Friday, November 18, 2011

The Writing Road Trip by Joanne Kennedy, Guest Blogger

According to the bio on Joanne Kennedy's website, she ran away from home to the West at the advanced age of 32 and was delighted to discover that cowboys still walk the streets of Cheyenne. Her fascination with Wyoming’s unique blend of past and present leads her to write contemporary Western romances with traditional ranch settings.

I love cowboys (and just the idea of cowboys) so when I find another author who writes in the Western romance genre, I have to pay attention (especially when their books have such delightful cover art).

Welcome to my blog, Joanne.


The Writing Road Trip by Joanne Kennedy, Guest Blogger

Writing a book is like taking a road trip. It takes planning—but if you map out every move in advance and time everything down to the last second, the lack of spontaneity will take all the fun out it. I’d rather just pile the kids in the car and start driving, hoping for a grand adventure and wondering where the heck we’ll end up.

So when I start a book, I basically toss my characters out onto the page, which is a relief because they’ve usually been with me for a while, chattering in my ear and generally being annoying so I’ll take them somewhere. I have a rough idea of where we’re going, but mostly I just follow the road as it unfolds.

My characters usually cooperate with this process better than kids deal with road trips, but eventually they start squabbling and sulking and poking each other. Then it’s time to step out of the story and look at it from the outside so you can find them something constructive to do. This corresponds to the part of the road trip where you get out of the car, stretch, and take a look at the map while the kids run around decimating wildflower beds and filling the back seat with rocks.

Even now, you don’t want your plan to be too detailed. You need to stay loose and let your instincts carry you forward. It’s those impulsive side-trips to Reptile Kingdom and the spontaneous stop at the World’s Largest Prairie Dog Town that make the best memories on a road trip, and it’s the same way with a story. Unexpected destinations are what make a book memorable, too.

Of course, this can all go terribly wrong. Characters can dash off on useless tangents, pursuing some elusive purpose that never really gels. Reptile Kingdom can turn out to be smelly and sort of pathetic. Prairie dogs can hide in their holes and refuse to come out. Plot threads can tangle and wander off in the wrong direction.

That’s where you need to hang onto hope and a whole lot of faith. You have to hope your instinctive sense of story will see you through, and have faith that you had that instinct in the first place.

Losing that hope and faith corresponds to the part of the trip where you decide you’re a terrible mother who never does anything right. You bang your head on the steering wheel, berate yourself for not planning better and try not to let the kids see you cry. In writing and in road trips, this is a good time to stop at a Mini-Mart and get some powdered sugar donuts. Snacks are great sources of faith and hope.

The sugar donuts will help for a while, although they might be the reason the kids are squabbling and poking each other again. And eventually you’re liable to come to an intersection and discover that you’ve been off course for the past fifty miles. Or maybe somebody left their precious stuffed bunny back at the Reptile Kingdom cafeteria. You’re going to have to backtrack to your last turning point and start again. You’ve probably wasted a couple of hours going in the wrong direction, but that’s okay. You’re on track now.

It’s been a long trip, though, and there comes a point where your characters finally stop misbehaving. The problem is, they’re not doing anything else, either. They’re asleep in the back seat with Precious Bunny, and you’re going to have to stop for the night and recharge. This will give you more time to look at the map and figure out how you ended up in Indiana instead of Illinois and what road will get you the heck out of there.

Okay, maybe that’s not the best way to take a road trip. But it’s okay to write a book that way, because unlike a road trip, you can go over it when you’re done and fix everything that went off-course. Did you take a wrong turn in Chapter 8? You can rewrite it. Did your characters misbehave in Chapter 12? Go back and make them do what you want.

And maybe that’s why hope lives through even the worst writing experience. If you work hard enough, you can turn even the bumpiest road trip into one heck of a story.


Thanks again for being my guest today, Joanne.

Joanne Kennedy is the author of Cowboy Trouble, Cowboy Fever, and 2010 RITA® nominee One Fine Cowboy, all published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. Her latest release, Tall, Dark & Cowboy, was released November 1st and is available online and in bookstores nationwide.

ISBN 978-1-4022-5144-3 $6.99
Available in paperback and ebook editions

In the wake of a nasty divorce, Lacey Bradford is on the run from her ex-husband’s criminal cronies. Swearing off her ex’s ill-gotten gains, she runs to her old friend Chase Caldwell for help. But the boy she once knew has changed. Embittered by the loss of his family farm due to Lacey’s ex-husband’s machinations, Chase is hardly thrilled to see the girl who broke his heart.

As Lacey begins to create a new life for herself, a new, surprising attraction ignites from the ruins of their former friendship. And when danger comes to Grady, Wyoming, Chase learns that this delicate Southern flower just might turn out to be a steel magnolia.

