reading short stories for a project I’m working on, but I’ll still have at least one audio and one ebook going.  

I reread, too, books that I know evoke a certain sense of joy or wonder for me — Diana Gabaldon, especially. 

Do these books influence my writing? Not my voice or my story, per se, but, as an example, I was reading Gabaldon while I was writing THE IMMORTALS and that book feels lush and full to me. While I was writing LIE TO ME, I needed to give myself permission to get really dark, so I read John Connolly and Karin Slaughter. 

I also get in moods — I want big sweeping fantasy trilogies, or light, happy books. I burned myself out on crime fiction, I think, and will have to ease my way back in. I love suspense, though, unreliable narrators and stories that examine women and their place in the world. As a matter of fact, of the 40 books I’ve read so far this year, only 4 were written by men, and two of those had female leads. Nothing against my male author brethren, I'm just more into women's work right now.

Girl power, sisters and brothers… : )

Writers, do you read while you write? Same genre, different genre? And for you readers — can you read more than one book at a time?

How I Research and Organize My Book Writing: a Follow-Up

How I research and organize my book writing

A few weeks ago, I received a request to post a couple of pictures of my research “process” using a Circa notebook.

Happy to comply. 

I subscribe to the Twyla Tharp school of creative organization — every project gets its own “box" within which lies everything to do with that book, from research to notes to manuscripts and edits.

Over the years, with the advent of online storage and editing, these boxes have been getting smaller and smaller. Now, instead of tubs full of paper stacked in my closets, I’m able to use an expandable file pocket, and I consolidate my physical notes into single notebooks, whenever possible. 

 
Expandable Pockets and Book Clariefontaine
 

 

But for the CC books, I need a lot more organization. Hence, the Circa. 

If you missed how we researched THE SIXTH DAY, you can find that here. 

Once I’ve gathered up all my research, I print it out and put it in the Circa, and this is what I transport to Catherine’s for us to draw upon as we build the story. Organization helps! I separate my research by topics, as you can see. The pages inside are highlighted, too.

Each book also gets a Clairefontaine spiral bound notebook, and I use that for notes, ideas, queries, and all other manner of thinking on paper. They’re priceless to me. I actually found a whole chapter of LIE TO ME in one of the notebooks that I almost forgot to add to the manuscript, so yes, I do write by hand at times. 

 
The Clairefontaine - Plan of Attack
 

I also mentioned The Database — here is one of the bookshelves I have, full to the brim with research material. 

 
6. The Research Database
 

It’s amazing really, to think of all of this, when our forebears managed to write masterpiece after masterpiece like this:

 
The way it used to be done...
 

I'd love to see your process and organization!

______

Never miss a post! Subscribe to the blog or get email updates.

Why Writing Alone is Bad For You

Why Writing Alone Is Bad for You

I have a tribe.

You see me thanking them in my acknowledgements all the time, but I don’t know if I give them enough credit for the innumerable ways they help me write my books and live my life. 

They each serve different purposes, and yet, without even one of them, I wouldn’t get anything done. From inspiring me with quotes to leading me in yoga to daily word count accountability, book and movie recommendations, business advice, research questions, and plain old gossip, I adore each and every one of them. Several of them read for me, which is a huge help when I’m developing a story.

This is advice I don’t often give to new writers, but it was on my mind today.

There is nothing, nothing, more important than having a few people around you that you trust. A tribe makes your work is stronger, deeper, more alive. Having a core unit to support you, inspire you, even keep you accountable makes writing easier because, as we know, writing is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it  

It’s taken me years to find my people, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. And do be careful as you’re getting to know your newfound tribe members. Don’t go all in with the confessions on day one. Work friendships are oftentimes more fraught than finding fun dinner companions — you’re going to be discussing money, and insider information, and contract stipulations and be asked to keep secrets about deals. There are jealousies to manage, and expectations. You won’t all be at the same point in your careers at the same time. Choose your people wisely. 

And when you find those people you can trust with your life, hold them close, and don’t ever let them go. They are a huge component to your ultimate career success, and your sanity as you navigate the treacherous waters of creativity.

Do you have a tribe?

______


Never miss a post! Subscribe to the blog or get email updates.

4 Words of Advice That Changed My Life

Momentary Lapses of Reason - 4 Words of Advice That Changed My Life

I had a life-changing experience a few weeks ago. 

I was golfing with my dad and our neighbor Mike, and I can’t remember the last time I played so horribly. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-day phenomenon. I’ve been playing terribly for a few months. My game is off. My tempo, my swing, everything is messed up. Some people call it "getting the yips," but this feels deeper to me. Which of course makes me play even worse. 

I’ve attributed it to several things: I’ve lost weight over the winter, so my center of gravity is off. My surgically repaired (x5) shoulder is looser than it used to be. I am not playing enough. I’m distracted by work. You know, all the usual excuses one makes, especially in the middle of a lousy round of golf. Justifications. 

