Writing Craft and the Art of Gardening — A Guest Post by Author Laura Toffler-Corrie
Like a gardener plants, hoping to transform a plot of dirt into a deeply scented vibrantly colored garden, the writer writes; dreaming that from the murky soil of her mind, ideas will grow into a tale.
However, as every good gardener knows, gardens don’t plant themselves. It takes skill. A plan. The Farmer’s Almanac of ideas, tips, weather alerts and trends. And even if along the way, she finds herself buried in a mound of slimy worms and jagged rocks, is dirty, sweaty and has yucky stuff in her hair, she must stick to the plan and unearth the oasis beneath the earth.
Personally, my metaphorical preference is for the dark shimmer of the moon garden, because my process is sometimes whiny and broody. Think of the stylings of Tim Burton; shadowy silver hothouse replete with tangled, thorny vines, rank smells, scary crows, pointy hoes and me.
And like the moon, my writing process goes through phases as well: Phase One…
My first inspiration starts with the merest glimmer, a fleeting thought, an intangible image, a snippet of conversation. I’m vaguely haunted by an intuition I can’t quite name. I have a feeling that I’m onto something that I can develop and nurture into…well…something else. An idea. A character. A plot thingy begins to take form, like a shadow in the dusk.
I am excited as great ideas overtake me: There’s an evil ghost in old New York, a monster hunter at the turn of the century, a brave girl caught in a dark dystopian tale, awkward teens on a quest, a child raised in a graveyard, star crossed lovers, human and wolf, a self effacing girl who discovers she’s the princess of a small country…
“Yes, yes!” I exclaim. “This is it!”
Eureka! Elation! One, or all, of these, stories, will be…my opus!
Until. Wait. What?! I slap my head Homer Simpson style.
Of course these ideas are brilliant. That’s why extraordinary authors such as, Libba Bray, Rick Yancy, Suzanne Collins, John Green, Neil Gaiman, Maggie Steifvater and Meg Cabot already thought of them!
I am onto Phase Two…
Pathetically, I convince myself that brilliant writers with brilliant timing have already brilliantly penned every conceivable variation of story in kidslit literature. With elegant simplicity, skill and daring, it’s been done. Said. Sung. There is nothing. The universe is empty. I am a poser.
I whine. I despair. I annoy the crap out of everyone around me. Babies cry. Animals hide. The delivery guy from PeaPod, sees me and races back to his truck.
I brace myself for Phase Three…
Certain that I am an author who is wasting her own time, I decide that I should be doing something practical. I will go to dental school.
I google dental programs. I research Obama driven incentives for Moms who want to return to college. I comparison shop online for the latest in trendy dentist’s crogs. I ignore my families thinly veiled attempts to discourage me with eye rolls and snorts.
Thankfully, however, this phase is short lived, and I am now ready for Phase Four…
The rallying phase is a crucial one. Bored and contemptuous of my own self pity, I decide that I can indeed write a book. After all, I comfort myself, I have done it before.
But first, I must prepare through a series of zen like exercises:
Avoidance? No. Stalling is actually a necessary psychological component of rallying and can take on a variety of forms. Some of my favorites include, Snacking. Napping. Surfing the social media. Cruising coffee shops. Sampling lattes and chai’s. Snacking.
Thinking is akin to stalling in that it doesn’t garner any measurable results and often leads to meandering. Inane thoughts, such as will Theresa from The Real Housewives of New Jersey actually go to prison, etc. may take root and bloom. However, if I concentrate long enough I will arrive at Phase Five
The first tangible step towards writing, note taking helps me harvest my creative juices. I like to write in a journal with a cool cover, using a medium fine black magic marker.
I like to take notes at night when my chores are done and no one needs me. I am now, finally, ready for Phase Six…
This is the time to re-visit the glimmer phase. Excitedly, I hark back to my original impulses.
Onto character. Who is she/he? What’s her problem? What does she want? For me, the main character is usually an underdog, or an outsider. What makes her funny, endearing, relatable? What aspect of me is in her? What experiences have I had that I can draw on for inspiration? What is the main source of conflict or tension? A person? A circumstance?
Next, when and where does the story take place? I believe that setting is almost a character unto itself. Does she live in the country, the city, suburbia? Is her family middle class or are they struggling? Does she come from a traditional home? A blended family? When, where and how this character lives will influence the plot. Now, how do I prune my story just enough so that it’s topical and “unique?”
I then outline a general three part structure ARC of the story, and onto Phase Seven…
ACTUALLY WRITING THE BOOK:
I bury the notebook and let the characters tell the story. I give them space to talk to me, to each other. They plan, dream and bicker and are becoming people. They surprise me as they flourish and spindle up towards the sun.
I’m finally at the exhilarating and fun part of the writing process. And as the book takes on a life and grows, I am merely the gardener.
Laura Toffler-Corrie is the author of THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ and MY TOTALLY AWKWARD SUPERNATURAL CRUSH. She holds an M.S. in school psychology, as well as an M.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York University. She and her family live in South Salem, New York. Visit her online at http://www.lauratofflercorrie.com/.