Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Monday, October 5, 2020

In the Beginning—Starting to Write

by Linda Rodriguez
(previously published in 2018) 

Although I'm finishing final edits on my fourth Skeet Bannion novel, I’m also getting ready to begin my next novel, which will not be in the Skeet universe. I am making notes on characters, backstory, and plot for that next novel in between other writing projects and freelance jobs (which are still ongoing, shattered shoulder and autoimmune flares or not )

As I make notes about characters and possible plot points and freewrite my major characters’ diaries to find their distinct voices, I grow more and more excited about the new book. It hangs around the edges of my mind while I screen manuscripts, teach novel-writing classes, and work with developmental editing clients. I wake in the night with a character’s voice in my head or suddenly knowing about some key, hidden element in another character’s past that will drive some of his behavior.

Soon, it will be time to start writing the first draft. Will there be more prep work to do? Yes, and once I start writing the first draft, each day’s writing session will be divided between planning work and writing the first draft. The first day will be hours of planning with a page or two of first draft. It will be hesitant, just finding its voice and its way into the book. The second day will also include more planning but the writing section of that time will be longer and more confident. This pattern will continue for a week or two until writing the first draft has completely taken over the entire time.

This is where I am on my new novel—at the note-taking and planning stage. I am developing confidence in this book and its particular needs. Soon enough, I will be writing a few pages a day, but more each day than the day before. It will be slower and clumsier than usual, because I’ll be working it around the teaching, developmental editing, and freelance activities, but it will be building that necessary momentum, nonetheless. I know that, soon enough, the book will take off, and I will spend each day’s time scribbling away to keep up with it. And then, soon enough, I will hit the sloggy middle and realize that I can never write this book and I should have started another book altogether—and that probably I’m just fooling myself thinking that I’m really a writer, anyway.

Lots of people think that writing novels gets easier with each novel—or, at least, each novel that’s published. They’re wrong. I know this not only from my own experience but from the experience of novelist friends who have written and published multiple—often award-winning and/or bestselling—novels. Each book has its own set of problems that the writer must solve. The only way to avoid that is to write exactly the same book over and over again—something my friends and I have no wish to do.

The one advantage of having published a novel (especially if you get to know others who have done the same) is that you know you will feel helpless and hopeless at a certain point in the book, and you know that you will make it past that, if you just keep writing and don’t give up. You also know that, when you go back to find the days when your writing was flowing versus the days when you squeezed out each dreadful word, letter by letter, you can’t tell them apart at the end. None of this helps you to avoid the hopelessness and dread, but it helps you to keep writing through them.

Right now, however, I face none of that. I’m excited about the book’s premise. I’m learning more and more about the characters and what drives them. This book sits before me, seductive in all its potential and possibility. Rationally, I know that nasty middle awaits me in all its depressing hopelessness, but emotions are driving me now, and emotionally I’m in love with my new book. Like anyone in the early throes of love, my vision glosses over any and all imperfections or potential problems. All I see is exciting perfection. All I want is to be able to spend all my time with my beloved. Since I know the time will come soon enough when I growl at my husband, “Why did I ever start this @#$$%^&^&* book? Why did I ever think I could be a novelist?,” I’m going to enjoy these early stages of infatuation as long as I can.

What’s your favorite time when writing—the beginning or the end? (I assume no one is masochistic enough to prefer the middle!) How do you make it through the tough times you encounter when writing?

Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


Jim Jackson said...

Have fun with your latest creation, Linda.

I'm the guy who likes the middle. By the end, I just want to be done with the cursed thing. As a pantser, the beginning is fun to discover a new story, but since I don't do a lot of planning in advance, it can also be frustrating. For example, sometimes the characters choose to take the story in a new (and exciting) direction and I realize 20,000 words I wrote just became backstory, or possibly worth 5,000 words of a red herring. It's the price I pay for just jumping in.

The middle is where it all gets better. Everything is up for improvement and I get feedback about what works and what doesn't. I really enjoy the part that takes a decent idea and makes it something others will want to read.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I miss the excitement of being a pantser, grabbing a character and situation and throwing words down on the page. But the cleanup takes too long. Now, I get all the pantsing out of the way with before-writing, and make a fluid outline to follow.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks for your thoughts on beginning another book. I am beginning my second book, and it’s a relief to know that my difficulties getting into it aren’t that unusual.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is comforting to know that even knowledgeable, award-winning authors continue to struggle and have doubts abut their work.