My dad’s been my coach from day one, so he was giving all kinds of advice — slow down your swing, keep your head down, you’re taking the club back too far — words I’ve heard from him so often I essentially block them out. I was growing more and more frustrated when Mike drove up in his cart.

This is a paraphrase, but it’s damn close to the exact words.

“I’m only going to say one thing, and this comes from my experience as a hitting coach (he’s a brilliant baseball coach, btw). You’re trying too hard. Just take an iron, make contact, and advance the ball. You’re going for it on every shot. We both know you can hit the hell out of the ball, but you’re better off just advancing the ball instead of trying to get it on the green with a fairway wood. Just because you can make the green doesn’t mean you should try.” 

I live with a former baseball player. I’ve heard the adage “homers don’t win the game, singles and doubles do” ad nauseam for 25 years. But I don’t think it truly sunk in to me until Mike pointed it out. I was swinging for the fences on every pitch. And as such, was winding myself up too tight, and missing the ball. 

Mike drove away in his cart. Meekly, I took a six iron, advanced the ball, and a few holes later, started to get back in a groove. I didn’t have a ton of spectacular shots, but I also got to the green, got the ball in the hole, and moved on without too much fuss. I was embarrassed that I was playing this weird game, instead of my usual bombs toward the green, but it worked. 

My dad and I talked extensively about Mike’s comment for the rest of the round. I recognized an intrinsic truth in Mike’s words — I was trying too hard. Daddy pointed out that golfers in general play to the shot they know they can make. For example, I can hit a pitching wedge 100 yards. I know this. But 80% of the time, when I’m at 100 yards and I pull out my P, damn if I don’t leave it short. Just because I CAN hit it 100 yards doesn’t mean I’m going to do it successfully every time. I’m better off moving up a club, taking a 9, and getting it there. 

But do I do that, even knowing that’s the right play? Often times, no. Because damn it, I can hit the freaking P 100 yards. 

Now, apologies, because there’s some technical stuff in there about my equipment choices, which does play a role in my escapade: I didn’t have my clubs with me, and the club I would normally take for that particular shot wasn’t an option, so I was substituting. But… allow me to again draw your attention to one sentence in Mike’s advice.

You’re trying too hard.

Yes. I was. 

Four words. Four words have reframed my entire existence. 

Yes, this brief moment of advice truly helped me reframe my game that day. But it’s also helped me face a few major issues in my life. Once I had this concept in my head, I started looking around at my everyday. I was surprised by the insight it gave me.

I spend my life on afterburner.* I go fast and hard and I expect everyone around me to keep up. I swing for the fences in everything I do, all the time, in every aspect of my life, be it sports, writing, publishing, love. It’s the reason I’ve had the successes I’ve had despite sometimes adverse conditions. It’s also bloody exhausting.

There are a hundred examples I could give, but for brevity’s sake, let’s stick with my job. 

I can write 10,000 words in a day. But just because I can doesn’t mean I do. Thing is, if I don’t, I feel guilty. Even knowing that writing is a marathon, that you succeed not by writing 10k a day but by laying down 500–1000 words EVERY day, I still feel like I’m somehow shirking my responsibility if I don’t hit that crazy goal — which, BTW, like the pitching wedge to the green from 100 yards, I only managed to do occasionally, certainly not every time I touch the keyboard (or wedge).

That lack of word count bleeds into the rest of my day. I skip my yoga or a walk to get a few more words. Dinner isn’t made, laundry isn’t folded. Books aren’t read. So many things that I could accomplish with my day get shunted away because I HAVE to get that massive word count. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is not a healthy way to approach a creative life, just like trying to get to the green with every shot isn’t sustainable if I ever want to improve my game.

I think I’ve finally wrapped my head around how I turn my writing day into something that mimics the people I admire — Catherine, of course, John Grisham. They get up, they do their words, and then they go live their lives. I’ve said before I want to emulate this, but it wasn’t until now that I truly understood how to make that work for my supercharged brain.

I know I can rather easily hit that 1,000 words a day goal in a couple of hours of true concentrated work. So I’ve set some new goals for myself, and they include being satisfied with that 1,000 words. Proud of it, even, instead of shaking my head, knowing I can do better. And I’m shooting to get them by noon, so I can then live my life instead of chaining myself to my laptop and guilting myself into writing more. That way, if I want to write more, I can. And if not… so be it. I’ve done my work. 

But the how… I’m going to save swinging for the fences and running on afterburner for the moments it’s actually needed, and spend the rest of my time with the dreaded 6 iron in my hand, swinging gently, and just moving forward. 

We’ll see how this goes. It should be an interesting experiment. 

Have you gotten any great advice lately? Share it with me in the comments!

 

*Just in case you’re not familiar with this term: An afterburner (or a reheat) is a component present on some jet engines, mostly those used on military supersonic aircraft. Its purpose is to provide an increase in thrust, usually for supersonic flight, takeoff and for combat situations. —Wikipedia