You can learn more about Joanne and her books at her website.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Joanne.

Joanne - You know, I hadn't thought about writing a book as a road trip. I like the analogy, though. It makes a lot of sense. And oh, how right you are that one great thing about writing is that you can re-write!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm still a planner in all areas of life. I stress too much if I don't know where I'm going.

Jack Edwards Poetry said...

Interesting post.

Terry Wright said...

Just goes to show you... there are no concrete rules in this business. I wrote my first novel by the seat of my pants. It took me 3 years to write it and 3 years to fix it, but it got written. Nowadays I set up the structure, list the scenes I need within that structure, and then start writing. After all, creativity is in the writing, not in the planning.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Sorry, folks - I've posted answers to your comments twice and Google keeps booting me out! I'll try again -

Margot, rewriting definitely saves the day. My first drafts are pretty rough.

Alex, hi! I get nervous setting off into the wilderness, too. I always have an ending (destination) in mind, and a couple of the emotional turning points, but I take a winding road to get there. It's like taking the scenic route instead of the interstate.

Jack, thanks!

Terri, I've tried it both ways. A lot depends on the characters for me. Once they're really "real" to me the story forms easily without too much guidance. But I have to do some planning, or I wander off on a tangent and lose my way.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I love the creative metaphor you use comparing writing to a road trip. I guess sometimes it is a mistake to overplan. We can better results if we let the characters and the road take us on an exciting trip. Congrats on the new novel!

Jacqueline Seewald

Joanne Kennedy said...

Jacqueline, I think the important thing is to leave room for improvisation and inspiration. Planning is important, especially the first time you write a book, but hopefully the elements of story structure become part of you - sort of an internal compass that guides you down the road so you can enjoy the trip without worrying about getting lost.

Mason Canyon said...

Joanne, now I understand how your stories all have such a real feel to them. You've taught your children (characters) well on their road trips. Wishing you continued success.

Kathryn Elliott said...

I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants gal as well, Joanne. At least when the first drafts forms. After that I go into organization mode. Great post!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Joanne, Thanks again for being here today. Since my "well-planned" NaNoWriMo novel has turned out to be a wild road trip (in more ways than one), I especially enjoyed this post.

Sisters of the Quill said...

Thank you, Joanne, for telling us about your trip. Each book I write comes out differently...various amounts of mapping, various orders in which to write, various ways of getting from point A to point B. somehow we all manage it in our own ways. Like painters, each with his own technique. That is why writing is a creative art. Map art.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Mason, thank you so much! The praise means a lot coming from you, and of course we always love to hear good things about our children/characters/books. I'm looking forward to visiting with your blog on the 28th!

Kathryn, that's what works best for me. I do kind of a back-and-forth approach. In my WIP, I've hit page 80 and now I'm going back to do a little revision, setting up all the secrets I've "discovered" about the characters so far. I love watching the story and characters mesh and take shape.

Patricia, thank you so much for having me. I always love talking about writing, and you have great commenters! As for your NANO novel, sometimes it's a really good sign when the story has a life of its own.

Sisters of the Quill, you're so right! I learn something new with every book, and change my technique accordingly. That's what I love about writing - it's an endless process of discovery. And because every writer develops their own method, we always have things to learn from each other.

Mario said...

"In writing and in road trips, this is a good time to stop at a Mini-Mart and get some powdered sugar donuts. Snacks are great sources of faith and hope." ;-) Such wisdom. Great post.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Thanks, Mario. It's my number one writing rule: when life gives you lemonade, get some powdered sugar donuts to go with it. And if that doesn't work, spike the lemonade with vodka.

Patricia Stoltey said...

That should work! :)

John Paul McKinney said...

Thanks for the interesting analogy. Sometimes it's fun just to get on the road and see where it leads you.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Wonderful way to view the writing process. I used to stress over trips so much that I couldn't enjoy them until they were over. Then I read _The Art of Travel_ and it changed everything. I now enjoy whatever happens. You make me want to employ the same technique with my writing. As a graduate of the U. of Wyoming, I particularly like your attitude! Liz

Joanne Kennedy said...

John Paul, I think that even if a writer normally uses an outline, it's good to set off on a wild tangent once in a while and see where it leads. It freshens up your voice, livens up your characters, and brings back the fun of writing when things get stale.

Elizabeth, I've seen that book and now I'll have to check it out. When my husband and I travel, it seems like the most memorable parts are the unexpected moments. Even a seeming disaster like killing a diesel rental car with standard gas can lead to great adventures. How many people can say they've been on a tow-truck tour of Scotland?
And by the way - go Pokes! Let 'er buck!

Peter said...

Hi Joanne Kennedy you looks very beautiful.