Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Call Me Crazy…Or Not

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.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Wait...how did you get ahold of my notebook!! :) Mine looks JUST like that--too funny!

I say if it works, stick with it!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

I agree, Elizabeth. Whatever works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Hey, Amber! Your notebooks look like mine...though the rest of my process doesn't sound as crazy as you. LOL Just teasing--obviously it works because I've read and loved Blackest Heart!

I prefer my desk clean and dusted, and get it that way every couple months. Alas, within a week, and sometimes w/in a few days, the clutter and papers begin to pile up and the only space I'm left with is for the keyboard. Still...I write. :)

(no need to enter me in the contest)

Emma Lai said...

Loved the pictures and the story of your notebooks, Amber!

I just started using a new, free software package to track my craziness. It's called FreeMind and works similar to the way my brain does.

Jennifer Johnson said...

I can SO relate. No surface is clutter free here. And, oh, the notebooks. Those notebooks!

Jennifer Johnson said...

Oh, wait. Here is mine in five words or less

No surface is clutter free.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Elizabeth and Stacey - do we share a muse? I was wondering where she flew off to for days at a time. And Stacey, I'm so glad you loved BLACKEST HEART!

Terry, thank you for having me!

Emma Lai, I've tried pretty much every organizational solution. My muse finds a way to scramble it. Whatever gets her through the day, LOL

Jennifer, I want that bumper sticker ;)

Katie Reus said...

Ack! That's making me cringe *g* but at least you found what works for you :)

Lisa L. Leibow said...

You are a brave woman to share those photos. You have given me the strength to admit my problem with clutter. I'm buried in paper, journals, post-its, piles of notes everywhere... But I know where everything is... I promise!

Thank you, Amber. It helps to know I'm not alone.

-Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women's Fiction

Amber Leigh Williams said...

So sorry, Katie - I hope you don't have nightmares :)

Aw thanks, Lisa! I'm starting a group. Clutterers Anonymous. Any takers?

Laura Breck said...

I envy you, Amber, being able to write on paper. I can take quick notes by hand, but my writing environment is: Neat, tidy, clean and computerized.

Congratulations on your amazing success!

~enlightenedpsych2~ said...

I believe my muse and your muse take notes and when it comes to organizing my space which is equally spiral bound notebook, writing instruments and maybe a half-drunk cup of java--my fodder for the writing cannon quest is in constant disarry. But I make sense of it all and prosper as you, great blog ! You are not crazy just commonly creative, yey !
sharing the light and happy holidays,
miss erica hidvegi,
fellower gatherer and Enlightenment Advisor

Mary Ricksen said...

I don't have an office so, my words would be; I need an office space!
This house is so tiny I am stuck at the kitchen table. My butt has burned an indentation in my seat. So I had to rotate chairs!
Love the cover.
The thing that amazed me the most is that you use shorthand? Now that is something I have not heard in a long, long, time. Heck, people don't even take typing classes anymore. I love the pictures Amber, so like home.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Laura, thanks for stopping by! I use notebooks because most of the time (whenever I'm having a random brainstorm), the spiral is usually quicker. Unfortunately, ideas are only available from download from my memory for a very limited time :)

Miss Erica, ah - another kindred spirit! So that makes three for Clutterers Anonymous?

Mary, the first house I lived in with my husband was TINY and he literally carved out a space for a desk in shelves in the laundry room. And the shorthand works best for that limited-time-only download. Once the ideas start flowing, my hand has trouble keeping up my caffeinated muse!

Sheila Deeth said...

Five words or less! How would I cut my clutter to five words, except I've just tried to tidy up since I was getting ready for my Mum to arrive from England.

Mum's arrived safely and the office?

Organized, disorganized, organized chaos.

One less than five.

Maryann Miller said...

LOL, oh how I can relate. To enter your contest I should just take a picture of my notebook, which has five sections because I work on so many different things.

My entry:

Mountains of papers erupting.

Kathy said...

Amber, one word DISASTER AREA!I have stuff strowed, scattered, piled from one desk to another and onto the dining table (which we don't use) and even floor space is cluttered.:-)

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Thank you so much for sharing your work areas with me (and for braving mine). This morning my husband drew a name. The giveaway winner is...


Please email me at amber(at)amberleighwilliams(dot)com.

And thank you again to Terry for letting me share :)

Terry Odell said...

Sorry to be so late getting back here. Congrats to Kathy, and thanks, Amber for being my guest!