Coffee and a writing pad, a match made in heaven

Beginning a new book is the hardest task a writer faces. After months of daydreaming, researching, and dreaming up scenes, it’s time to get them all out neat and organized and into book form so people can enjoy it. Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s terrifying. It feels like embarking on a journey to an unknown planet. The pressure to execute it perfectly is intense.

After my first novel, Going Over the Falls, took me almost a decade to finish, I knew I needed to change the way I wrote. For my second book, Love in the Time of Surfing, I wanted to write faster. I researched how other authors who have managed to produce two or even three, four, books per year work. Their system sounded painful–it meant I had to outline (I normally like to fly by the seat of my pants) but I decided to try it…and it worked! Thankfully, it wasn’t the type of outline I remember writing for my high school essays. I wrote down all the scenes flooding into my head for the story–no judgement or editing, just scribbled them all down on 5 x 7 index cards. Then, I sifted through them and put the scenes in order, adding or subtracting as needed. Then, I was ready to start writing.

I had a goal to finish in 30 days. Hey, other people do it, so I thought I could too! Because I also still work part time, and am still a mom and wife, it took me four months. But that’s better than 10 years, right? I started LITTOS in January and finished in May, and it was published June 1. The best part is that it shot to the top of its category, reaching #1 and the top 10 in the other two. So that fear of producing a crappy book if I worked via an organized system? Debunked.

After writing all of my scenes on cards, I created this master flow sheet. It’s fluid (you can see the eraser marks) which is why I love mechanical pencils!

I’m about 1/3 the way through the prequel, Meet Me on the Mountain. It is such a joy to write the “story before the story” and I love the setting, which is the University District in Seattle and the Cascade mountains. My characters walk the halls I walked as a student, ski the same mountain slopes, drink coffee at cafes I used to study at, and live in neighborhoods just like mine as a student. This time, after I finished my index card outline, I decided to add one more step to my process, which is to write out a flow chart of the scenes so I can see them all on one page, complete with the dates. This gives me a bird’s eye view of the story and has been immensely helpful.

I write best in the early morning, from about 4:30am to when my family gets up at around 7am. This morning, I was able to get out 2,000 words. I’m at such a good part! Cassidy and Pete have had their first ski date and are having dinner together before, well…I won’t spoil it with you. Let’s just say they’re quickly and passionately falling for each other.

You might think this system of writing sounds rigid, but I leave plenty of room for the creative process to shine. Sometimes the scene will become something different than what I thought it needed to be, and when that happens, it’s very exciting. And I leave the ending open, because I like that to play out the way it needs to, and I don’t know what that is until I’m there (though I have a good idea where I’m going). If I’m really in the zone, I am able to sit back and let it unfold.

With this working so well, I will have Meet Me on the Mountain complete in a matter of weeks! That’s even faster than 30 days!

Creative ideas pop up all the time, that’s why I carry a notebook with me everywhere!