On Writing: The Where and the How and the What?

Writing Is Hard and Other Wise Tidbits

Guest post by Margaret Taylor

on writing: finding inspiration

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As an Author, many times I’m asked, “Where did you get that idea?” or “How do you write a book?”

My fellow Authors can attest to the fact that these two questions are probably the most consistent ones we get asked.  Am I right ladies and gents?

So, I was thinking that today I’d try and answer them.

The first, “Where did you get that idea?” is probably the more common of the two, so we’ll start there.

Most of my ideas come, literally, from everyday life and I’ll give you an example of the one I had not too long ago so you can understand.

Now, as we all know, the Superbowl was not too far back.  And no, I’m not going to start talking about what an awesome game it was!  Because it was.  If you didn’t watch the game, you’ve probably heard about it by now, so I won’t recount any of it.

What I will focus on is the other big story of the game…the lights going out.

Like most, I watched the game, beginning to end and it was only afterwards that an idea came to me for a new book.  As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep in the aftermath of the nail biting previous five hours or so, I thought…what if?

And here’s the “What If?” I came up with.

What if the lights going out wasn’t some sort of feed power failure as they are saying it was?  What if it was a very powerful witch or warlock or sorcerer who had an obscene amount of money bet on the 49’s?  Said witch or warlock or sorcerer, seeing the game getting away from his/her team decides to intervene and with his/her power or spell or whatever, shuts off the lights in the hopes that’ll be enough of a break for his/her team to recharge and come back.

Ah ha!  I now have my bad guy or girl, yeah?

So that thought led to…ok, so who would be my hero/heroine in that scenario and which of the many series I have going could I fit said bad guy?  Well, the second part of that question was easy to answer.  I have a stand-alone paranormal, “Prophecy of Love” into which the above scenario would fit perfectly as a possible “Book 2”.  That left me with, ok, who’s going to be my protagonist, or good guy to the bad?


Alright, I admit that was about the point my mind drifted to other things and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.  However, when I woke the next day, I wrote down the thought and will eventually flesh it out for possible development/writing.

Now, this leads to the second question I get asked, A LOT!  “How do you write a book?”

This question is not so easy to answer.  What works for me may not necessarily work for you.  There are numerous schools of thought on how to write.  Many have published books, there are a ton of websites, and the most obvious, creative writing courses out there.

And I’m not talking about the technical stuff.  The grammar, the punctuations, the sentence structure and so on.  That comes with time, practice and a damn good editor behind you!  (Ladies and gents, ALWAYS pay due homage to the editor.  They are the ones that bless the final product and make sure – if they are worth said due homage – that your work looks really good on the backside of the creative process.)  So, no, we’re not talking about that part.

What I am talking about is putting your ideas onto paper.  Getting that scenario, or “What If” out of your head and out there for all to see.

This is not as easy as it might seem.  Everyone wishes they could write the “Great American Novel”.  I think it’s something that crosses everyone’s “Bucket List” at some point or another in their lives.  It’s human nature.  Despite the tunnel vision we’ve developed in the last 50 years, we are, by our very nature, “Sharers”.  We want to tell our stories to the perfect stranger sitting next to us.  We want people to know our trials and tribulations.  Before the internet, we did this via hand-written and eventually typed letters.  Now, we do it via email, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and so on.

Regardless of the method, we share.  It’s just who we are.

Sadly, despite this, not everyone can write.  Not everyone can see something in their heads and effectively put that on paper for others to enjoy just as much as they do.  The good ones, the great ones, have the ability to draw you in, bring the scenario, the idea to life for those of us not so fortunate enough to have that talent.

I, at least I hope I am and have been told I am, one of the fortunate ones.  I have talent.  Where it comes from, I haven’t a clue.  But, it’s there and even I am amazed sometimes by it.  I’ll be sitting here reading something I’ve written and go, “Hey, you know what?  I’m not so bad at this writing thing…

Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit and apologize.

Moving on.  Writing is like anything else.  It takes practice, lots and lots of practice.  Steven King, in his book, On Writing, said it best I think.

“A true writer…writes.”

And it truly is that simple.  If you’re a writer, and my fellow Authors can back me on this I think, you write.  All the time.  And sometimes you do it without even realizing you are.  (I wrote the next scene in one book in the shower this morning and another while I was out running errands a bit later, just to give you an example.)

