This question gets asked the most and I want to answer it as honestly as possible. I rarely experience inspiration when I’m writing. Inspiration sounds to me like a highly romantic ideal and makes me think of someone sitting at a keyboard, fingers flying, with their hair blown back by the sheer force of creative genius pumping onto the page. The feeling that drags me to my keyboard on a somewhat regular basis feels closer to compulsion than inspiration. I feel compelled to write. When I’m not writing, I’m obsessing about how I should be writing. When I am writing, I’m worrying about how I’m not writing enough. When words get down on the page, it reduces anxiety for me. If I go too many days (or God forbid, weeks) without writing, I start to get depressed.
So okay, why do I feel compelled to write and why does writing kind of make me crazy?
I don’t know—it’s just the way it is. My brain wants to do this thing. When my body won’t do it, my brain releases chemicals that make me increasingly psychologically uncomfortable until it forces my body to turn off Netflix and do what the brain wants.
The experience is no where near as romantic as “inspiration.” The feeling is much more like having homework you haven’t even started that’s due today—yes, that’s it exactly!
How do you write?
First, an idea strikes me—this may actually be the only part of writing that is “inspiring”—and I get interested in that idea. However, lots of ideas strike me and I don’t particularly feel like spending a year, or more, with most of these ideas but I write them down in case I change my mind later. The books I have written are ideas that I kept thinking about, kept figuring out, kept writing more and more notes about. So that’s how it starts.
Next is the task of actually writing. I touch type, so I mostly write on my computer. I use Scrivener. Sometimes, if I feel like doing something different, I switch to a pencil and paper but then transcribe it to the computer right away. I construct a simple outline of the book before I start but leave lots of details open so that I can discover those along the way. I start at the beginning of the book and write each chapter in order until I reach the last chapter. Then I type—The End. Those are two very rewarding words to type. When I’m working on the first draft, I try to make a daily word count goal of 1000 words per day—sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t.
When I have finished the first draft, I leave it alone for a few days, then I start to revise. Then I revise. Then I revise. Then I send it to my agent. Then I revise it again. Then again. Then we send it out to editors. Then I revise it again. There are several more of these—this could go on for a while.
Where do your get your ideas?
The people under the stairs whisper to me in my sleep. As freaky as that sounds, it’s much worse when they whisper to me when I’m awake.
Seriously, ideas come from EVERYWHERE. You just have to pay attention and notice them. I’ve gotten ideas from the History Channel, displays in storefront window, my kids teasing each other, dreams/nightmares, a holiday, a sick little thought. Anything that you think of that starts to become a story in your head…I write a little note so I won’t forget. Usually, I start to see the character as a whole person existing in an interesting setting.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I love to travel, so I spend lots of time on Expedia planning trips. Other than that, I like to watch old movies on Netflix, camp, read, do jigsaw puzzles, hike, drink tea, swim in the ocean, watch people, eat peanut butter, troll bookstores, stare into the abyss, and worry that I should probably be writing (it’s a neurotic hobby.)
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
No. For a long time—too long—I didn’t even dare to have a dream that big.