Questions from Readers About How I Develop and Write My Stories

One of the best things about being a writer with lots of loyal readers is the opportunity to answer your questions! From time-to-time I write on this blog to answer some of your questions. This post is about how I develop and write my stories.

Q. How do you generate your ideas?

A. My best ideas come from life itself. Especially being out in nature, observing the intricate wonders of wildflower meadows or rambling rivers, opens all my senses: I smell, hear, taste, touch, and see many things that inspire me to feel fully alive—and also to write. It’s the same when I’m with my kids. They unfailingly open my senses and make me more aware.

Ideas also come from reading an interesting book, or thinking about the problems of the world today. Ultimately, if you notice what’s around you, and really take it in, you have a limitless source of material. Then just add a pinch of imagination and anything—literally anything—is possible.

Q. How important is research?

A. Extensive research is a must. If I as a writer am going to convince you as a reader to come with me to some fantastic place or time, I must first win your confidence. Your trust. The only two ways to do that are: first, to engage every one of your senses fully; and second, to do my research.

For The Lost of Years of Merlin epic, I researched the legends of Merlin for two years before I could even begin writing. I started with the ancient Celtic text called the Mabinogian, and worked forward from there.

To write Heartlight, I needed to learn a lot about the life cycle of stars, the nature of light, and the marvelous morpho butterfly. For The Ancient One, I researched nine different tribes who lived in the Pacific Northwest five hundred years ago. In addition, I needed to understand the smells, sounds, and ecological interconnections of an ancient grove of redwoods. The Merlin Effect required learning about the legend of Merlin, Spanish galleons of the 16th century, the physics of whirlpools, and—best of all—the gray whales. Not to mention the motions and sounds of waves, the rhythms of tide pools, the screeching of gulls. Research is often hard work, but it is loads of fun. And I get to choose the subject!

Q. What is the best writing method?

A. Writing is a strange, mysterious process. After more than twenty years, I still don’t know how it really works. But I do know it requires a special, personal chemistry. So I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that’s a good chemistry for me. Probably because, as a kid growing up in Colorado, that’s how I started writing. Once the manuscript is ready—a good first draft but still far from finished—I transfer it to a computer. Then I do six or seven complete rewrites—as many as it takes to get it right. I also do a lot of background research—about Celtic lore, Native American dances, sunken treasure ships … whatever is needed to make the story authentic. Last of all, I do some careful, delicate editing—marking up the printed copy with my friendly blue pen.

Q. I often get Writer’s Block, how do I overcome it?

A. You are not alone!!! Every writer I know has gone through times of such intense pressure. You are in excellent company.

Here is my advice: Forget about the rest of the world. Just write what YOU want to write. Say what you want to say. And do finish what you begin, even if it doesn’t feel perfect. It’s important to finish. Most of all, though, it’s important to write from your deepest passion!

Q. How do you finish your stories?

A. The key, I have found, is to find whatever ways you can to get to the end. Complete the thing, even if you’re feeling bored with it. Then you have something whole to work with, to rewrite or reorder and make into a story you feel proud of.

For example, sometimes it helps to start the tale, then skip right to the ending while it’s fresh, and then fill in the middle. In your revisions, you can always add new themes or characters that add power and originality to your tale.