Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guest post: Sharon Mayhew on her writing process

Scott's note: I'm happy to introduce Sharon Mayhew. Sharon commented on one of the posts in my Mobile Author series about her not-particularly mobile writing method, which spawned a couple of requests for more information. I'm happy that she agreed to write a guest post showing her process in detail. And so, without further ado, here is a highly instructive post about one writer's process. I hope you find it as helpful and interesting as I do.



When Scott invited me to share my organizational system for writing, I was thrilled. I've been writing and blogging since 2007. I occasionally blog about writing, but usually my posts are about life, books and other writers. There are so many blogs doing a terrific job on the craft of writing that I thought I would stick to other things.

Some people say they are plotters and some say they are pantsers, to be honest I'm not sure what I am. Maybe you guys can tell me once you see my writing process.

For the historical fiction MG novel I just completed (well, until I hear otherwise), I started by listening to my grandparents tell about their experiences during WWII. I started taking notes and telling them why I was jotting down their memories. I took lots of notes and am so grateful they were willing to share what was a difficult time in their lives with me.


I also wrote letters and got letters back from other family members who lived during this time period.


Then I typed up notes and potential scenes to use in my manuscripts.


I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. Some books were for children and some were not, most notably I read selections from Winston Churchill's THE SECOND WORLD WAR series. (I have to quote him here, as his words were and are such an inspiration to me.) ~Never, never, never give up~ I realize he was talking about the war and the spirits of the people in England, but for me it took on a whole different meaning. Sharing my families and friends stories is something I have to do and I won't give up until it is published. It was my honor to fictionalize moments in their lives.


I visited museums and took lots of pictures, then organized them into envelopes, so when I started writing I could pull out photos for those scenes.


One museum I visited had replicas of government brochures, posters, and letters available for purchase. These items were extremely helpful for finding details about daily living. I also visited antique shops and purchased bits and pieces to inspire me. My grandfather gave me some documents from the war, too.


Then I organized all the research and books into files based on locations that they applied to.


I printed of a variety of different maps of England. I even found one that showed the railroad system during the war.


To my surprise, one of my blog friends, Gary at Klahanie Blog, told me he was from the village in England I was writing about. He sent me photographs, which was spectacular, as I hadn't been to Leek since I was a child.

Once I finished with my initial research, I organized and typed up my notes. Then I wrote them on index cards. It may seem redundant to write notes, type notes and then write them again, but each time I did this I was ingraining the research into my brain.


I kept a list of words and phrases that I liked and were appropriate for the time period. I mounted them on poster boards and then hung them up on bulletin boards in my office.

By now I kind of know where the scenes are going to take place in my story, so I mount the scene cards on poster board and then mount what could potentially happen in each location. I try to use the senses as much as possible in each scene. (ex: the sounds, the smells, how things feel and taste) 



Most of the poster boards  were hanging on the bulletin boards in my office, so I could glance up from my desk and review them as I was writing and thinking. I also used an easel for the scene I was currently working on close to me.



I didn't use all of my research notes in this manuscript, but I left the manuscript open ended so if I do have the opportunity to write a sequel I already have some starting spots.


I'm sure there are much better ways of organizing your research and thoughts, but this worked for me. I think you have to find what method works for you...

Thanks for letting me share my process with you guys. If you are interested in reading my blog it's called SK Mayhew, Kidlit Writer. I'm @SharonKMayhew on Twitter.

So, what do you think? Am I a plotter or a pantser? 

What are you?


33 comments:

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for inviting me Scott. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Fantastic post, my friend!!! I loved hearing my buddy's process. I think there was a lot of planning, and you are definitely NOT a seat of the pants writer. SOPP will BE published. I promise. You know I am NOT a plotter, but this seems doable to me. Thanks for the tips, partner. (((hugs))) MWAH! Thanks to Scott for inviting my pal over to share her process, too.

Tracey M. Cox said...

Wow! Great post. Thanks Sharon & Scott.

I think you are a mixture of the two, Sharon. While you do have a plot, you were pantstering it once in the process. Love seeing how you organized it all.
I have a display board (tri-fold poster board) that I will storyboard on. It really does help me visualize my story.
Happy writing!

