Sue Monk Kidd's Rules for Writing a Novel
The author of the latest Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection sounds off on her process for writing The Invention of Wings.
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
1. Follow Your Bell
"At the Brooklyn Museum, where I went to see Judy Chicago's exhibit, The Dinner Party
, I read all the names on what she calls the heritage panels. Something about the pair of Grimké names rang some distant bell in my head, but I couldn't place who they were, where I'd seen them or why they were familiar to me. But I came home to Charleston determined to find out about them, mostly because of that feeling. All I had to do was read a short paragraph about Sarah and Angelina Grimké and I knew I would be writing about them for years."
2. Notice What Won't Leave
"The two Grimké sisters took hold of my mind and they wouldn't leave. And I know this feeling. I can recognize it now "That...ah...this is it." There are so many different things out there trying to hook our attention, we writers have to be very selective and make certain that it is coming from inside out, not outside in. The Grimkés were maverick women, probably the most radical couple of sisters to ever come out of the antebellum South, that's for sure. And I loved that about them. They didn't just capture my imagination, they captured my heart."
3. Draw Your World
"I made the drawing of the Grimkés' house pretty much at the beginning of my work on the book. I love knowing what rooms the characters are moving in—as well as what the outside looked like and the whole work yard in the back of the house, the tree and the walled-in area where they had slave quarters. I need that whole world of my characters so I can picture it in my head while I write."
4. Make a (Very Flexible) Outline
"I am one of those people who likes to have a guide. It's a loose guide. (If you create a static plan at the beginning, you're sunk; the story is never what you think it is on day one). Due to the sweeping time frame and the voices moving back and forth, the outline for The Invention of Wings was the strangest one I've ever done. I created six large, separate outlines, one for each part of the book, and hung them around my study. I wrote them on big butcher paper that was probably 2 feet long, and I used pencil, because though I had a general idea of what would happen, I ended up changing it as I went. With pencil, you can always erase."
5. Make a (Very Flexible) Deadline
“I did six months of research on the novel. But then I had to stop. The imagination wants to play with what it loves. That's what it does. And if we can allow the imagination to play with the idea, something very large and wonderful can sprout out of it. (Or THE idea will just sort of dissipate because it wasn't the right thing.) So I'm a big believer in taking some time, and not just saying ‘Oh, that's it!’ The more my imagination played with it, the more certain I became. A novel requires requires a long time—and, for me, a really long time, because I don't write quickly—and I knew this one had to sustain my passion for years.”
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