I like the beginning best, when the characters are enthusiastic and my vision begins to actually becomes words on the page.

Kait said...

Middles are my favorite places. It's where my characters can have all the fun and danger they can think of in the book while they seek out clues, some fruitful, some red herrings. Like Margaret, I have trained myself to go from pantser to outliner. It has saved me months and much to my surprise not stifled my creativity at all. Instead, it seems to have channeled it.

Chapters 3 and 13 are my traditional why did I ever think I could do this zones. Once I get past them, I'm on my way.

E. B. Davis said...

If it happens to you--it will happen to all of us. Thanks for the insight because it helps knowing others have the same difficulties. But now I am curious as to what the new project is about. Revision is the hardest part for me.

Shari Randall said...

It's so reassuring to know that I'm not the only one dreading the middle. I'm trying to convert myself from pantser to plotter because I want the comfort of that outline scaffold to get over the middle. Usually I know the beginning and the end, but the middle is Terra Incognita.
I'm so glad to hear there's another Skeet book coming - hooray!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, for me that particular time of enjoyment comes during revision, when I take something that's pretty good and try to make it really fine.

Exactly, Margaret. What I'm doing now is getting the pantsing out of the way. Which is not to say that there won't be changes, sometimes major, along the way once I start writing, because there definitely will be. But this precludes much of that waste that develops from pantsing, the kind Jim talked about, where you wind up throwing away twenty thousand words. I don't miss that.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Grace, they are definitely not unusual. I remember when I started the second Skeet book after the first had been accepted for publication. Suddenly, I had a contract, and I was on deadline, and they wanted this book in a certain number of months. When I wrote the first one, I had no contract, no deadline, and I took several years. I panicked in a major way. I sent out an emergency email to my dear friend Nancy Pickard, long-established and best-selling mystery writer, saying, “what do I do?”.

She was gone for the day, so I got no immediate reply. This forced me to buckle down and realize that this book would have to be written the way every book was written, which is just pop your butt in the chair and go to work and keep working, even when it all seems hopeless. By the time Nancy got back with me--to say the same thing--I was two chapters into the book.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, yes, the beginnings are lovely. Everything seems so possible at that point. But of course, every choice we make on the book narrows those possibilities down. The further into the book we go, the fewer possibilities exist.

Kait, how interesting that you've identified the exact chapters where that hits. I never thought to do that, but I'm going to try with this next book and see which ones leave me in that state. It will probably need a couple more books to see if it falls on the same chapters for me. At the moment, I'm inclined to say that it's not on one specific chapter or so, but I could be wrong.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, I have come to love revision. and I have heard from a number of my students in my Guppy revision classes who've come to love that process, as well. For me, revision is when I have the chance to really make the book sing.

Shari, to be perfectly honest, I'm an imperfect outliner. I have always felt like I needed a sketchy outline of the whole book before I could start, basically to calm my fears. but what I found again and again was that I made so many changes that that outline would be discarded right way. I fell into a process of outlining the next chunk, about 50 pages, writing those 50 pages and making notes of whatever changes in the outline I had made in the actual writing, and then following this process repeatedly throughout the book. I always felt like a failure doing this, until I read in Elizabeth George's wonderful book, Write Away, that this is the method she used. After that, I was fine. I figure, if it's good enough for Elizabeth George, it's good enough for me.

Kait said...

This is one of my favorite Rodriguez blogs, thank you so much WWK for reprinting it.

Shari Randall said...

I'm with Kait. Linda's writing advice always makes me think - I can do this!

E. B. Davis said...

I loved it too! Linda will be back with us in January. She's had some horrific health issues that have kept her away. But she has assured me she'll be back come 2021!

Kait said...

I'm so glad to read that, Elaine - she has been well missed. I hope she is completely recovered.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Glad to learn Linda will return in 2021! I always enjoy re-reading her blogs and reading what my more naive self wrote two years ago.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

This still rings so true. So glad Linda will be back in 2021!