The first and most important step is…drum roll, please… nothing sexy or spectacular, sadly. Honestly, there’s no book you can buy with all the answers or all the plot templates: it’s simply carving out time to write every day—or at least five days a week. That alone is the biggest difference between those who finally publish a book and those who always intend to but never do.
For the vast majority of us, especially just starting out, there aren’t huge pockets of unfilled time just waiting for us to hide out with a laptop— the dog quietly curled at our feet—while we produce an international bestseller. So we have to be a little ferocious in staking out time and protecting it from all comers—and especially from ourselves, the absolute worst enemies of our writing time. The voices in our heads, most writers at least, tell us we’re delusional to think we can write a book, that we’d spend our time better just paying the bills or cleaning the commodes during this time (because who are we kidding, anyway?). Those voices kill creativity.
Some people find they need to get up an hour earlier than usual—before driving to work or before the kids wake up. John Grisham did this writing his first and I believe also his second novel while still practicing law full time—before The Firm became a film and a blockbuster book. My friend Camille DiMaio, who wrote her first novel while working as a successful Realtor and raising four kids, simply stayed up ‘til 3 a..m. writing each night for six weeks in order to finish a first draft. She was utterly exhausted, but that early push made the difference between being a wannabe or a published novelist. During semesters when I was teaching boatloads of classes at a local university and also had small children at home, I would try to write very early before anyone else woke up (except the dog, who always insisted on following me to my attic office as crucial support staff) and then I’d sequester myself during lunchtime in order to reach a page per day goal. Even at times when I didn’t have an office of my own, I’d hole up in the corner of a coffeehouse or an off-hours restaurant and keep my nose in my laptop, shoulders hunched, so that no one dared bother me. My first novel BLUE HOLE BACK HOME came into being this way—a crazy mix of sleep deprivation and mule-headed determination.
It does help immensely to establish a word count or page goal for each day, and be fairly tough on yourself about meeting it, even if that means not getting to watch Netflix that evening. If you have family responsibilities, there will simply be times you have to let go your word count for the day, like when a child has the flu or you need to take an aging parent to the doctor and wait five hours to see a specialist. I think the key is not to let those days when you have to offer yourself mercy become the norm so that you fall out of your routine.
Beyond that, there is no hard and fast step by step, since each writer is different and each genre requires different methods of its authors. If you want to write a thriller or mystery, you’d better have a fairly detailed plot from the start in order to map out each of your reveals and twists. Other types of novels can simply grow from a single idea or image, and the writer simply lets the characters lead the way as they grow and develop. J.R.R. Tolkein was grading papers for his classes at Oxford when, out of the blue, he scribbled “In a hole, there lived a Hobbit” on one paper. And thus was born a future classic. Even then, though, it helps to know generally what the final scene or chapter might be before writing the first, so all that sleep deprivation and mule-headed determination doesn’t go to waste!
Readership Book not Preachy
Posted: November 7, 2014 - 8:17pm
Joy Jordan-Lake may or may not have intended for feet to be symbolic, but they are kind of obvious on the covers of two of her books. The paperback of her 2008 novel, “Blue Hole Back Home,” shows two sets of bare feet dangling down from a dock over a swimming hole.
One set of feet and shins is shiny white, while the other is a little darker. That photograph illustrates a theme of the book that is Amarillo College’s Common Reader this year, a story that won the 2009 Christy Award for best first novel. The Christy Awards go to books written from a Christian worldview, but don’t even think of “Blue Hole” as anything preachy.
Like the teenage character Jimbo, who’s a preacher’s kid in the story, Jordan-Lake’s beautifully written work presents any spiritual concepts subtly. Jimbo is part of a handful of southern white teens who, some less reluctantly than others, welcome newcomer Farsanna into their group of friends in the summer of 1979.
Farsanna, whose skin is darker than theirs, has moved to their rural community with her family from Sri Lanka. Showing his church background — as Jordan-Lake reveals her own — Jimbo said things like, “Gotta go barefoot on holy ground,” when the teens make their first visit with Farsanna to their beloved swimming hole, the Blue Hole of the title. Beyond throwaway lines like that, Jimbo hints at real spiritual insight with comments such as “Ain’t none of us harmless.” I suspect Jimbo had heard his dad preach on Romans 3:23.
The book, based on various real incidents in the author’s growing-up time in the South, makes it clear that racial hatred still was flaring up in the late 1970s, years after civil rights supposedly had been achieved. The word “Ferguson” reminds us that there still are lessons we haven’t learned. The main character is Shelby Lenoir, nicknamed Turtle, a tomboyish girl who first invites Farsanna into the back of the group’s pickup. Turtle has genuine empathy for “the new girl” but admits to herself that she hesitates to get involved when some nasty things happen.
In Jordan-Lake’s other book with feet on the cover, she also admits that she likes to avoid conflict. “Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous” was published in 2007. Its cover shows two feet with red nail polish, their toes on the end of a diving board. In a personal, again skillfully written book, Jordan-Lake digs into “Ten Alarming Words of Faith” that Christians throw back and forth every day but that might require more of us than we want to acknowledge. She writes, “This book attempts to explore just how uncomfortable Jesus can makes things.” For each of the concepts – “resurrection,” “peace,” “worship,” “hope” and more – she uses her own experiences to illustrate how Christianity requires more than nice words; it means getting your hands dirty and helping people. Jordan-Lake’s background gives her a rich trove of knowledge and experience to write about. She grew up in Tennessee and worked in Boston. She has a seminary degree and a doctorate in English literature. She has talked about writing at a C.S. Lewis seminar in England and to the Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo.
At 6 p.m. Monday, she will discuss the creative process in the College Union Building on AC’s Washington Street Campus, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, she will talk about “Moral Courage,” AC’s theme for this year, at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Both events are free and open to the public. Moral courage certainly is at the forefront of “Blue Hole Back Home” as young people cope with prejudice, from a high school kid spitting tobacco juice at the new girl’s feet to adults donning white cloaks and hoods. Jordan-Lake manages to weave in wisdom from the 1600s — John Donne’s poetry — to the 1960s — the Beatles: “I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there.” That lyric certainly fits the teenage Turtle, and Jordan-Lake’s writing inspires us to put our feet on the ground and follow Jesus’ example.
Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.haynescolumn.blogspot.com for other recent columns.