Crystal Collier said...

You are totally a plotter. A pantser would have just jumped in and worried about the details later. I love how in depth you got with your research. Wow. Way to gather everything and anything--and I love that you have ideas left over for a sequel. Very cool.

Connie Arnold said...

This is wonderful, Sharon! You are very organized and orderly, and I think a great planner. Thank you for sharing some good tips and ideas and all the photos.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks, Robyn, Tracey, Crystal and Connie. It's kind of scary putting my scrambled up planning, plotting, pantsing out there for the universe to judge. You guys are the best!

Theresa Milstein said...

Sharon, how interesting to hear about and actually see some of your process. I'm always impressed with people who write historical fiction because it requires so much more to write.

I like your new profile picture. Very professional!

Scott said...

I enjoyed the post tremendously, and the comments. I hope some of you who haven't been here before will look at what we do on this blog and stick around!

I enjoy reading about other people's processes. There are some good ideas here that I intend to borrow.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks, Theresa and Scott. Until I did this post, I didn't realize how much I organized my ideas before I began writing.

Susan Oloier said...

Sharon, I love the extent of your research and your organization. You are definitely a plotter!
And wow! What a photo of you. Very beautiful! Of course, you're beautiful in all your photos.

Yamile said...

I agree, that picture of you is just beautiful! So glad to put an image next to the name I've known for a while now :-) this blog post is fascinating and inspiring. Wow!

Donna McDine said...

Fascinating writing process! In-person research and visuals later is a terrific combination to bring the manuscript to life! Glad you have extra material for your next book :)

Kim Van Sickler said...

Ha, Ha, definitely a plotter! I love that you can involve your grandparents in your research. What a wonderful bonding opportunity. I admire the lists and notes and resources you collect. I honestly think that the research is half the fun of writing!

Lenny Lee* said...

hi blom!

wow! love your picture. you're beautiful!

what a cool and helpful post. you've got everything organized from start to finish. thats important for historical fiction cause all the factual stuff has to be accurate. thanks for sharing how you organize your writing. cool pics too!

...hugs from lenny

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I'm blushing. Thanks you guys. The lady that did my daughter's senior pictures did mine for free (just on a disk with the rights to me) and my hairdresser did my make up for free and touched up my hair. This was the first time I used one of them. :)

So glad no one laughed at my system.

Geoffrey the garden gnome. said...

Greetings human, Scott,

How wonderfully delightful to note that the lovely human, Sharon, has graced your site.

Dear human, Sharon, your meticulous research is paying dividends. The research work incorporated was vital. As you know, if an error in research is noted by a reader, they can get fixated by the error and miss the rest of the story.

My human friend, Gary, is honoured you would make note of him. A small world get smaller, almost like a wee folks world.

You do know that human Gary moved to Leek because he wanted to live in town named after an onion.

You look adorable, Sharon.

A magical weekend to all and thank you Scott.

Positive wishes,

Geoffrey the garden gnome :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Geoffrey Gary has been a huge help in writing he, my grandad and Lenny both found an error, I doubled checked them and they were correct.

Munir said...

I have always wondered how writers write - - I mean how they proceed, from brainstorming to putting chapters together, to final and fine touches. Thanks for sharing. This will be so useful to young writers.
Take care.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks, Munir!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, Sharon! You are SO ORGANIZED!! I'm quite impressed. I have not done any historical fiction, but for regular research for tidbits, I often do the research exactly when needed and use it right then. For more in depth things, I will take notes from stuff I read, or make a page of references and links to good information that I've found. And sometimes, I write random notes to myself on scraps of paper. Kind of hard to keep track of. Your way sounds much better. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sharon .. you are wonderfully organised and I'm so pleased you were able to get some of your grandparents words down ..

That looks pretty comprehensive to me .. and then you've the opportunity to create other books should you wish ..

I sure hope you get published and that the book is available to us .. congratulations on all the work - and I know Gary's been a great help too ..

Then Lenny with his young brain and inspirational ideas and thoughts ..

Wonderful to read - cheers Hilary

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Joes Casdra said...

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