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I am fascinated by the creative process, my own and others’. I know writers who begin with a beautiful first sentence and build a book from that, never changing that first sentence. I know others who begin with an interaction among characters, essentially a daydream that intrigues them, and start asking questions—who are they? Why are they arguing? What’s their history? I know writers who do elaborate outlines and character sketches before they ever begin to flesh out scenes. Others who just start writing and see what happens.

York Minster from the city wall

York Minster from the city wall

My process is a little of everything. Of course, with the Emma Campion books, I began with the research, with what I’d been able to glean about Alice Perrers and Joan of Kent and their circles. But the outline then evolved as the scenes brought up new questions. With mysteries my process is looser. I have the historical backdrop, some actual historical figures and the real settings, but most of the characters, the mystery, the investigation, the revelations all arise from my imagination, and all of this evolves and changes as I write.

I’ve been occasionally tweeting about my writing process on a new project. Just for fun, I collected my shop talk tweets for the past few months, and here they are. (If you want to follow me, my handle on Twitter is CandaceMRobb  )

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Slightly modified morning prompt from a workshop with Peter Beagle. “What are my character’s first thoughts on waking?”
added second tweet
And how does this change by the end of the book?

Thought the scene was finished. Last night, her feelings vs what she says aloud had me scribbling. Must add!

Someone said they couldn’t work at home, too many distractions. I thought, Not once the story takes off.

Stomach’s tight with fear, heart’s pounding. Had to take a break and breathe. It’s tough inhabiting a character in danger.

My characters are taking up their roles and expanding them, guiding me. To revise outline as I go or abandon it?

So far this week, 6575 words. Yes!

Characters in charge now, leading me along, revelations so intriguing I look forward to the day. I love this part!

Saturday morning yoga class. I meet my edge and inspiration jolts me. Scenes resolve, characters clarify.

Appreciating the wisdom of my characters as I compare old and new working outlines. So much better with their input!

Shifting recent scenes around for maximum impact, improved pacing. And so she can rip into him.

Phone rings and I realize I have to blow my nose before I answer because a character’s been crying, and so have I.

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You see, I do have an outline, but once I begin to write, I see the flaws in the plan and relax, permit new characters to appear, get curious, play with them. I consider how I feel about where I’m now heading—more interesting? Does it use incidental material that’s built up as I work? I note something in a room that seems innocuous, then ask, what if it were important? What could it mean? This is how I stay engaged. If I know everything’s that’s coming, why bother? I have a general idea of my direction, but I’m open to the potential inherent in the story as it unfolds. My outline becomes more of a record of the latest structure with vague suggestions for moving forward.

How about you? Are you working on a project? Are you a planner, do you just start and see where you wind up, or????

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