I’m starting to think about a new book. It’s hazy now, like shapes in the fog, but it’s getting closer. I am not an outliner, so I have to feel my way through that fog, stumbling in a direction that I hope is right. I find that the more I can immerse myself in the world of the story, the quicker it comes. Here are some of the tricks I’ve used; I would love to hear yours.
Like many writers, I gather images to inspire me. I’ve got a framed photo of a giant tree on my writing desk, a remnant of my first book. I have pictures of people who look like the people in my books saved in my Scrivener files, as well as pictures of the settings, animals, even particular pieces of furniture. Pinterest is great for this. For those on Twitter, the hashtag #novelaesthetics is really fun.
I know that a book is coming closer when I start gathering songs for a new playlist. Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah instantly transports me to the world of my first book. I don’t listen to the playlist when I’m actually writing (too distracting), but when I’m thinking about the book, on a run or on a drive, it helps me get in the zone.
Much of my first book takes place in the woods, so when I was hiking, I would try to note and hold onto the smells—the pine, the earth, the dew. I also, though, am an inveterate gum chewer, and I have assigned a different type of gum to my different works in progress. I’m chewing a lot of Big Red these days. If I open a pack anywhere in the world, I immediately think about my work in progress.
The taste of the gum also helps me. The fiery, cinnamon taste of Big Red puts me in the right frame of mind for the quick and snappy soccer players I’m writing. The inspiration goes the other way, too. I remember writing one biscuit-baking scene and getting so hungry that I had to go bake some myself. The kids were thrilled to wake up to fresh biscuits on a school day.
Going to the woods also helped me get into the tactile nature of the woods. I would feel the bumpy bark, shuffle through the pine needles, note the hot sun on the back of my neck. For the book that is coming, I recently brought an oyster shell home from a canoeing trip. Something about the sleek, iridescent ridges spoke to me. It feels right in my hands, though I don’t know yet how it fits in with my forming story. I can’t wait to find out.
Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer. Her books are fueled by cherry blow pops, as well as Big Red. She had six cavities the first time she went to the dentist, but has since learned much better dental hygiene. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com or through her book blog, www.kidbooklist.com. On Twitter, she’s @SuperKate.