Putting together a novel is like putting together a puzzle. You see pieces of the picture and rearrange and order them until the whole story starts to come into view. In the beginning, it’s all a jumble of pieces. And you don’t have to write them in order. I’m busy tackling my third novel, a time travel story called Wringing Time, and I feel like I’ve got more of my puzzle pieces in place.
I got to know my characters a lot better last weekend, especially my favorite fictional mad scientist, Patricia Walton... I had been drifting away from the story, but a writers retreat with My Word Publishing at Estes Park helped get me back on track. It’s an annual retreat, so if you missed it, there’s always next year. (I work as a consultant with My Word Publishing, helping other people professionally publish their books.)
There were 40 inches of snow on the ground (in mid-May), I was surrounded by forest and mountains, and I even saw some elk. At first, I thought they were baby moose, but that’s because I’m new to Colorado. One of the best parts though was sitting with my butt in the chair writing. When I did get up and out of the chair, I got to talk to some world-class writers, as well as a wonderful writing coach and author Kris Jordan, who led the session.
A lot of her exercises were helpful warm-ups to get the ideas flowing. I enjoyed passing pages around and writing group stories, using crayons and Playdoh and pulling slips of paper from jars of prompts. Prompts are short ideas, words, or phrases you can use to spark a stories, and I love playing with them. They can be as deliciously cryptic as fortune cookies.
I talked with other writers and got invaluable coaching advice on my own story. During social hour, we played a spirited game of Boggle where we were all terribly beaten by Polly Letofsky, the founder of My Word Publishing and a woman who has walked all over the world, literally. She walked all over us in Boggle. In all, it was ridiculously fun and great getting to know the team, especially fellow consultants Susie Schaefer and Shelly Wilhelm.
In terms of writing, one of the coolest things was that the retreat helped me remember something that I had semi-forgotten as I've gotten more crunched for time. Sometimes you have to write something completely different from what you are working on to get it done. It's not A to Z. That bad poem I write to warm up, it’s not a waste of time-- it's like playing the scales. Not every line has to be perfect or useful or used. The point is to get going, to make the music. You have to be free to tell the story, and sometimes that means writing something different outside your comfort zone. So I did those exercises, I wrote a letter to my younger self, and I wrote about something that transformed me, and though those pages won't be found in Wringing Time, they helped me get going onto the next chapter.