Sometimes readers ask me what the hardest part about being an author is. My job has two main parts. One part has to do with the things that don’t involve writing books, like blogging and social networking and writing back to readers (all of which I love, by the way). Within the writing books part, I would have to say that a few things about the process are not so easy.
One of the most challenging things about writing a book is translating feelings onto a page in a way that captures exactly what I want to say. Or transforming an image into words so that you can see exactly what I do. Parts of feelings and images are usually somehow lost when words enter the equation, so I worry about how much of these intangible qualities disappear. I don’t like writing long descriptions, so the challenge is to make you feel exactly what my character is feeling with as few words as possible. Those words must be chosen very carefully.
So how do I identify which words to use? Music helps. I played the Cure over and over while I was writing When It Happens and I believe it shows in the story. There’s such an intensity associated with the Cure for me. When I hear the same songs now that I obsessed over in high school, all of the emotions I want to capture come rushing back, which makes them much easier to write about. If you’re feeling what you’re writing instead of trying to write about a feeling you’re imagining, your writing will be more authentic.
Images also work, whether they involve actually visiting a place or just visualizing it. There’s something about [summer evening, sunset, warm breeze, city lights] that inspires me. This feeling doesn’t have a name. It’s the combination of happy and intensity and exciting and the possibility of everything. If I want to share this feeling with you in a scene, I might walk along the river and watch the streetlights and the sunset reflecting off building glass and the sky changing colors and all the windows and try to write how the experience feels. John Mayer does stuff like this, too. This is why his music enriches my life in so many ways – I get exactly what he’s feeling behind his words. So it’s cool to discover that our writing process is similar.
Here’s something John is working on now. For inspiration, he physically put himself in the scene he was trying to write about. He calls it “California Fleetwood Mac sunset post-shower going out window down new Summer hopeful.” And I know exactly what that feels like.