Depending on the writer, starting a new writing project can be incredibly daunting, exhilarating, or a little bit of both. Author Tinesha Davis shared her process for getting started.
What are you currently working on and how did you get started?
I am currently working on one thing—finishing. Let me explain. A year after I finished my first novel Holler at the Moon, I started working on the sequel. Halfway through the writing I realized the storyline didn’t work for the new book at all. So I tabled it deciding to one day make it a separate novel. I then started over on the sequel. However, another opportunity jumped up and had me sharpening my pencils in order to start writing something new — a collection of short stories that would be published monthly. I knew I should have been focused on the completion of the sequel, but I told myself all sorts of things, one of them being I could work on both projects simultaneously. I couldn’t. I worked on the short story project for about six months and I was doing well, I was focused. And then I received a few emails from agents interested in a Young Adult version of Holler at the Moon. And yup, you guessed it, that is what I am working on now.
As easy as a rewrite seems, I’ve started over more than a few times and every single day I question my angle. On some days I even question the point of it all — those days are the hardest — but I’ve finally managed to find a point I can live with. Finishing.
How has the process of getting started on this project differed from your previous projects (if at all)?
Here’s the thing. This rewrite is really a remix of what’s already written and out there for the public to see. In a lot of ways the writing should be easier. I know the characters; I even know the beginning, middle, and end of their next story. So this is what’s different — I have to stretch out what were originally seventy pages of one character’s story into something 150 to 200 pages long. It’s Young Adult… [which means] don’t cuss, no sex, and all the under-aged drinking and drugging my characters did in the original version of Holler... But this go around also gives me a second chance — a chance to go back and pull up those moments where I was too lazy to really write through them so I cheated. I told instead of showed; I ended instead of blossoming and giving my characters the room and care they needed to fully bloom.
In general, what is your process for starting a new project? Do you prepare detailed outlines of the story and/or in depth sketches of the characters beforehand? Do you let the characters lead and allow the story to reveal itself?
I start all my projects by dreaming. I daydream about the story I have in mind, its lessons, its themes. My characters actually audition for their story to be told in a particular project. They tell me the reasons why their story is the best one to demonstrate a project’s theme. And sometimes they have me fully convinced, so with them in mind I start writing. But that doesn’t stop the characters who didn’t “win” the role from speaking. They vie for my attention. They tell me I didn’t choose right. And sometimes they are right. So I switch out lead roles. I rethink my structure and I start all over again.
The sequel originally starred Tish, the flyest diva in a wheelchair; Nadia, a young mother of two who had her first child at twelve; and Damita Jackson, the young adult from Holler at the Moon who had been stabbed at the bus stop. The theme: What does it take to heal? Through a lot of writing, a lot of false starts and a lot of shuffling of characters, the final cast ended up being Damita and her older sister Dominique. I will use their stories to exemplify what it takes to heal and I’m giving those ladies a summer. Lets see what they do with it.
As for the rest: Detailed outline? Yes. Character sketches? No. I actually write first, and then do a sketch as I’m approaching a second draft. Do my characters lead the way? Nope. They may try but ultimately my theme does and if my characters don’t fit I switch them out for a few who will.
My characters all live in the same neighborhood. In one way or another they all interact. They don’t always know one another but they are always affected.
Does the blank page/screen titillate or terrify you?
I’ve come to the realization that what scares me is the long road ahead. Writing novels is an act of patience, uncertainty, constant change, and long-term commitment. I’m not good with those things — ask any man I’ve ever dated. Those things are what scare me, and it’s a double-edged sword because they thrill me too. Oh, what a thing of beauty a perfect sentence within a perfect paragraph can be. In order to witness that thing I must write.
When you are getting started, are you already clear about who your reader will be?
Yes. My reader is me. And for this Young Adult novel I’m now remembering that the reader is the young me, and boy, did I like reading a good solid curse word.
I want to write without apology regardless of the age of my audience, I want my characters to be able to unapologetically say “Fuck You!” Not “screw you” or “eff you” or the very watered-down “forget you.” Regardless if my character is fifty or twenty-three or twelve, I want them to always deal in the real world and not the world the publishers, librarians, and the grade schools say they should live in.
How do you stay motivated past the euphoria of getting those first words on the page/screen?
In an essay, Walter Mosley once said, “Writing a novel is gathering smoke.” Knowing this, one must put themselves in the company of their writing daily or the ideas, like smoke, [will] dissipate. So with that said, my writing, when I surrender and push through, motivates me.