Robin Lee Hatcher is the best-selling author of over sixty books. Her well-drawn characters and heartwarming stories of faith, courage, and love have earned her both critical acclaim and the devotion of readers. Her numerous awards including the 2000 Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the 1999 and 2001 RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance, Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards for Americana Romance and for Inspirational Fiction, and the 2001 RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Catching Katie was named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal.
Robin began her career as a novelist in the general market, writing mass market romances for Leisure Books, HarperPaperbacks, Avon Books, and Silhouette. In 1997, after several years of heart preparation, Robin accepted God’s call to write stories of faith and hasn’t looked back since. She has written both contemporary women’s fiction and historical romances for CBA publishers. Her most recent book, Fit To Be Tied, is the second book in the Sisters of Bethlehem Springs series which began with the question, “Who says a woman can’t do a man’s job?” The setting is Idaho during the WWI era.
MY FAVORITE PART OF WRITING: BRAINSTORMING
There are plenty of things I like about the writing process and more than a few things I dislike. And on any given day, some of them can swap places, depending on how a book is going.
But one thing I always love to do is brainstorm with other writers.
Back in the mid-1990’s, I began meeting twice a year with three other writers who, like me, wrote for the romance mass market. We lived in various parts of the country, and we took turns hosting our get-togethers so three of us were always flying. Our brainstorming weekends usually lasted for three days/two nights, and we worked hard the whole time, brainstorming one book per person.
In the early part of this decade, I began meeting with a larger group of writers in the same location each summer. Our brainstorming retreats last for five days/four nights, and we are all Christians. Over the course of the retreat, we usually brainstorm 9 to 11 story ideas.
Some of you might wonder what is the difference between a brainstorming group and a critique group. Lots. The former is a place to play “angel’s advocate,” to let ideas flow without trying to dam them up. The group is not interested in your prose, in misplaced modifiers, or if you did any head hopping in your latest chapter. (FWIW, only once in my 28 years of writing have I participated in a critique group. It wasn’t for me.)
Some years I show up at our retreats with a fairly detailed idea of the story I want to write. Other years I show up with a very vague idea of what I want to write. If you’re with the right group, it won’t matter. You’ll get what you need from them.
Back in 2003, I began my session with, “I want to write a book about four women friends during WWII.” They all waited for me to continue, but that was all I had. And so we began to talk. People began tossing out ideas, saying “What if…” If something didn’t work for me because of my own personal style and/or genre, I said so, but for the most part, I just took lots of notes. Then I took those notes home with me, and out of the abundance of ideas I had to choose from came The Victory Club, published by Tyndale House in 2005.
One of the tools that I love to use is a “List of 20.” After brainstorming for about an hour (we limit each author’s session to an hour and fifteen minutes), everyone takes a sheet of paper and writes 20 things that could happen in the book. These aren’t detailed scenes. They are snippets, suggestions. For instance, “The heroine goes into the attic, and while looking around, finds an old chest with a baby’s christening gown inside. She wonders who it belonged to.” “The hero makes a rope swing on the old oak tree near the barn and ends up pushing the heroine in it while they talk about ______.”
My novels are character-driven, and I rarely have any trouble creating the emotional part of a story. But coming up with those individual scenes where the emotions come into play can sometimes stymie me. So these Lists of 20 are a great resource. If there are five people in a group and all write twenty ideas down, a writer can go home with 100 different scene ideas. I often put each of these individual scene suggestions onto 3×5 index cards. Then I sort them into three piles: No, Maybe, and Yes. As I’m writing the book, if I come to a place where I’m wondering what my characters should do next, I can pull out the Yes cards and the Maybe cards, look through them, and see what they inspire.
Most novelists are wonderful brainstormers. One reason I think it is so easy to come up with ideas for other people’s books when I can struggle so hard with my own is that there is no ownership of the other stories and nothing invested. If you don’t like the idea I just shared, that’s okay. How about this one then? Ideas are easy to come by when I know that I don’t have to actually write them. I don’t have to make certain that the motivation is shown clearly to the reader. I don’t have to make sure I’m writing the scene the best way possible.
Some people can brainstorm equally as well or even better by themselves with pads of paper or in a computer program such as Inspiration 8. Me, I do better with others. I’m a ten on the extravert scale, so I’m energized by the interaction with enthusiastic people getting caught up in all the possibilities.
If you’re a writer who has never tried brainstorming with others, I suggest you give it a try. It just might become your favorite part of writing too.
Cleo Arlington dresses like a cowboy, is fearless and fun-loving, and can ride, rope, and wrangle a horse as well as any man. In 1916, however, those talents aren’t what most young women aspire to. But Cleo isn’t most women. Twenty-nine years old and single, Cleo loves life on her father’s Idaho ranch. Still, she hopes someday to marry and have children.
Enter Sherwood Statham, an English aristocrat whose father has sentenced him to a year of work in America to “straighten him out.” Sherwood, who expected a desk job at a posh spa, isn’t happy to be stuck on an Idaho ranch. And he has no idea how to handle Cleo, who’s been challenged with transforming this uptight playboy into a down-home cowboy.
Just about everything either of them says or does leaves the other, well, fit to be tied. And though Cleo believes God’s plan for her includes a husband, it couldn’t possibly be Sherwood Statham. Could it?