Guest Author Post: MY WRITING PROCESS-FOLLOW ME DOWN by Sherri Smith
I always associate ‘writing process,’ with people far artsier than myself. I picture them parked in front of old fashioned typewriters, bathed in wintery lighting, their berets angled just so. They have a certain number of pens lined up next to their elbows and cute stationary. They’re in full control of channeling out their greatness, because they have a process. They know what they’re doing. Me? Not so much.
My writing process, if you can call it that, is sloppy and haphazard at best. I start with a random image, something that makes my head buzz, my skin prickle and I go from there.
In FOLLOW ME DOWN, this scene was a rusty looking pool behind a quasi-rundown apartment block where the sun is hitting the windows in that way that turns them all into interrogation room mirrors. There’s a teen girl in the pool, floating on a squeaky air mattress. She has that look, girls of this age can have. Sad but also like she knows something she shouldn’t yet. I kept wondering, who is this girl? What does she know? Does she belong there or not?
I was also intrigued by the apartment building itself. Like anyone else who’s lived in a few different blocks, I’ve met my share of interesting people (there was the neighbor guy who’d pass out shirtless in the hallway next to my door, still clinging to his white recorder that he liked to play when was stoned. The woman who’d walk her cat dangerously close to my University basement apartment window, peer in and tell me to do my dishes. The couple who argued so passionately through the thin wall, I became emotionally invested!) I knew right away, this was a setting I wanted to use.
So I suppose these are my starting points. An image. A setting. From there I start to think about plot because plotting doesn’t come easy to me and I like to get the hardest part out of the way first. I litter the walls with Post-its and it feels like I am getting something done. I feel like a ‘real’ writer here, one with a process. I sometimes flirt with using twine, zig-zagging it back and forth to look like an FBI murder board just to prove how complex and genius the plot is. But this never sticks. And I mean that literally.
These Post-its usually come fluttering down a day or two later from the continuous rushes of air brought on by my four-year old daughter flinging open the door to tell me her news of the minute. Important updates like she still hates washing her hair, or to offer me yet another tour of our house (I should never have let her watch HGTV.)
Not that this matters because regardless of how hard I try, what I end up with never looks like what I had on those Post-Its anyway. I’ve come to accept that’s probably a good thing too, because if I can figure out the whole book from the get-go I am pretty sure a reader will too. Still, it’s a good starting point and it gets me writing.
From here I write in layers. First off, I force myself to get to the end of a very thin, skeletal first draft. I don’t turn back at all. This is what I call my stone-faced-action-hero-not-looking-at-the- bomb exploding-behind-her layer (just to be extra wordy about it.) Once that’s done, I at least have something to work with, something to dress up. Then I go in and try to plump up my scrawny draft. This is what I like to call the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-writing-exercise-from-hell phase (OK I’ll stop doing the thing with the hyphens now and I’ll give you a great big Canadian SOOORRRY for starting in the first place.)
I can be a terribly indecisive writer (and human being) and for a long while I get stuck here. Too many versions start to rattle around in my head, each begging to be picked. This always feels like an epic waste of time since I know I’m just going to delete these reams of pages anyway, all because I can’t decide if A is slightly better than B and so forth. Fortunately, there’s an upside to this feeling of utter futility because it’s when my characters really start to gel for me. Things get clearer. I start to know what to do next. The plot tightens up.
Then I write, rewrite, and then rewrite it another ten times. (During this period I make sure to set out other non-writing projects for myself so I don’t wallow too long in the ocean of time it takes for me to finish a draft I am happy with. I paint a chair, do a jigsaw puzzle, something where the pay-off is more imminent.) I send it off to my editor and agent. Five minutes later, I send an aggressive follow-up email asking them to delete it. I mull. I tweak. I suffer from crippling self-doubt. I switch out a word here and there, press TAB in a couple of spots. I drink a good amount of whatever is on hand and send it off again.
From there the process finally becomes collaborative and this is when things get better for me because now I have these brilliant sounding boards to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. They spot weaknesses in the script I never would, and everything shifts again. There’s more re-writing until it all swirls together in just the right way.
So that’s it. That’s my writing process. Basically, I write until a book comes out. It’s not particularly organized or efficient but I guess it works for me.
FOLLOW ME DOWN, ($24.99; March 21, 2017) by SHERRI SMITH, also known as Canada’s successful S.L. Smith.
A great addition to a blockbuster genre, FOLLOW ME DOWN is Sharp Objects meets Silent Sister in this gritty new suspense novel. Smith writes with acute insight and assurance, and stands well apart from recent bestsellers such as The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive.
Mia Haas has built a life for herself far from the North Dakota town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she’s forced to return home. Once hailed as the golden boy of their small town, Lucas Haas disappeared the same day the body of one of his high school students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’ portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.
All the while, she wonders, if he’s innocent, why did he run?
As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s history is intertwined, Mia will be forced to confront her own demons, placing her right in the killer’s crosshairs.
About the author:
When not writing SHERRI SMITH spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side. FOLLOW ME DOWN is her first thriller. Visit her online at http://www.sherri-smith.com/, and on Twitter, @SL_Smith_.