This Works For Me

I think working styles are like potato salad - everyone has her own approach, and her salad is usually delicious.
I begin by cutting pictures out of magazines that look as close to my hero and heroine as I can find.  I like having something to look at for those times when the images in my head are scrambled.  I've found if I study them long enough, I see beyond the toothpaste or tux rental shop they were intended to advertise and look inside a character.  In the muddle part of the book (the middle - Debbie Macomber calls it 'the muddle,' it helps me.
I began writing Americans which, at the time, were 75,000 words.  I calculated that into even chunks and used 5,000 words per chapter resulting in 13 chapters.  That varies a little, of course.  And before I had a computer, I judged word count by figuring 250 words per page.  So, 20 pages per chapter.  I just started writing to figure out what I could do.  When I was young and driven and finally stopped working, that was 10 pages per day.  The point of all that calculation is that I felt more comfortable knowing exactly where I was in the process.
To complete a book successfully,  momentum is critical.  Nothing activates that (at least, for me) like working every day.  Even when life interferes with fiction - as it always does - you're still in touch with your book because you see it every day - even if all you can give it is half an hour.  My routine is to do my pages, edit them the next day before I begin writing, which gets me right into the story and gives me cleaner copy because by the time I get to the end, it's been edited once.
Don't let the thought of writer's block form.  You can always write something.  If I don't know where to go from where I am, I do a sort of stream-of-consciousness rambling about what's happened, where I want it to go and what's confusing me.  Usually, I find a solution.  Weirdly, sometimes when I'm lost, I'll dream a solution, or it'll come to me in church.  I suppose those are the two places where I let it all go and that seems to free up answers.
An outline keeps me on track, but I try to remember that it isn't written in stone.  If I come up with a better idea, I can deviate from the plan.  If I'm wrong, my editor will tell me and I can fix it in the revision.
If I have trouble with dialogue, I'll set up the situation for my husband (if it's a scene with the hero) or my good friend (if my heroine is talking to another woman) and we just bat around a conversation and see where it goes.  Actually getting a male perspective has helped me many times, and another woman's point of view is priceless.
I just push on until I finish.  Nora Roberts says that you can't fix a blank page, but you can fix bad dialogue or text.  Just keep going.  If you write every day, the momentum will ignite and carry you.  If you get confused or lost - don't we all?  Try to sort it out and keep going.  Remember the idea that got you moving and try to come up with action or dialogue that will best serve that idea.
I don't turn off the phone because it would make me crazy, I don't listen to music because then I can't "hear the voices", and I'm fueled by chocolate and black tea.
And do remember this wonderful sisterhood of Heartwarming authors.  I'd be happy to bang around ideas any time and would love it if someone would help me with that, too.      


  1. I'd love to do 10 pages a day
    I do images to.
    And, my best places for thinking up new scenes, like you, church but then also the shower.

  2. Wow! 10 pages a day??? That's amazing! Do you find that you're a fast writer or more methodical? Do you write a bad first draft and revise or is it polished as you go?

    I find my best ideas in the shower, the car on my way to/from work and just as I'm about to fall asleep at night. Sometimes I dream the solution.

    I'm raising my hand to volunteer when you need a sounding board. Anytime, Muriel :)

  3. Hi, Pam and Syndi!

    I don't get ideas in the shower because, at my age, I'm too busy trying not to slip! I also don't drive, but I do think things through when I'm walking. Astoria has about 10,000 population, and my house is a four block walk from town. I love it here!

    These days, I do only six pages a day - but, then, I don't have children or an outside job. I'm sort of a fast writer (not always good) but I feel as though someone's popped a DVD in my forehead and I see the story. I revise day by day, then do a major sorting out and revising when I'm finished.

    Thanks for the invitation to play with ideas, Syndi! I'll take you up on that.


  4. Pam! Bless you for getting my photo on. Guys, Pam got it off the Internet, e-mailed it to me so I could go from there - but I couldn't. She managed to get to Picasa Web Album and got it on the blog. I'm so impressed! And so grateful! Thanks a million, Pam!


  5. Muriel, I remember the days of 250 words per typewritten page. Ugh. The computer that counts our words is so much easier it's mind-boggling. My first ideas generally come at night, but if my characters have problems that need solving I try to sort them out in my morning walk. I used to be able to write 15 to 20 pages a day, but not any more. Maybe now I spend too much time mulling over single words, sentences or phrases. I like to work from a pretty detailed outline. Sometimes it does feel as if I've already written the book, so perhaps it'd be better to have less detail up front. Maybe the story would be better if it were more spontaneous. I have friends who write in scenes and out of sequence. I don't think I could ever do that. Your photo is great, by the way. Bless Pam for getting a lot of this put together.

  6. Hi, Roz! 15 - 20 pages a day! That's Herculean! or maybe you're just good. I've been away so long that I feel somewhat insecure, and just don't write with the same confidence. Maybe I'll get it back, or it's possible just being older makes me really aware of all I don't know. At any rate, I love having all of you to mull it over with.

  7. Hi Muriel! I love your potato salad analogy :) It's so true-I've tasted lots of different versions, and like pizza, they are all good! This has been such an insightful week of getting to know each other as writers and individuals. I feel like I've gotten such an intimate glimpse of how this process works for everyone. I'm definitely with you on the chocolate... the black tea I haven't tried- though any form of caffeine is awesome. Like you, I'm a fast writer and thank heavens for that! I also read over and do a quick fix/edit on what I wrote the previous day before writing new material because, as you said, it is a great way to get right into the story again. But of all of the great insights you gave, my favorite is the importance of momentum... of writing every day. Once I learned to do that (and it came later in life for me) I've been able to complete novels. And since I write both YA and adult Romance, sometimes I'm working on two novels simultaneously. Would love to bounce around ideas with you or with any of our wonderful Heartwarming authors. We are such a great community! (off to tweet about your awesome post now, Muriel- lol)

  8. Thank you, Karen! Must be challenging to keep your feet while working on YA and adult romance simultaneously. I've done only 2 historicals, and I remember feeling as though I really had to focus on what that required - don't think I could have done a contemporary at the same time. Your ability to write every day came to you "later in life." You started at 12, right? Your photo is so glamorous. This is great! We'll have to all get together for an idea fest!


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