New York Times  Bestselling Author

Thinking, Writing and Walking to the Mailbox

I’m reading Eric Maisel’s book, THE ART OF THE BOOK PROPOSAL, which focuses on writing non-fiction. The first chapter is about “thinking” about what you plan to write. One section is called “Thinking as Strain and Terror.” I so get it! When I write a novel, fully a third of my time–if not more–is spent thinking. It’s hard and it’s scary. For example, right now I’m thinking about the sequel to BEFORE THE STORM. What are my themes? What characters are involved? What is the action? Who grows and changes? How and in what ways? Who has points of view? All this involves a great deal of brainstorming, usually with myself, occasionally with a writing friend or my critique group, or with John when I can tear him away from his own creative endeavors. Why is there terror involved? Shudder. It’s simple. What if I can’t come up with the necessary ideas? What if the ideas turn out to be the “wrong” ones after I’ve spent weeks developing them? What if I can’t make the suspense strong enough or the twists believable?
At what point do you begin writing instead of thinking? I believe, as does Maisel, that most writers begin writing too soon, but then I’m a strong advocate of outlines–of knowing what will happen when. But there’s a fine balance. Thinking can take the place of writing and the words never get onto the paper at all. Learning when to “think” and when to “write” is a matter of practice, and even after writing seventeen novels, I’m not sure I’ve mastered the balance.
Right now, I have pages and pages of brainstorming notes. I think about the peripheral characters in BEFORE THE STORM and ponder ways they can fit into the current story. I think about what the reader knows at the end of B the S, trying to figure out if what she or he knows is actually The Truth. . . or are there still suprises hidden beneath the surface? I think about the central characters and how I want them to change by the novel’s end and what will have to happen to bring about those changes. Through all of this, I feel the terror. I want to think faster. I don’t have long to write this book. But thinking is a hard thing to rush.
On another subject: I love walking to my mailbox these days! I can do it without glasses via the miracle of my cataract-less left eye. This may seem silly to those of you who have never been totally dependent on glasses, but for me, it’s a monumental change in my world. To see the computer screen or to read, I still have to use my old glasses and my right, unoperated eye: I can’t see close up well at all with my left eye. And with astigmatism, I don’t have sharp distance vision in it and need to wear a contact in my right eye to drive (ugh. contacts have never agreed with my eyes). I have surgery on my right eye in another week and a half. Hope it goes as well. Then, a few weeks after that, I’ll get new glasses that will fit my new eyes.
Now, I’m off to the mailbox. Yippee!

15 Comments

  1. Kathy Holmes on July 28, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Congrats on your walks to the mailbox! DH loved it when he got his latest driver’s license “without restrictions.” 🙂
    I really appreciated this post, Diane. I’m curious if you write in a linear fashion or scenes at random?
    And now I’d love for the group to give me their recommendation on which Diane book I should read next since I’ve only read “Bay at Midnight.” Thanks!

  2. Diane Chamberlain on July 28, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Kathy, I haven’t written “scenes at random” since my very first book. Occasionally, though, I’ll write all the scenes in a time period. For example, in THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT, I wrote all the scenes that happened the summer of 1962 so I didn’t lose track of what was going on or of the “feel” of that time period. However, I KNEW what all the other scenes would be; I simply put off writing them until later.
    Are you writing linearly (that CAN’T be a word!) in your work in progress?
    I’ve noticed the blog gets kind of quiet on the weekends, but hopefully someone will be along to recommend other books on Monday.

  3. Kathy Holmes on July 28, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    I wish I could write in a linear fashion! But I tend to write separate scenes. I can’t imagine how they’re connected at the time but at some point it seems my subconscious knows and links them together. That is very exciting when I start to see this mess all come together. Still, I wish to be more logical. 🙂
    I’ll check back for book recommendations.

  4. Cheryl on July 28, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Kathy,
    if you have only read BAY AT MIDNIGHT, I would recommend KEEPER OF THE LIGHT next. it was my favorite and the first in the series. Then, read KISS RIVER. CYPRESS POINT was also very good.
    those would be my recommendations, but you really can’t go wrong with any book by Diane.
    Cheryl

  5. Diane Chamberlain on July 29, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Kathy, there’s no right or wrong in writing. Even though I talk about “my way” on the blog, it won’t be the right way for everyone. I would go with what’s working for you. With my first book, writing the scenes that I knew and that were really clamoring to be written was definitely the way to go. One suggestion I have that can help is to know your ending. Perhaps you already do. Knowing the ending is a powerful tool for keeping what you write on target. Keep us posted on how it’s going.
    Cheryl, thanks for piping in with recommendations. KEEPER OF THE LIGHT is indeed a favorite of many of my readers. Kathy, if you can’t find it anywhere, I’ve got a few copies left for purchase in my personal stash. You can find that on my website.

  6. Ann on July 29, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Kathy,
    I would recommend the trilogy of Keeper of the Light, Kiss River and Her Mothers Shadow. These are 3 very good books and I know you will enjoy all of them. I have enjoyed all of Diane’s books but I started with Keeper of the Light and that really got me hooked!!!
    Diane, I am so glad you don’t have to wear your glasses to walk to the mailbox. Isn’t it amazing that something like that can make a real difference in you day!

