“There comes a time in every novel — actually, there are many, but for me the most serious one usually comes about 120 pages into the first draft — when you realize you’re on a fool’s errand; it was delusional and hubristic to think you could pull this off; the words on the page are so much cruder and less nuanced than the story in your head. You want to abandon it. My advice: Don’t. This is normal. You have to finish a draft before you know what you’ve got. And you’ll probably have to tear it apart several times, at least, to get close to what you envisioned. Breathe, focus, keep your head down and
Christina Baker Kline, The Writer, October 2014
“Breathe, focus, keep your head down and keep going.” What wonderful advice! My reading group knows firsthand how generous Christina is in sharing her experience and strategies with other writers: She joined us not long ago for a wide-ranging chat about her bestselling novel, Orphan Train (see Rare Pleasure).
In her interview in The Writer, Christina described her writing process with great clarity. One approach she uses caught my attention: creating an “idea board.” As she put it, “When I’m starting work on a novel, I gather scraps like a magpie and hang them on an idea board.” For Orphan Train, she hung a Celtic cross, a dream catcher, and a silver train pin from the New York Train Riders’ reunion in Minnesota on her board. Along with these inspiring and provocative visual aids, Christina also added:
• Postcards from Ireland and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum;
• Notecards with research information (“Food in Ireland 1900s,” for example);
• Notecards with ideas/concepts/themes she wanted to explore;
• Relevant quotes to challenge and spur her creativity.
I love this idea! I have visual aids scattered around my office that I turn to for inspiration in writing my historical fantasy: a pin that inspired the amulet in my story, a picture of a racehorse, and stones, to name a few. But the idea of bringing them all together in one place where I can turn to them easily for inspiration sounds like a powerful writing motivator — one I’m definitely going to pursue as a way to “keep going” with my novel.
Visual aids can be wonderful triggers for sparking creativity; they can also spur us on when we feel our energies flagging. And as we add new quotes or mementos to an idea board, they can help remind us that our story is growing in richness and depth. This sounds like a valuable visual aid for both fiction and nonfiction, doesn’t it? Bravo, Christina. Write on!