First of all, I do apologize for the terrible pun in the entry title.
When I was writing the Bridgetown Trilogy back in the early 00s, my process was that I’d start the day by utilizing the slower moments of my work day at Yankee Candle by doing a bit of plotting. Nothing too detailed mind you, as these moments usually lasted no longer than five or so minutes before the next wave of boxes came down the conveyor chutes, but I wasn’t looking for detailed to begin with. This was merely doing a bit of planning ahead of a few scenes. I’d think a bit about what I wanted my characters to be doing while I built those pallets of candle boxes and then write it out when I had a minute. And more often than not these scraps of paper were nothing more than the backs of copied labels that we’d tape to the side of our finished pallets.
Then later that evening during my writing sessions in the Belfry I’d take those notes and start elaborating on them. Sometimes I’d use them to the letter, and sometimes I’d actually go in a slightly different direction, but the whole point of these notes was that I’d be prepared for the session instead of sitting there staring at the screen or distracting myself with whatever music I wanted to listen to that night. When I returned to the Trilogy in 2009 to finish the last quarter of The Balance of Light I realized that the best way to go about it was to do the exact same thing: longhand notes followed by typed elaboration.
I used slightly different versions of this process for most of my follow-up novels, but never to the same degree. Most of the notes for Meet the Lidwells! contained personal information about the characters and a detailed discography of the band. Same for In My Blue World: for the most part that was written on the fly with most of the notes merely being character bios. I think part of the reason for this was that working for a bank, even as a back office drone, didn’t really lend much time or brain power for this sort of thing. I figured out alternate ways to write novels, even if I didn’t feel it was quite the same.
So when I recently decided it was time to return to the Mendaihu Universe, I also decided that the best way to play all of this out was to go back to what worked: a bit of note writing while at the Day Job followed by elaboration at home. And being that I’m back in retail, I’m once again able to steal a few personal minutes during breaks and slow times to write, this time using the backs of the previous day’s team schedule we have set up at each register. I have the time and brain power for this sort of thing again, so why not take advantage of it?
So far I’ve gotten myself maybe two or three scenes down that I can work with. I’ll be starting off the fresh new version very soon, and I plan on continuing this note taking throughout the entire project. I’m even thinking there’s a chance I’ll do a bit more Tuckerization, once again using coworkers’ last names somewhere while I keep them updated on the latest fictional drama.
All told, it’s not only great to be back in Bridgetown, but it’s also great to return to a process that worked really well for me.
I suppose I can make it official now that I’ve started prep work for MU4 as of Wednesday morning! And what kind of prep work is this? It’s the same prep work I depended on for the previous three MU books: mapping out a few scenes ahead on scrap pieces of paper during the occasional slow moments at the Day Job. It’s nothing major, but it gives me just enough of a stable platform to work from. It’s a process that worked perfectly for me during the trilogy, so I think it’s worth trying again now.
It feels great to be moving again creatively. This is where I’m the happiest when writing: the mental gears turning, the excitement of working through the numerous moving parts and making sure they’re all in the right place, the thrill of weaving several plotlines around the central arc. And tertiarily, this is where I find myself focusing more on the music that plays during the entire process: the writing soundtracks themselves that lend or inspire the emotions of the prose.
Movement was part of the thrill of writing the Bridgetown Trilogy, actually; I’d made a conscious decision that nearly every single scene in the three books were always in motion somehow. Even during the slow moments where no one was physically going anywhere (the scene in A Division of Souls where Denni needs to get to the warehouse and she and the others are stuck in traffic comes to mind), their minds were going at full tilt.
I’m looking forward to implementing that same process for this new project as well. Even when I’m taking small steps like these. It’s forward progression, and that’s what counts.
I don’t make longhand notes on my novel projects as much as I used to, but I’ll still rely on it when it’s needed. For example, this current scene in Theadia that I’m revising has a lot of intricate interweaving of story threads that need to go together in just the right way that I’ve broken out the small legal pad at my desk to work through how it needs to go.
I do still have a small pad in my back pocket after all these years, something I’ve done since high school. These days it’s mostly for shopping lists instead of music release dates or story ideas. It was probably the candle warehouse job where my writing notes graduated from that pad to folded-up pieces of printer paper.
Somedays I think about that: why is it that I need certain kinds or sizes of paper to work on certain projects? Maybe it’s that back-pocket-pad paper is small, cramped and easily torn, while printer paper is stronger and provides a larger ‘canvas’ to work on. I have some of it folded up and in my pocket that I bring to the Current Day Job. [Not that I have the best time to work on that sort of thing there what with the constant interruptions, but one can hope.] But there’s also that small legal pad I just mentioned — which I’ve been using a lot while working in Spare Oom for working things out. It’s almost like my penchant for the specific spiral notebooks I used to buy for my longhand writing: always a three-subject wide-ruled notebook. Because a five-subject notebook is too big and college-ruled gives the appearance that I’ve hardly written a thing. I know, it’s kind of silly, but so it goes.
Anyway — all this is to remind myself that it’s okay not to get any new words or revised words finished, especially when that time is instead spent figuring things out longhand on paper first.