Today at Terry's Place, I welcome author Amber Leigh Williams, who brings more possibilities to that nebulous system of creating a story. She's giving away a digital copy of her award-winning novella to one lucky commenter. Rules at the end of the post. Welcome, Amber.
Authors all around me at conferences, chapter meetings, and online forums talk about their clear-cut plotting process. After writing romance novels for eight years and despite my publishing credits, I still don’t have my organizational ducks in a row. I’m one of those people who thrive in chaos. The state of my office and whatever flat surface in other parts of the house I choose to randomly commandeer makes my tidy husband cringe. Even spiders flee.
I start out with a notebook. An innocent, unsuspecting, college-rule spiral. Despite the thirteen years I spent under teachers’ admonitions to color in between the lines and write eligibly between them, my muse overcomes me. You see, if it wasn’t for her, I might have a chance at mild organizational skills. She is the real culprit, and when she takes over and the ideas start coloring the notebook page in blue or black ink, she goes bonkers! I may start out writing on the top line in readable script, but by the end of the brainstorm session, I flip back through the pages and find margins filled, tiny cursive text circling the words packed into the center of the page. Some of it is readable, but the part in shorthand looks like an ancient form of Arabic no Robert Langdon for hire however brilliant, appealing, or well-versed would have any chance of deciphering.
Work began on my first real romance novel when I was sixteen—a historical based in Italy that would later be published as Forever Amore (http://www.blacklyonpublishing.com/Forever%20Amore.html). Soon my notes were all over the place—loose-leaf scraps I’d torn off the corners of high school papers, colorful sticky notes taped on my desktop, computer screen, and mirrors so out of order they made my eyes cross, and notebooks upon notebooks filled with tiny side-notes, again in no understandable order. One week in the summer, I decided to embark on the monumental task of putting every note on the manuscript—the first draft of which would round out to… oh, about 140,000 words (seen here)—into an organized timeline.
First I enlisted the help of my unfortunate younger sister—who agreed to it only because I bribed her with my month’s allowance—in transcribing everything into a Microsoft Word document. When that was done, I printed it out, stayed up late into the night on the floor of my father’s home office breaking them down into sections then putting each section in order then using Scotch tape to attach the smaller bits together (as some of the pages had to be cut up to be separated into their respective sections). When I was done, I put my hole-puncher to good use and placed them all in a three-ringed binder.
After the whole maddening task was complete, I had to put the story on the backburner for a month to again toss my room into a state of complete haphazard disarray until my muse judged it a satisfactory-enough work environment and we both went back to work tapping out that whopping manuscript.
After that exhausting experience, I never attempted to declutter my notes again. Once I began living with my husband years later, I learned to contain my chaotic note-taking within those spiral notebooks. Whenever he had occasion to stop by Office Depot, he’d bring home another sacrificial college-rule lamb for the inked slaughter, knowing full well that if I didn’t have one nearby when the muse decided to strike then my imagination would either spontaneously combust or I would start scribbling all over the walls. The good man that he is cares about his already peculiar wife’s state of mind—or just wanted to steer way clear of a scene out of The Number 23.
Alas, I’m not crazy (…yet). This is how the stories are made. The ones I tapped out when my office was in order ended up on that scary chopping block called rewrites. I don’t write when I’m feeling tidy. I edit, polish, and wait for that frizzy bohemian I call Muse to ride in on her frayed broomstick. This way, she rarely has to take out her teeny but no less merciless scissors and cut, cut, cut. And as someone with too many characters fighting to wrangle their way onto the page, I prefer it that way.
Thank you, Terry, for letting me share! Today I’m giving away a digital edition of my western romance and 1st Place Novella of the 2009 More Than Magic Contest, Blackest Heart, to one lucky commenter! All you have to do is describe the state of your office or working environment in five words or less! Good luck! Because of digest loops and international time differences, to give everyone a fair chance, the winner will be announced on Thursday in the comments to this post. Check back then.
Amber Leigh Williams is a multi-published romance author, PRO Liaison and former Secretary of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and a monthly contributor to Romance Writers United’s “Write Right” newsletter. Amber lives on the Gulf coast of Alabama with her husband and 3 labs. Learn more about her at her website, amberleighwilliams.com You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and at her blog.