ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel as well as an Alex Award. Called Entertainment Weekly‘s Favorite Book of the Year, Reconstructing Amelia was one of CNN’s Reader Favorites for 2013, a finalist for Goodreads Best Mystery of the Year and a Book Club pick for Target, Books-a-Million and Indigo. Reconstructing Amelia has also been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. McCreight’s second novel, Where They Found Her, was published by Harper in April 2015. A USA Today bestseller, it is due out in paperback in April of 2016. McCreight’s teen trilogy The Outliers, to be published by Harper Teen in 2016, has been optioned for film by Lionsgate, Mandeville, and Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
I’ve been lying to everyone.
Not on purpose mind you. Still, I have been telling a lot of half-truths lately about my writing process.
In recent weeks, I have been deep in the thick of launching the first book in my YA trilogy, The Outliers, a mystery set in present-day Boston about one troubled teenaged girl who must overcome her fears and go after her missing best friend. The Outliers is first and foremost a character driven mystery about friendship, betrayal and deeply buried secrets, but it also has a speculative twist about the untapped power of intuition.
With a launch comes numerous Q & A’s and launch events and interviews. Not surprisingly, I am often asked about my writing process. And I always answer with some variation of the following:
• I don’t outline.
• I start with a question bugging me about why something happens in the world, or how it might work out—this is usually based on personal experience.
• I then come up with my characters.
• Last is the spine of my story—the basic idea of the “what happens.”
• From there, I start drafting, never revising as I go along, never looking back.
• This “fly by the seat of your pants” approach is very liberating, but it also means that the revision process is a special kind of hell.
That is all true. It just leaves out a very important step that exists in between when I’ve gotten together my central question, character and spine and before I start actually drafting. One that I never realized existed before now.
Turns out, I play and replay the book in my head like a movie—or maybe like some kind of turbo-charged trailer for a movie. I only noticed that I do this in recent days as I’ve been hard on revisions to Book 2 of The Outliers. I’m at the end stage of revisions, for me always the trickiest. Because it’s finally time—at long last—to answer all the tough questions. It’s time to face the real holes that remain. It’s time to stop pretending that things I know aren’t quite working, are actually fine to remain the same.
But while this is one of the toughest stages of writing a novel, it’s also the most gratifying. There is nothing more magical than when an uncooperative piece of story finally snaps into place. When I finally figure out in a flash of inspiration why I put in a particular exchange between two characters or why someone has been behaving so badly in chapter after chapter.
That moment when something nonsensical becomes utterly clear is as close to real-life magic as I think I’ll ever come.
But, back to the other moments at the end-stage revision—which is most of them. They are dark and frustrating. They are the stage when I always almost lose hope and make plans to set the book on fire.
What saves me form actually grabbing the kerosene is contemplating my next project. Because if there is any universal truth as a writer it’s that the half-formed book in your head is always way more interesting than the one you are actually committing to the page.
And in my case, right now, that’s not Book 3 of The Outliers trilogy because that shares too much in common with what I am hard at work on. Instead, I’ve been working out the details for the next adult book I plan to write.
So, as I walk to the Brooklyn Writers space or to the gym, or when I’m in the shower, I play the story out again and again in my mind. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to conjure up the structure and general tone. And you also don’t have to go very far to see how and why you will hit a brick wall.
And the more I do it, the more I make changes and tweaks and things come in to focus. The more I become convinced that this unwritten movie-trailer book is the most genius thing I will ever create. And, really, that’s a godsend. Because deep down I know that once I start writing that book I will run into the very same thorny issues I am contending with on my current book—but between here and there lies a lifetime of sweet delusion.
The crazy thing is, though, I have done this with each and every book I have written. And I never even realized it until right now.
Because that’s writing: four parts mystery and one part magic.
So, it’s true. I did lie. But it was an accident. And now that I have come clean you’re definitely not allowed to hold it against me.
WHAT'S YOUR LITTLE WHITE LIE? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE OUTLIERS! (US entrants only, please.)
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