You mean I was supposed to plan?
I’ve never been one for prewriting per se. I mean, I have an idea, and some characters, and I’ll crank out an outline of sorts. I sort of throw them in the blender and see what happens. After about six chapters, I’ll look at the results and see if it resembles what I had in mind. Often at that point I’ll go back to the beginning and do a rewrite to bring the vision and the actual closer together.
Research? I usually do a fair amount, and half the time end up not needing it. I’m a bad one for running off on tangents. However, if you need to know anything about hot air balloons in the eighteenth century, I have file folders full of information.
And, for the record, I plot. I do it on butcher paper pinned to the wall, so I can stand back and see it all at once. I don’t force myself to stick to the road map, but I like to have one.
The best part of my pre-writing is spent looking for the right mood for the story. Images, smells, sounds, the weather, and a billion other things converge into the right atmosphere. Some people collect pictures and collage. That’s not my thing, although a single picture can stir something up in my mind. It’s more music that works for me. I’m prone to finding an album and playing it 6,000 times while writing a book.( I’m sure my neighbours bless the advent of the iPod.) For Unchained, I found a particular red wine that worked well to get me in the storytelling mood—appropriately named Bête Noir. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those folks who can drink and write at the same time and it had to become a post-writing treat.
Where I go into preparation mode is before my daily writing sessions. I try and make notes in advance. If I don’t plan out a chapter, I end up rewriting it several times to get it functioning properly. What purpose does it serve? Where is the conflict? Scene goals? A tiny bit of thought ahead of time will make my 2.5 hours a day count.
I also believe in pre-session ritual to focus myself on the task. It doesn’t have to be particularly elaborate, just enough so that I know it’s time to settle down and work. For me it’s doing dishes. When the kitchen is cleaned up, I can use the kitchen table. Simple, useful, and it keeps me from succumbing to the temptation of the TV. I honestly think that’s the key to finishing a book—just put the bum in the chair and get to work.