Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

There’s this guy. He’s an adrenaline junkie. The woman’s a massage therapist. They meet and… and… and… well of course they fall in love. That’s a given. But it won’t last (or will it?). And then there’s something about traveling from Montana to Maine and jumping out of a million airplanes. His name’s Elias… no J.P., and hers is Ellie. No. Allison. And of course they both have secrets—his involves feeling responsible for someone’s death, maybe an ex-lover. And hers…well that’s more hazy. Maybe something about her pioneer grandmother. That’s it. Then I’ll write a dual storyline. Yeah. That’s good.

I’m farther along than it looks, but that’s kind of my new work-in-progress in a nutshell, in the stage I like to call “cooking.” With a couple of novels under my belt (pre-published, querying, in the drawer, etc.), this is a familiar feeling. The incubation, idea stage, when everything’s running through my mind a mile a minute, but nothing’s quite jelled enough to write. Soon. But not yet.

This cooking, pre-writing, is not really planning, not outlining. I’m cooking, stirring, tasting everything in my mind. When it’s ready to write, to commit a first draft to paper, I’ll know it. Until then, here’s my recipe for cooking a book.

I’m cooking, stirring, tasting everything in my mind. When it’s ready to write, to commit a first draft to paper, I’ll know it. Until then, here’s my recipe for cooking a book.

Take the dog to the vet. Like I did this morning. I love our vet. Renee has become a friend. Our lab Abby is what you’d call a frequent flyer. She has terrible arthritis, is on a zillion (after today, a zillion and one) meds, and she is the darling of the vet office. Today, since I was cooking, I felt comfortable staying as long as Renee would let me so I could listen to her stories—mine her for stories. She tells great stories, which of course gets me thinking.

(Mini) renovate the bathroom. Last week before our daughter and three friends breezed through for a visit (recent college grads, they met up in Maine for a mini-reunion), my husband decided we needed to “spruce up” the bathroom. This quickly escalated into not just painting but re-plastering, grouting, and gorilla-gluing loose floor tiles (don’t ask). This made me realize no one in my book will ever renovate anything. Not ever.

Get stung by (a lot of) hornets. Yes, this really happened. Turns out my husband decided to test that old idiom “don’t poke a hornet’s nest” but forgot to tell me until I was on the porch surrounded by a swarm of angry hornets. Thankfully I was only stung eight times. But it did give me the opportunity to hone my screaming skills. You can be sure the new WIP will include a dose of screaming. And many hornets.

Go to the dentist. Followed closely by go to the endodontist who told me I needed a “re-treatment.” This is when you’ve had one root canal that has failed and fluid has leaked (where or from what I’m still not quite clear) and now the bone is infected…and, yeah, don’t ask, just suffice to say it’s not quite as serious as it sounds and I’m on antibiotics. Although I can almost guarantee there will not be a dentist in this particular WIP, I do love going to the dentist because I overhear all the stories from other patients—after all, listening is all I can do—and it never fails that I pick up a line or two of dialogue and maybe even a small side story.

Socialize for 10 straight days. That’s two lunches, one dinner, two Google chats, and five coffees. Turns out that the homestretch of finishing a novel is rather time consuming and isolating. I’m in catch up mode. Inevitably, in addition to being great fun, the socializing always stimulates more ideas for fiction—like this time, my friend Kate gave me lots to think about (she’s a massage therapist).

Binge watch series TV. Finished up The Guardian (love Simon Baker), now watching Royal Pains. Listen, it sounds like fun, but I’m actually doing really important work: gleaning dialogue, cleaning out the brain waves for writing, seeing what works and what doesn’t for plots, secrets, characters, etc.

Take a ton of photos. Photograph sunsets, sunrises, foggy days, and lots and lots of boats. While I’m taking photos—usually at my favorite town landing, one town over—I talk to all the lobstermen, the people fishing off the dock, sailors setting out for day sails, the Harbormaster, and basically anyone else who has a story to tell.

I may have forgotten an ingredient or two, but that’s my basic recipe. Feel free to borrow it, modify it, make it your own, because I’m almost done. These days as I click away on the camera, I can almost hear the ticking of the mind-timer, too. Soon, the leisurely binge watching and photography and even socializing will come screeching to a halt. Visits with Renee will turn all business, my root canal will be healed up, all that will be left of the hornet stings will be a little itchiness, and that will mean just one thing. J.P. and Allison and all their supporting characters are ready to start their lives.

The story will be (more or less) neatly snapped into place, cooked enough to start writing, anyway. And I’ll be settled comfortably at the dining room table or maybe in a coffee shop—it won’t really matter—because I’ll be happily knee deep in story land.

What about you? What’s your recipe for cooking a book?

About Julia Munroe Martin

Julia Munroe Martin (@wordsxo) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine with her husband, who is featured on her blog as MEH (My Engineer Husband). Julia loves cooking, walks in the woods and on the beach, bird watching, traveling, and photography, but you'll usually find her at her dining room table where she is happiest and most comfortable with her family or when writing or researching her next story. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.