Today’s the “good stuff” if you’re a writer like me. I’m always eager to learn how other people treat their craft, especially when they’re–how should I put it–more seasoned.
And since I dissed her Sox yesterday, I suppose I should give a well earned bow:
The Celtics were awesome last week!
Buckle up! Let’s dig in…
Interview with Kathryn Mackel – Part 2
CH: A number of those that read my blog are authors or aspiring authors and I’m sure they’d love a behind the scenes look into your writing lifestyle and habits. Can you give a snapshot of what a typical “writing session” looks like for you? What are common writing goals in terms of word count or content? What other things consume your day? Is this a full-time occupation for you or part-time?
KM: Oh, Iâ€™m probably a poor role model in terms of writing habits. Iâ€™ve been a full-time writer for 12 years. Right now Iâ€™m actually looking for a â€œrealâ€ job because publishing has really tightened up. If the economy didnâ€™t look so shaky, Iâ€™d wait a few more months but Iâ€™m trying to be obedient, go by what I know right now. So, if God sees fit to nudge me back into the working world, I will once more be a part-time writer.
When I first started writing, I worked full-time, was mom and wife, coach, student, and wrote about two hours a day. The irony isâ€¦I donâ€™t think I put in too much more time than that a day now. Maybe I havenâ€™t been a good steward, though in those 12 years Iâ€™ve had 13 books published and 8 scripts sold or work-for-hire jobs in film. This is why itâ€™s hard for writers to consider what other writers do and try to model. Iâ€™m terribly distractable so I often go out into the woods with my computer to work.
Hereâ€™s what I try to do. Two hours in the morning, two hours later in the day. Full morning on Saturday. That will get me a completed novel in about six months. (I mean, a draft that can be professionally submitted.) I cannot write beginning to end in one draft. I keep revising (and I think thatâ€™s about 50% of us). So my draft will be about thirty drafts for the first third of the book, three drafts for the middle, and one or two for the end of the book when I really understand everything about the world, the characters, Godâ€™s call on this story.
Other things that consume my day? Iâ€™m a hiker with access to a lot of beautiful conservation land. Until my dog died this spring at 17.5 years, she and I walked miles every day, climbed mountains, and just enjoyed creation. Thereâ€™s nothing like the woods for singing hymns at the top of my lungs or just enjoying scripture. Iâ€™m a huge spots fan so this time of year my husband and I are watching the Red Sox almost every night. (I am fluent in Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and all teams in those sports.) I spend as much time as possible with my 4-year-old grandson.
I sing in choir, help direct youth choir, teach adult Sunday school, write drama.
CH: A big question I get asked a lot is, “Are you an outliner? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?” Any particular methods you use when laying out a story or organizing characters and keeping track of descriptions, events and other pertinent details?
KM: Iâ€™m a big-picture outliner. I get the concept, the major turning points, and then outline two or three chapters at a time. I have a good memory so generally I donâ€™t have to worry too much about story details, though I did make a mistake in Vanished with a character name. It became the basis of a contest I ran.
One way I corral a story is to print out my book-in-progress and lay it out on a table, separated by chapters. I then write in bold letters on the first page of each chapter 1.) which characterâ€™s POV the chapter is told from and 2.) the main event(s) of that chapter. I could do this in a single electronic file but thereâ€™s something about laying out the work and stepping back for a long view. I often do this at church because I need two or three tables to lay out the chapters. This practice allows me to change organization, remove chapters or sections that are somewhat redundant, shift sections around, check pacing and tension.
CH: If giving some words of wisdom to other aspiring authors out there, what pieces of advice would you have for them?
KM: Writing is hard. A great concept can only go so far without the craft to support it. Rewriting is key but itâ€™s a difficult skill to acquire without a support system. Conferences donâ€™t have enough time to teach how to rewrite, though Iâ€™m working on creating workshops that help writers move in that direction. I taught a college course last summer and it took a good 18 hours before my students got it. I learned to rewrite from my writers groupâ€”superb writers and critiquers all! James Scott Bellâ€™s book Revision and Self-Editing is a good place to start.
[Catch Part 3 tomorrow!]