A famous writer once said that writing was like driving through fog at night (or something like that). The headlights can only illuminate a few feet ahead as you move forward, but only blackness lies beyond until you cover more ground. I’m sure I’ve butchered that somewhat, but the gist is there. Pantsers can’t see more than a few scenes ahead—oftentimes even less. We might even relish that feeling of something exciting and unseen lurking in the darkness. It’s similar to the feeling of reading a good book, of turning each page with the expectation of being surprised. Of not knowing what a character will do or say.
So what is my process? I do try to schedule as many hours as possible to devote to just writing—with my phone on silent to prevent distractions. I also schedule the “other” parts of my life as much as possible. If I know I have to take my dad to the dentist at two o’clock, I know that I will still have an hour of writing time after I get home before my workout at four-thirty and I make sure I’m with my laptop writing instead of flipping through emails. I research as I go along so I know exactly what I need to look up, understanding the temptation of easily falling into the rabbit hole of interesting factoids that can easily suck up an entire day. These are the parts of my writing I can more or less “control.” The rest of it—not so much.
When beginning a new manuscript, I always start with my protagonist and her inner and outer conflicts. And then I add setting, which is always another character in my books. I’ll have a general and very fluid idea of what the overarching theme of a novel will be, and what is supposed to happen, but the end product is guaranteed to be much different than what I’d originally envisioned. I don’t even tell my editor what my current work-in-progress is about because (her words) it’s always a different book when I turn it in.
My only exception is with my Tradd Street series. I just finished writing book number seven—The Attic on Queen Street (out in November 2021)—and since the first book came out in 2008, there are a lot of details that I simply can’t remember. I barely recall my name most days, much less the name of the main character’s childhood dog that appeared in book two. So, I hired someone to prepare a family tree for all the families mentioned in the series, as well as a Bible of sorts listing all the characters (in alphabetical order) and all the previous plot lines as a prompt for me. Not exactly an outline for my current work-in-progress, but a great start for my spin-of series to follow the final Tradd Street book.
The moral of this story is to do what feels right for you. There is never a wrong method (unless that involves never writing a word). And no right method for everybody. There are as many techniques to getting a novel written as there are writers. Sometimes you have to experiment to find what works for you.
Maybe the real answer as to what my process is should be a simple one: butt in chair. The more time you spend at your desk or wherever you choose to write, the more words will be written. And that, dear writers, is what it’s all about in the end.
Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 books, including the Tradd Street series, Dreams of Falling, The Night the Lights Went Out, Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between. She is the coauthor of All the Ways We Said Goodbye, The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband near Atlanta, Georgia.
With almost two million books in print in fifteen different languages, Karen White is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 27 novels, including the popular Charleston-set Tradd Street mystery series.
Karen’s roots run deep in the South where many of her novels are set. Her intricate plot lines and compelling characters charm and captivate readers with just the right mix of family drama, mystery, intrigue and romance. Visit Karen at https://www.karen-white.com/