Therese here. Today’s guest is debut author Liz Michalski, whose novel, Evenfall, just released. It’s “a story of strong women, young and old, looking for acceptance and redemption in their own distinct versions of home,” says Booklist. It’s also a suspenseful ghost story about a man who loved and chose wrong, and lived his life with another, and died, but who tries to affect the next generation from the great beyond. Author Ann Hood said of Evenfall, “One of those books you will not be able to put down until its last beautiful pages.” And Romantic Times gave Evenfall a four-star rating, saying, “Michalski’s excellent debut is a touching tale of regret and treasured memories.”
I love a ghost on a mission. And I’m thrilled Liz is here with us today to talk about something that affects a lot of us: When life doesn’t allow you to write fast, how can you still turn out a great book? Take it away, Liz.
Full Boil or Slow Simmer?
I’m pretty handy with a deadline. In the twenty or so years I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve never turned in a late assignment. Fiction, though, is a different matter. With fiction, I’m a dawdler. A foot-dragger. I never write fiction at a full boil — it’s more of a slow simmer.
When I started Evenfall I was working full time and running a 10-acre horse farm. The last thing I wanted to do was take on more work. So I deliberately kept my fiction writing low-key — if I missed a day or two, it was no big deal. This was supposed to be fun, a joyful experience, after all.
Then I had my first child, and my time for doing anything that wasn’t directly related to the baby, my job, or the farm shrank considerably. I put the manuscript aside for a very. long. time. Ironically, it was the birth of my second child that made me pick it up again. He gave up napping at the ripe old age of nine months, and since I’d counted on those two-hour, twice-a-day naps to get my freelance work done, I was effectively screwed. I took a temporary hiatus from the work force, but my brain was unhappy. So whenever I had a spare fifteen minutes, I pulled out my manuscript and played with it. It wasn’t every day — it wasn’t even every week — but it was often enough for me to eventually finish it.
The slow writing habit has stuck with me. I have a little more time these days, but I still don’t write fiction every day — or even every week. I feel a little guilty when I read articles suggesting that serious writers make time for their craft every day, but mostly I’m over it. Instead, I use these techniques to keep my writing muscles in shape (think of it as cross training):
I ponder. Pondering is the weight-lifting of my writing career. I may not write every day, but I do think about my WIP just about every day. Last summer, I had the golden opportunity of a whole hour to myself almost every morning for a month. I could either write, or I could run. I chose to run, but I used that time to tell myself the story of the first chapter of my next book – over and over again. When September came, I knew exactly what to write.
I take notes. I have a small notebook I carry with me most of the time. Whenever I come up with a line of dialogue, a plot point, or even a background detail, I write it down. That way it’s there and ready when I am.
I cheat. I use music as an emotional shorthand. Every character usually winds up with a song that ‘belongs’ to them. When I do have time to write, I play that song to focus me on that character’s point of view.
I revise. If I haven’t touched my manuscript in a few weeks, I go back to the nearest beginning — either of the last chapter or the last section — and work from there. Doing so helps me catch problems and makes the final revision easier.
I elaborate. Taking time off sporadically let’s me see what I might not have noticed in the last go-round, because I was too close to the work. In Evenfall, for example, I realized after taking time off that the story was subtly built around the four elements — air, earth, water, and fire. In later chapters, I was able to tease out these threads a bit more, making a richer tapestry for my story-telling.
I practice. I may not be writing my novel every day, but it’s rare for a day to go by where I don’t write something – a newspaper article, a marketing letter, a report or even a blog post. By exercising my writing muscles, I’m a stronger writer when I do pick up my fiction.
Do you write at a simmer, a boil, or somewhere in-between?
Thanks for a great post, Liz! Readers, you can learn more about Liz and her debut novel, Evenfall, on her website and her blog, and read a excerpt of her book HERE. (Psst, if you purchase a copy of Liz’s book and email her a jpg of the two of you cozied up together (firstname.lastname@example.org), she’ll send you a code to unlock extra content on her website.) Write on!
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Girl Interrupted Eating