Why did I open with a French phrase? It describes an opening position, as fencers face each other and prepare to attack or defend. It’s the challenge uttered by the prissy villain moments before his wardrobe is slashed to rags and the hero leaps from the window, fair maiden in his arms, to land on the back of his faithful horse. (Did you ever wonder how his faithful horse felt about all that leaping and landing? Oooof!)
So, you ask, what does “en garde” have to do with preparing to write? It’s about putting yourself in a position to move, to take action. You, facing off against the blank page. Ready to move – into writing.
I’ve been preparing to be a writer for as long as I can remember.
To my parents, at times it looked like I was avoiding cleaning my room. Actually, I was falling in love with words as I read my way through the public library.
To my teachers, I was daydreaming when I was supposed to be doing algebra. Instead, I was inventing a world in my mind where no one had to do math. In fact, no one in that world knew what math was because there was no need for it. I can’t remember how I explained that because I didn’t get a chance to write it down. Sr. Mary Timothy called on me to work a problem on the chalkboard, which of course, I couldn’t do, because I had been “daydreaming.”
To my classmates, I was the weird girl who loved essay assignments. Although we were seldom allowed to pick the subject of the paper, at least I didn’t have to make an excuse to spend the hour writing.
This is probably the time I should apologize to the boy who sat in front of me in seventh grade. He got in trouble for turning around in his seat in order to read upside down the story I was writing. Which I wasn’t supposed to be doing during that class period. But he didn’t tell. Thank you, and I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.
After I was out in the world on my own, you might have thought I was wasting my spare time, my evenings, my weekends, staying home. Not at all. I was re-learning how Shakespeare formed phrases, how James Lee Burke weaves long, detailed descriptions of people and places that you can almost feel and smell. I was investigating the way Dean Koontz creates monsters I feel sorry for; how Mary Higgins Clark wraps romance inside a mystery; how J.D. Robb fleshes out characters until I feel I would recognize Eve and Roarke if I ran into them on the streets of my hometown. I was studying the art of writing from those who do it with zest, with panache, with love.
I’ve never stopped preparing to write by learning from those who do it so well. However, I did start writing. And now, there is more to my preparation.
There is more focus to the steps I take before beginning a new story. I’ve learned to consider how much research needs to be done before sitting down to write. And to determine which portion of those hundreds of notes actually needs to find its way into the manuscript.
I consider which genre best fits the new story. Will it have suspense, mystery, horror, romance, comedy? Or a combination of those? How will this influence the voice of the story, and how will it allow the characters to develop? How can I twist the plot before it unfolds?
Every time I write a piece, set it aside and re-read it later, I’m preparing to write. Because I’m learning where my strengths and weaknesses are, and how to hone in and improve on those aspects as I begin anew.
There’s so much more to preparing to write now, but I’m sure you’re getting the picture. Preparation doesn’t stop when you begin writing. It continues, but it becomes more personal to your own work. It continues forever, because there is always something new to be learned from writers familiar and new.
I think I should do some more preparing today. I’m off to see how Stephanie Plum extricates herself from her latest escapade. I’ll see if I can guess whether she calls Ranger or Morelli first, when the bail-jumper she’s chasing jumps her. It’s a hard, hard choice.
What are you preparing to write, now that we’re five days in Jeff Goins’ 15 Day Writers’ Challenge? Leave a comment and share your best “preparing to write” habit.