July 10, 2017

Last Step: Keyboard

By Joy Ross Davis

When I first began to write for publication, I did what many writers do: I read books about writing, lots of books. Some were helpful; others not so much. I thought I might find a formula, a tried and true method of writing the right way. I’d read about writers who sat down at the computer and stared at a blank screen waiting for the Muse to descend, itching for their fingers to fly across the keyboard and spill forth greatness. I am not one of those writers.

My process doesn’t begin at the keyboard. It begins far earlier, usually when I’m showering, folding laundry, or making a tuna sandwich, and it begins not with a machine but with a voice, a phrase, or even a conversation that sneaks into my mind while I’m busy doing something else.  The fact is that I hear their voices.

My characters talk to me in snippets long before I know who they are, and for me, this is always how my writing has begun…with a voice in my head, a character who wants to come to life on paper. The one thing I’ve learned through the years is to listen to those voices and to jot down the words I hear. For that very reason, I am a Post-It Note hoarder. In every room of my house, there is at least one of the long, lined “sticky” notes—blue, green, or pink (I’m not fond of yellow) and a pen or pencil. In my rather large kitchen there are two: one by the coffeemaker and one on the table.

My most recent publication is a story about a mute orphan named Bitty Brown. Her name came to me as I showered one night, so I stepped out of the shower and wrote down the name. Over the course of the next few weeks, I heard more and more from her, and even though she is portrayed as mute, she “told” me her story in bits and pieces. She talked to me about her life. I jotted down all the details as she gave them to me.

And then I researched to find out more, and what I discovered became the backdrop of the story.
For every piece of writing that I’ve published, this is my process. It never begins with a keyboard but always with a voice inside my head that needs to be heard. And it’s my job as a writer to do my research, find out what I can, activate my imagination, and give life to that voice.

I’m not sure whether all writers hear these voices, but I’m fairly sure that no matter how a character comes to a writer, whether through research, dreams, notes, or even showering, our characters come to us for one reason. They want life, and they long for us to get to the keyboards and tell their stories. _____________________________________________________________________ 
Joy Ross Davis is a college English professor who retired in 2005 to care for her mother, who suffered from dementia. As a release, the author began to document some of the more humorous and poignant moments as a full-time caregiver. These became articles which were published in a local newspaper. Later, they were compiled into a memoir entitled, Mother, Can You Hear Me? In addition to writing and teaching, she has worked as a travel writer and photographer in Ireland. To date, she has worked with Helping Hands Press to publish five novellas. She has also published a cozy supernatural mystery novel. She lives in Alabama with her son and three beloved rescue dogs. 

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