  7. Kathy Holmes on July 29, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    You’re so right, Diane, about the ending. I write the beginning, the end, and then everything else – but in random order.
    I was thinking about the Keeper of the Light trilogy. Cypress Point caught my eye, too, since I’m missing my home state but they were out-of-stock. Will keep trying.
    Thanks, everyone, for the pointers. You guys are the best on the blogs! 🙂

  8. Margo on July 30, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Kathy, indeed I agree with everyone about reading KEEPER OF THE LIGHT next. It is by far my favorite book of all time. Everyone of D’s books are fantastic but I would also highly recommend CYPRESS POINT which I dearly loved…the Big Sur area is one of my fav places so I felt a real sense of place with this book. Also, SUMMER’S CHILD is another fav of mine. Diane’s right, I’m one of those who do not look at the computer on weekends so my comments are Mon-Fri. This is so I can spend Sat-Sun with my Gary and Kramer and concentrate on my art. This past Sat I was in an all day art festival in Clear Lake so Sun I spent relaxing. Diane, what a joy for you to walk to the mailbox with no glasses! I’m so happy for you…some of the smallest things in life are really the most important. (-:

  9. Diane Chamberlain on July 30, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Yup, I’m doing the happy dance all the way to the mailbox and back these days!
    Margo, you’re so wise to leave the computer alone on the weekends and to preserve that time for your family and painting. I have NO discipline when it comes to work, which means I don’t work enough during the week and I work too much on the weekends. The one change I have made in my work schedule since living with John is keeping my evenings free to watch movies or have dinner with friends or whatever (except for the few weeks before my deadline, when I didn’t take time to breathe, much less watch a movie).
    Oh, and CYPRESS POINT is indeed out of stock. The publisher has no more of them, so it is challenging to find. I believe I have a few on my “private stash” page http://dianechamberlain.com/signedbooks.cfm or you may be able to find it used on ebay or amazon.
    Kathy, I have a question for you about “Fatherlessness.” (All, Kathy has written a book and articles on this subject.) As I do research for my sequel, I’m trying to understand what it’s like to grow up without a father. . . but in this case, it’s because the father is dead. I know most of your writing is on father’s who are still alive but absent. Can you recommend any resources for me? Thanks!

  10. pattie on July 31, 2007 at 10:31 am

    The trilogy, definitely-then the rest of Diane’s books! Long ago when I found out about Diane and her books, we found a dog-eared copy of Keeper of the Light in a used book store.
    Diane, I’m glad to hear you’re doing so well after the surgery. Mega good luck on the other eye!

  11. Margo on July 31, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I discovered Diane appx 14 years ago. I walked into my fav bookstore looking for someone new to read and a hardbound copy of KEEPER OF THE LIGHT was face out on the bookshelf. I was intrigued with the cover, title and the author’s name. DIANE CHAMBERLAIN stood out on the cover in bold letters and I decided to buy the book. That nite I started reading and was hooked from the very 1st page. I absolutely fell in love with this novel and tried to find everything by Diane. At that time she only had a few other books but I found them, read them and the rest is history. I’m proud to own all her novels and have read several of them twice…but KEEPER OF THE LIGHT is a classic and my copy is starting to show the many times I have read it. I agree with Pattie, definitely read this trilogy!

  12. Diane Monson on August 10, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Dear Diane,
    You’ve spoiled me for other authors. I just discovered you this summer and already I’ve read 15 of your books. Often they’re a one-day read for me. The only one I couldn’t find was “The Journey Home” so I’m on a quest to find that one now. Secret Lives and The Bay At Midnight were two of my favorites, but truth is, I love them all. You’ve mastered the art of dialogue and I feel like I’m a fly on the wall. Just finished Breaking The Silence. What’s the latest and when will it be released? Thank you so much for all the research you put into your work. It truly shows.
    Diane Monson

  13. Diane Chamberlain on August 10, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Always nice to hear from another Diane! Welcome to the blog. I’m delighted you discovered me, but wow–15 of my 16 books is pretty darn good. THE JOURNEY HOME, by the way, is an anthology. I have a paranormal romance (!) story in it.
    I’m not sure which book you’re missing. The most recent is THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES, and I assume you’ve read that one? The next, BEFORE THE STORM, will be out June of ’08, followed rather quickly (I hope) by a sequel.
    Thanks for being a faithful reader of my stories!

  14. brenda on August 12, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    D. I met my birth father when I was 17 years old…he lived on my street for years, and I knew him but was not around him. My parents were married briefly. It is not easy, and we never became close. As he was near death-a few months before-he finally told me he loved me…that was wonderful.
    All those years (I was in my 40’s by then), I sent birthday and F’s Day cards and prayed a lot. There is much missing from one’s life when the father figure is absent…I had little self esteem at times…and always thought that I had to be “good” or things would happen-loved ones would leave…long long story that one. I don’t know of any great books, but I know of one for the Motherless among us MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS-one of the best books I have ever read and reread. My daughter bought it for me when I had such a difficult time adjusting to Mother’s DYING of cancer at 60.

  15. Diane Chamberlain on August 12, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    Brenda, how poignant about your father, and how lucky you both were that he lived long enough to tell you he loved you.

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