Despite the fact I have a “day job” I write whenever I have free time.  I’m not Steven or any of a half a dozen others, yet so the bills have to be paid.  However, I’ve decided that I’m going to devote serious time to my writing in 2013 and see where it goes.  If I’ve honed my craft sufficiently, then maybe I’ll start to catch on and take off.  We’ll see.

That being said, I’m going to give you what I use to write.  It’s a tool, a concept and if it works for you, then please feel free to use it.  It was given to me, years ago, so I don’t “own it” but I’ve lived by it since. And if it doesn’t work for you, then I hope it gives you an idea, helps you create your own tool, that you can use to craft your own works.

As I’ve said, writing is a talent and not one everyone has it.  But the tools are there.  The following is but one of them.

It was once said to me:  “Writing a book is like building your favorite sandwich.  You need everything to work together to enjoy it.  For example, you wouldn’t eat a pastrami on rye without the rye yes?  Or a roast beef without the beef?  No, you wouldn’t.  So, if you look at every book as a sandwich and you have all the elements, all the pieces, then it should work and taste o’ so good!”

I was told that you need a beginning and an ending, which are your two pieces of bread.  They hold the sandwich together, give you something start and end with.

The meat of your sandwich are your characters, all your characters.  The good, bad and yes sometimes ugly.  The meat is what makes the sandwich, well, a sandwich.  If you didn’t have meat, or characters, then all you have are two pieces of very boring bread.

The lettuce, tomatoes, onions or whatever it is you like on your sandwich, is the plot.  These things compliment your sandwich, or the story, but they don’t overwhelm it, or they shouldn’t anyway.  They add flavor – or as he said, “Penash!” – and make you want to keep eating, or reading, to the end.

The mayo, mustard, ketchup and what not, are your sub-plots.  The little twists and turns to the story, or the bit of flavor you get now and again when you bite in and begin chewing.  Again, they don’t overwhelm, but compliment – send your taste buds, or your readers, off in a new, and sometimes completely unexpected direction.

He also added to make sure you love the sandwich you’re eating!  In other words, if you hate pastrami on rye, or mystery novels, then don’t try and write one.  You’ll take one bite – or write one page – hate it and throw it away.  But, if you love Turkey, or science fiction, then get going, start eating and before you know it, the sandwich will be gone and the book is written.

As I’ve said, I’ve used this model to write since I was 16 and as crazy as it sounds, it does work.  Granted I’m not one of those that has to plot everything down to the last chapter.  I never have been.  Most of the time, once I “see” the opening line to a book in my head, I’m gone.  I open up a word doc and just start typing.  It’s not until afterwards, when it’s done, that I go back and apply the above tool to begin the long, arduous process of editing the words to fit it.

Sometimes though, it’s not a line, but a character that I see.  As in the above scenario I spoke about earlier.  In that case, I put the character down first and build the sandwich around it.  In other words, I’m really craving turkey but have no idea what I want to go with it!  I know eventually that I’ll get the rest of it down, I already have the “background world” which I developed in “Prophecy of Love”, so it’ll come.  But, for now, he/she is just a plain old “What if?” waiting in the wings for his story to be told.

And that’s fine.  When he/she starts to “yell the loudest” is when I’ll pull it back out and have my turkey sandwich!

And that’s all there really is too it.

Now, it’s time to build your sandwich, or your story.  One final bit of advice, have fun with it!  Enjoy that Turkey, or Pastrami, or Roast Beef to its fullest!  Savor every bite of it because if you do, then so will your readers.  If you don’t love it, throw it away and start over with something you do love.

I hope this helped to give you a brief glimpse into the creative process that goes on…at least for me.  And if you’re an aspiring Author, please, feel free to use it or not.  It’s whatever works for you.

Thanks, J & M for having me here today.  It was wonderful to share myself with your audience.

Until next time.

Margaret Taylor.

About the Author

Margaret Taylor’s debut release Wolf’s Paradox is coming in June 2013.  She also has Prophecy of Love with Lyrical Press (Coming in Feb, 2014). She’s a Member of SARA, San Antonio Romance Writer’s Association, http://sararwa.net/ as well as RWA.  She has many current projects in the works and if you ask nicely, she might be persuaded to post some tasty excerpts on her blog! *Bring Cookies as payment please!* You can follow Margaret on her, Blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.