You'd be surprised how much of writing doesn't happen on the page or behind this laptop. It happens in my head. And when I have, say, two months to revise a big novel, write a 30k short story and come up with a complete synopsis for an even bigger novel, I get a bit lost in there.
Here's how it works.
1. My editor buys 2 e-novellas, which means that SHE OWNS ME. This is a great thing. But it also means that I don't get to tell the three stories rattling around in my imagination. She has specific things in mind, which means I have parameters. That makes it a little harder.
2. Any time I'm driving or near water, I'm cogitating. Brainstorming. Trying to find the right way. I don't really know how to explain it, how I know when the path is the right one. It's like standing in the middle of a swamp and looking for the solid chunks of land that will support your weight and allow you to continue rather than sink. You can tell when I'm on the right path because I'm looking into space, smiling, completely ignoring you. In this case, what I need first is a feeling for the heroine--who she is, what she does for a living, what will make her real to the reader. Deciding that will drive the romance and action.
3. I begin to find the path. Certain things become concrete. It's no longer "Maybe she's good-hearted but streetwise?" It's now, "Frannie is good-hearted and streetwise, and she runs a pet shop. She has trust issues following a broken heart." Almost like building a bridge, as each attribute is decided, it stays in place and I move on to the next step.
4. I start writing things down. Indecipherable things. At stop lights, while half asleep, in the drive-thru line to get an ice cream at ChickfilA. I leave myself little messages all over the place. Names, scenes, lines. But I don't really need the notes, as the act of writing them solidifies the story further.
5. I have the five major pieces of the story. a) the heroine meets b) the hero; there is c) an impediment, followed by d) a big, dramatic climax. Lastly, there's e) a follow up or big reveal, something that leaves the reader sated. As long as I know what those five points are, I'm almost ready.
6. Once I have enough pieces, I start cogitating on the opening scene. Sometimes, I already know it. Like right now--it starts with a guy face down in the gutter. Sometimes, I have to go through the same feeling and testing, looking for just the right bit of mushy ground to hold my weight. Wicked as They Come was like that. The opening scene changes with every draft, and if I had one more revision, I would totally change it to get the action started sooner.
7. I have the opening scene. I have the opening line. It runs on repeat in my head, and I know I'm ready to write.
8. I go shopping, buy a steampunky Alexander McQueen vest for $15, get an ice cream cone, and eat it while barreling through the night with the windows down, singing to Call Me Maybe. Because when a story comes together, I feel utterly complete and filled with energy and joy.
Inspired by Deanna Raybourn's post on Janice Hardy's The Other Side of the Story blog. Process is a fascinating thing, and I find it comforting that no two writers do it the same way.