by Janis Patterson
I admit it. I bore very easily. It’s rare that I can keep my mind on anything for any length of time, which probably explains why very few of my jobs ever lasted more than two years. It also explains why I write in so many genres – romance, horror, cozy mystery, children’s, scholarly and non-fiction, so far – and why I have been so resistant to doing a series.
When I confess that at any given time I have no fewer than four works in progress many writers blanch and regard me as if I had multiple heads. They ask how on earth can I do such a thing. Then they remark that I must outline very closely in order to be able to switch back and forth.
Well, I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, outlining is – for me – the fastest way to kill a story. Once for a writing class I did a very detailed outline for what would have been a very good book. It will never be written, because by the time the outline was finished I was so bored with the story I could never face it again. No surprises or interest for me, none for the reader.
Now I do have the skeleton of the plot in my head when I start out, basically the beginning, approximately how it will end and a few major plot points along the way. The rest is exploration and discovery.
But the people! some writers have exclaimed. How can you keep up with them? Don’t you get mixed up?
Huh? Do you get your pastor and your plumber mixed up? Could you ever mistake the bag boy at the grocery with the mayor? Why then would you think of mixing up characters? And – for what it’s worth – I don’t create my characters. They walk in, already named and fully formed, and demand that I put them in a story. Sometimes they are quite tiresome about it.
By now my questioners are shaking their heads and giving me covert pitying glances. Poor thing, they’re obviously thinking. She thinks she’s a writer, and she doesn’t follow any of the writerly disciplines everyone is taught.
They’re right, but I don’t care. I am rather prolific, and my books are pretty well received, both critically and financially. My system works for me. Right now I am working on a murder mystery set in a contemporary nursing home, a murder mystery set in 1916 New Orleans, a murder mystery about a fact researcher, a time travel romance and have just completed a gothic romance set in modern England. Another mystery, set at a scholarly Egyptological conference, should be released this month.
How do you keep your stories straight? some ask. As far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t even justify an answer. Each is a complete individual, an entity unto itself.
And no, before you ask, I’ll say that I don’t work on each book a set amount of time every day. Sometimes I’ll work on one story exclusively for a week or more, but with every story sometimes you just hit a wall. If it’s something that demands more than a coffee break or a quick dip in the hot tub, I’ll just switch to another story, where the freshness of it stimulates my creative muse. Then, days or weeks later, when that story temporarily runs aground, I’ll go on to another – or back to the first.
You see, I have always believed that a writer’s brain is always writing. The time we spend at the keyboard is just transcription. The actual writing is done between our ears even when we’re not aware of it. When I run dry on a story and switch to another, the first is still fermenting away in the back of my brain and suddenly there it is, ready to go on. It’s a crazy system, and might never work for anyone but me, but somehow each book gets finished and I don’t think they’re all that bad.
What more could a writer want?