Ellen Marie Wiseman — author of WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND — discusses her writing process in a Q&A session in this Guest Post:
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I begin the day by taking my dogs for a walk along the lakeshore, and then I make the bed, throw in a load of laundry and tidy up because I can’t think in a messy house. Once I feel a sense of order, I brew some tea, quickly check my emails, and reread the pages from the previous day to figure out where I am in the story. If all goes well, I spend the next four to six hours writing and trying to avoid social media. In the evening, I check emails, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. When I get closer to having a book finished, I write 10-14 hours a day.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I love picturing celebrities as my characters! Sometimes I use their coloring and manners in my descriptions. While writing the The Plum Tree I pictured Scarlett Johansson and Jake Gyllenhaal as my main characters, Christine and Isaac. It was a lot of fun when it came to writing those secret meetings in the root cellar. I also used people I know for some of my secondary characters, but I’ll never tell who.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
When I wrote The Plum Tree, I dove right in. With my mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during WWII and the two main characters in my head, I knew the story from beginning to end. I wrote the first draft on a legal pad in three days. As far as the numbers of drafts go, I didn’t count. My guess is I did four major rewrites. When I got stuck, I used an outline. Of course I edited and tweaked as I went along. For my second novel, I’m using an outline from the start, and I hope it saves some work in the end.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I’ve always loved reading, but becoming a published author was never on my radar. In grade school I wrote stories about horses and dogs, but there weren’t any creative writing courses offered in my tiny high school. For a while I forgot how much I loved making up stories. After I got married and had kids, I wrote for fun, a luxury I afforded myself when I had time. Then the book I knew I had to write came to me and I decided to get serious. I found a published author willing to be my mentor, and four years later started sending out queries. Seventy-two rejections and couple of revisions later, I signed with my wonderful agent Michael Carr of Veritas Literary and he sold my manuscript to Kensington in three weeks.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we sit in front of the computer with brilliant stories and perfect words flowing forth from our fingertips. Writing is extremely hard work. I once read writing a novel is like moving a mountain with a dentist’s drill. Sometimes it feels that way. When I need a break, I weed the garden, rake my lawn, or invite ten people over for a seven-course meal. Seriously, all of those things are easier, and yet, writing is my favorite part of the job.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
One of the best pieces of advice my mentor gave me was: “always return to the right foot.” This advice makes sense if you’ve ever been in the military. When the command, “At ease!” is given to a soldier, he’s free to do anything: slouch, pivot, yawn, etc., but his right foot must never leave the ground. The plot of a novel is that right foot. Novelists are free to wander off in any direction, to taste the homemade bread and sweet jam or explore the castle ruins, as long as, sooner or later, they return to that right foot. It’s the part of the narrative that makes the reader keep turning the page to answer that all-important question: and then what happened?