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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

Author Anthropology: Part 3

Updated: Mar 25

bookshelves with chairs and arched windows

If you haven’t read “Part 1” and “Part 2” of my of my "Author Anthropology" blog, you may want to read them first to catch up on what events led me to this point in my life.


I left off, having retired from my job as a teacher and producer at Gavilan College. I moved with my husband to Redmond, Washington, and we rented a house in the Trilogy subdivision in the Redmond Ridge area, only five miles west from Duvall. We wanted to see how we felt about living in a 55+ community before deciding to buy. We were also still on the lookout for our forever home.


A lot of our time that first year was spent looking for our forever home. We were enjoying living in the 55+ community even more than we expected. It was quiet—no screaming kids or teenage parties. And it was surrounded by wetlands and walking trails. We walked almost every day and were loving it! We had already looked at a lot of houses before finding one to rent in the Trilogy community, and now that we had decided to stay in the subdivision, our search narrowed considerably. Eventually we found the perfect house, its back windows looking out into the protected forests. No one would build behind us and the view was fantastic. So after a year in the rental home, we moved again, two miles away, to settle into our forever home.


After a lot of painting, carpet replacement and redecorating, the house finally felt like it was ours and we finally had the leisure time that usually comes with retirement. And I started researching opportunities to write. I no longer had a job to provide me with writing projects, and I had no connections with the local public television stations or indie filmmakers. Plus, I decided I was tired of lugging equipment around. Filmmaking is fun, but it’s also a lot of work. What I really wanted to do was write, and completing and publishing a novel had been on my bucket list for as long as I had one.


Eventually, in my internet searches for writing ideas, I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo is a contest that challenges people to write 50,000 words during the month of November. People who sign up can write whatever they like—a novel, a thesis, poetry, short stories—whatever interests them. The rules are simple—participants can’t write a single word of the actual book until midnight on October 31st and they must stop writing at midnight on November 30th. They can write character backstories, outlines, decide their genre, design their cover, etc. etc., before November. But they can’t begin any writing in the book itself until November first. They’re expected to self monitor, by recording every day on the NaNoWriMo website, how many words they wrote each day. The ultimate goal equates to about 1,667 words every day.


In November 2014, I tried it. I decided it would be helpful to start with something I was already familiar with. In 2011, I wrote and directed a murder-mystery short film called The Confessional. I took that story idea and wrote the before that led up to it—the backstory, if you will—that resulted in what occurred in the short film.


But I floundered. In my mind, every single word I wrote for NaNoWriMo had to be something that might end up in the final book. What I didn’t realize was that NaNoWriMo’s goal is mostly to get you writing. What you write may not be a completely finished project, and it’s not expected that everything you write will be something you want to keep. If you’re lucky, by the end of the contest, your first draft is complete. But what you may have is just a brainstorm of ideas for your book. A few chapters that you’ll keep and a lot you’ll throw away or that will spark ideas for new ones.


Anyone who is a writer knows the first draft is almost always ugly. And mine was. Not only was it ugly, it was also short. I stopped halfway through and ended up with a little over 25,000 words written. One of my main problems was that I wrote part of the book from the killer’s POV, or point of view. But the further I got into the story, the harder it was to keep the identity of the killer a secret. I got stuck and didn’t reach the 50,000 word finish line. But I did still really like the book, and hope to finish it for real one day. And I liked what NaNoWriMo did for me—it motivated me to keep writing!


I was so discouraged that I skipped 2015, unsure whether I could really finish a book. But I pulled myself out of that funk and in 2016, I wrote my very first draft of MYND Control. That’s right. I wrote the first draft of my second published book, before I wrote the first one! And I met my goal, ending up having written 54,621 words. The story had meat. I knew it could be something good, but the 2016 version was much different from the final version of the book published in 2024. I’ll share more about that later.


The next year, 2017, I wrote a fantasy called The Lost Book of Araqiel. The synopsis was: “While diving in the dark abyss of the underground caverns of Hoyo Negro, Kendra, a college student studying World Religions, discovers an ancient scroll that challenges her agnostic beliefs and changes her life forever.” This book was about a war between angels and demons. But at its current stage, it is definitely a Young Adult (YA) book, and I really wanted it to be an adult-level book.


I actually still like the story, and I love the ending, which I admit, came to me out of the blue. I had no idea how I was going to end the book, but as I was writing, it just popped out of my brain, through my fingertips, onto the keyboard and into my book. It was a surprising and exhilarating experience! However, it remains to this day, in its first-draft stage, and it is ugly. There are so many gaps in the storyline that it’s often not clear how the book got from one scene to the next. I hope one day to go back and work on it again one day and finish it.


In 2018, I dusted off the screenplay I wrote while studying for my master’s degree and decided to turn my sci-fi story, RJ436, into a book. The simple way to explain the difference between writing a book and a screenplay is, there are a lot more words in a novel. In a screenplay, you don’t have to describe everything—the camera will do that for you! But in a book, you want to make the reader feel like they’re on the page with the characters. You describe the room they’re in, the street they’re walking down, the characters they’re talking to. The characters’ emotions states need to be conveyed.


In a film, you know the characters’ reactions through their facial expressions. You know where they are, whether it’s dark or light, loud or quiet, spooky or happy. And you can see what the other people in the movie look like. There’s no need to get detailed in a screenplay. In fact, writers are often chastised for providing too much detail. It’s up to the producer, director, art department and set directors to provide the detail for the audience—to set the mood of both the scenery and the characters. A two-hour movie screenplay is expected to be about 80 to 120 pages long and is usually no more than 30,000 words. A novel, on the other hand, can be anywhere from 400 to 800 pages long and 50,000 to 120,000 words! I had a lot of words to write to turn my screenplay into a book. When I finished NaNoWriMo that year, I ended up with 50,268 words. But the book was not finished. It needed more. But I sat it aside, like my other NaNoWriMo projects, and forgot about it for the rest of the year.


Remember what “Part 1” of this blog promised—to reveal the inspiration behind the writing of my first novel, The RH Factor? NaNoWriMo was where it started. And next week, in “Part 3”, I’ll get into the meat of my original idea for the story and how it morphed into the final murder mystery of the book.



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