Sixth Grade Projects Never Die

I’ve been obsessed with writers and how they tick for as long as I can remember.

In the sixth grade, we were given a project. Anything goes. Just make it count.

I did what any normal sixth grader would do—I wrote to an author and a songwriter and asked about their writing style, so I could analyze the differences and similarities between the two crafts. (What, didn’t everyone do that project? Just me? Ah well.)

If one, or both, didn’t respond, there went my project and my grade. Being the jerk of a curvebreaker in school, one would think I’d care about the failure of my project, but I didn’t. I just had faith they would respond, mainly because I had no backup project.

First I heard from the songwriter, my favorite singer, Randy Travis. He kind of missed the point of the project entirely, but I got a response and an autographed picture out of the deal.

But still nothing came from my author request.

1_kristys_great_idea2Imagine my surprise one Saturday not long before my project was due when I (finally) got a rather thick envelope in the mail from Ann M. Martin, author of the Babysitter’s Club books. It was three pages long, and quite in-depth. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what she said. I probably still have the letter somewhere, it’s not like me to throw something like that away.

It’s so funny to me that my heart would be at a standstill every time we got the mail in sixth grade to receive a response from someone about something that, twenty-five years later, I will have finally achieved on my own. Now, granted, I’m not as popular or successful as Ann M. Martin—likely never will be. But that’s okay with me. I’m writing and that makes me happy.

The main thing I learned from that project that has carried with me is that there are people out there who are not too big to respond to a lowly eleven-year-old’s letter.

Even better, I can now answer eleven-year-old me’s question on my own writing.

Plotter vs. Pantser: First of all, let’s get this out of the way. I hate the word pantser. It makes me feel like a middle school bully who is jerking pants off of people. That’s not me at all. I’m much better at being the bully with words. Wait, did I say that? No, I’m not a bully. I was picked on too much as a kid growing up for that. But, I am not a plotter, the final product doesn’t look anything like the outline I try to form. Ever.

So I’ve learned that what works best for me is coming up with three basic things: a setting, a character’s name, and a high-level character arc. (Depending on the way the book is written, like with the dual POV of the Earthbound Angels series, I need two.) From there, the characters take over for me. I’m really not crazy—I don’t think—but there are times that I start typing and when I finish, I’m looking at a scene that was never in my conscious mind to begin with. It’s when the characters decide how they want their story to go. Almost every author I know has dealt with it. Some fight it, I embrace it. I much prefer when my characters tell me what they want, even if it blows my plot all to hell.

Taking a break: I’ve learned through experience the most important thing to my specific brand of writing is taking time off between the first and second drafts. Any piece I’ve ever submitted in which I didn’t do that was rejected. (Okay, full disclosure, some that went through those steps were rejected too.) However, I’ve found that I find more mistakes after I’ve stopped to look at something else for a while. More often than not, that’s a matter of my reading one of the books on my to-be-read pile that seems to only grow bigger no matter how many dents I put in it. Sometimes it’s writing something else. Sometimes it’s staring at the TV for a few nights. Regardless, that break has to be there. If I don’t get recharged, I’ll miss things. It’s that simple.

Ideas: The ideas for my characters, their exploits, and other things come from a variety of places. Sometimes they are based on real people. Sometimes they are based on real events. (In fact, there’s a scene in the third Earthbound Angels book that happened in real life. No, I’m not saying which scene. But the person to which it happened practically begged me to put it in a book, so I did.)

A lot of times, I try to tune out the muse because I’ve got enough other stuff going on, and sometimes she quiets. Other times she gets louder and I have to put down what I’m working on to get it out. That’s how Wreck You came to be. I was working on Promises of Virtue and then this character popped into my head and wouldn’t leave until I wrote his happily ever after.

You know, that’s the thing about romance—the happily ever after. Life is full of downers, sad and horrific events that make me shake my head and wonder what the hell the world has come to. fcpszuee9ijoeBut in writing romance, I get to leave all that behind. These worlds are specifically created to ensure a happily ever after, because that’s what we want. Reading them makes us happy.

Writing them makes me even happier.

What about you all? What’s makes your heart beat out the sound of fingers on keyboard?

 

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