Continued from Part 1
I sat on a church pew one Saturday morning watching my children practice their Christmas program. It was going to last almost two hours, and I didn’t have anything except a notebook to occupy my mind.
Three days earlier, I had finished planning my first novel, but other than about thirty pages of notes, I hadn’t yet written anything. I wanted to write it, but I needed something to propel me into the actual first draft.
First, I needed to understand how long it would take. I’m probably considered a fast typer (that comes with my day career), so that part wouldn’t be an issue. I had written before, but to write a story that was more than a few pages was unknown. My first guess was that I could write about 700 words per day, so I did a little back-of-the-napkin math and came up with May 2021 (six months later) as the estimated finish date.
Then there was the question of when. I work Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM–5:00 PM, so that wouldn’t work. Thus I was left with the choice of mornings or evenings. When I get home from work, I like to have evenings mostly free—that leaves time for family, housework, and reading. If I were to dedicate myself to writing then (or late at night), I felt like I would be taking away from the most important people.
I like mornings. I’m not a true early-riser, probably because I know people who wake up daily at 4:00 AM. In the warmer months, before the heat of the day, that’s when I run; since I would begin writing in the winter, I figured I could just wake up earlier than normal. And that’s what I chose to do—seven days a week, 5:00 AM.
The house is so quiet before sunrise, but there’s also that knowledge that the day is fast approaching. This schedule was also nice because it gave me definite start and end times (waking up until Bible-reading and getting ready for work).
The Typical Morning
It begins with a few things to warm me up (literally). My thermostat is set pretty low, so the house is cold on winter nights! I throw on a sweatshirt, make a cup of tea or coffee, turn on my office space heater, and turn on my computer.
I don’t prefer Windows computers, nor do I like Apple. “What else is there?” some may ask. I’m one of those weirdos who uses a Linux computer. Don’t worry, I won’t try to convert you to Linux; I just like it more.
My writing tools are quite simple. I store my documents, notes, and actual manuscripts in Google Docs. I like Google Docs for drafting because it’s simple, the spelling and grammar checking is excellent, and it’s available on every device. If I’m desperate for a word I can’t think of, I’ll consult wordhippo.com. I’ll often have locongress.org open in my web browser for French to Occitan translations.
The first tab I open in my web browser every morning is my master spreadsheet which includes a list of scenes I plan to write (about 90 for a full-length novel for me). My goal is to write a full scene every day, and each scene is in its own file (simply numbered 01, 02, 03, etc.).
That means I start writing on a blank page every day, which I think is pretty uncommon. It seems to work well for me; I like having each day’s writing to be a mini story arc (which is what a scene should be).
Nevertheless, the first hour of daily writing is a slog. It takes every brainwave to get my thoughts into my fingertips. But by the second hour, the writing becomes so much smoother. A scene is 1,500 on average words for me, and it takes roughly two hours to write that. If I have time at the end of a writing session, I’ll re-read the previous day’s scene and self edit; otherwise I postpone that process to the evening after my kids go to bed.
The Rest of the Day
Like most writers, ideas are constantly coming to me, even during other activities. Shoveling snow is the best time to imagine dialogue for the next day! If it’s something worth remembering, I’ve tried to discipline myself into recording it (Google Keep is the most easily accessible for me).
I try to research as much as I can before planning the book, but some of the best research comes a few days before writing the scene it relates to. That study usually entails reading, but it might drift into a video.
One of my favorite examples came when I was trying to understand what the city of Florence looked like in the fifteenth century. I wanted to know what color the bricks were, what kind of people walked the streets, how it sounded, and how people dressed. I read or skimmed several books but was still lacking the minute details I wanted.
Then I came across a historian who suggested looking at a computer game. He presented a list of things that weren’t historical (the cathedral is bigger in real life, there would have been more children in the streets, etc.), but otherwise he said it was an accurate representation. I don’t play computer games, but there were hours-long YouTube videos of people recording themselves playing. The game allows players to walk through Florence in the 1470’s, which is very close to the period I was writing in. I wouldn’t recommend playing the game because of its content, but watching someone else walk through Florence in three dimensions certainly helped me understand what the city was like during the Italian Renaissance. A few hours well-spent, I’d say!
Before I close my eyes at night, I pray about the next day’s scene. I need wisdom, discernment, a clear mind, and patience to plod to the end. And because Heretics of Piedmont and The Lord of Luserna are stories about deeply principled and Christian people, I need heavenly guidance all the more.
I finished my first book, Heretics of Piedmont, in March 2021. I figured out pretty quickly that I could write faster than I predicted, which was a nice surprise. True, there were months of revisions and editing ahead, but the first and most consequential step was finished.
It’s been more than a year since I published Hertics of Piedmont, and I still can’t believe I wrote a story set in the late Middle Ages. There were plenty of times in the process I felt discouraged, but God gave me the endurance to find the end—twice now!
Now if I meet any of you in person, I’d be thrilled to talk about the geography of the valleys in the Cottian Alps, what the life of a medieval peasant entailed, and what various travelers and historians wrote about the Waldensians over the centuries.