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November 13, 2011

The Process

When I was a little girl we lived in the country and I didn't go to school. I read everything and anything -- to this day I believe this is why I am terrible at math and positively enamored of words. We would make trips every few weeks to the public library and I was allowed to check out any book that interested me, no matter the appropriate age range. I read books the way people eat food, to live. I loved the smell, the feel, the escape of a book. Books were my life.

My job at age seven -- I took it quite seriously -- was to check the salt licks on the farm. A salt lick is a cinder-block sized chunk of salt and minerals used to attract the cows and wildlife. Can you believe I live in Los Angeles now, where we use Botox to attract the fawns? As a child I would walk out into the pastures through fields of cedar trees and scrub and I would walk and walk and walk and in my head I composed my stories. I was obsessed with the Little House books and I would roam the fields with thoughts of pioneer girls and create my mental scenes and I would work them in my head over and over and over until I couldn't contain it anymore. Then I would walk home and scribble it all down in neat little cursive in a dime-store notebook. My notebooks were my whole life, I kept them under my bed. I would pay anything today to have one of those notebooks.

Now I am forty years old and I write the same way I did as a small child. I get an idea and I work it in my head obsessively, walking, walking across the Valley, walking in a loop, on a path, cross here, pause there. I chew the dialogue, the ideas, the very words, all of it inside my head with comma splices included and I hear the sound of it and then one day I'm ready and I come home and sit down (usually with a glass of wine, but sometimes coffee) and it all comes out in a rush. I run it over an over inside my head as I walk and then I write, usually in a gush.

Writing essays was a natural fit, but a novel has been a test. How do you write a whole novel? I don't outline or card sort or spec out. I walk and I obsess. I have gleaned enough from other writers to know my process is infinitely weird but it works for me. And of course all that matters is what works for you, even if you are a ghost who roams the streets of the Valley to work out your dialogue issues.

There's no wrong way, that is what I'm saying. I have no idea if I'll make it. I have no idea if this risk I took will pan out. I worry, I wonder, and in the end none of us knows. But today I walked and I brought my characters with me and I had conversations in my head. What do you do with that? How do you live when your head is full of scenes? I have conversations in my head with my future, I have envisioned myself down to the shoes. Every minute and beautiful detail is measured out in words. All I want is a happy ending. But how can you know until you go through the scene?

Posted by laurie at November 13, 2011 7:55 PM