It feels ironic to write a blog post about how I write. But, here we are. I’ve taken a break from writing my WIP (work in progress) to write this, so it should all be quite fresh. Theoretically speaking (guess which word I couldn’t spell first time), I should know exactly how I write because I’ve literally spent the past hour doing it. I should be able to now write a clear, concise blog post outlining what works for me and what I do, right?
Right. So. This is how I try and write a book. Maybe I’ll read this tomorrow when I open my laptop and realise I’ve forgotten everything.
Obviously, it starts with an idea. But, this is easier said than done. I am quite lucky, in that I tend to have a lot of ideas, which I constantly write down. As my books are about women in their 20s, a lot of what I write about is inspired by real experiences I have had or that I have watched unfold around me. So, it starts with an idea. I usually get a lightening bolt, which I am completely rapt by. Aannnddddd that’s where it stops.
Once I have my first idea, my brain usually decides that it’s done quite enough work for the month and swiftly turns itself off. I’ll have this one idea bouncing around my brain, but no idea what it means or how I’m going to make it work. So I usually try and let it stew in my mind for as long as possible. This is usually when the fun, and inevitable, imposter syndrome kicks in, and clouds my thoughts like a thick, uninvited mist for a good three weeks, if not three months. It is in this time that I have a blinding panic that I’m a fraud, my first book was a fluke, there is no way I’m going to write another one and why did I tell everyone I’m an author? What am I going to do now when I have to tell them that I am, in fact, just an idiot?
While this is going on, I’m usually scratching at my brain for any inkling on what else my book could be about. Any characters or settings, or any names that I like. Usually, by week three of imposter syndrome and not a single idea, I start writing. Which is painful. But, something I have learnt very recently, is that I need to write about 30k before the meaty plot of my book falls into place (or, in my current WIP, I wrote 40k before my brain decided to switch back on again. 40k. Forty thousand words. I mean, Jesus. I’ll let you decide the quality of those words. Spoiler alert: I use the word ‘so’, a lot).
I need to throw this out there too, this first ramble of words is terrible. It’s horrible. I know it’s dreadful even as I type it, but I have to keep going. The final light bulb moment of my current WIP only struck over New Years for me, which has meant that I now have to go back to the beginning and comb through all of the drivel and constant references to my character’s eye movement and try and weave in my plot. But, whilst wading through my literary swamp, I tend to find some parts I like. But the majority of it is garbage.
Right before I jump back to the beginning and go knee deep into my first 30 – 40k, I plot all of my characters. As I said in my last post, I swear by a book called Save The Cat, which recommends plot points to follow. I write all these down, and then map each of my characters journeys, so I know what they’re doing in each section of the book. For The List That Changed My Life, all of my characters were closely connected, so this proved quite easy. In my current WIP, my characters were flying around my head like laser beams, so I ended up drawing charts for them all, to map out what they were doing and to ensure that they weren’t all hitting the same points at the same time. This was weirdly satisfying, even though I hadn’t drawn a chart for about ten years. They’re pinned up on my wall now, next to my desk (don’t tell my landlord).
So now I’ve done all the faffing and plotting, and every possible procrastination that I can hide under the cloak of ‘productive and essential writing preparation’, I actually have to sit down and write the thing. No matter what day it is, what mood I’m in, or even what I’m writing, I always have ten minutes of staring at the screen in silence, completely paralysed as my brain takes a vow of silence and deletes every word that has ever existed. But once I force myself to write (even if I am describing my protagonists bloody eye movement again), I force myself to keep going until I’m lost. This is the most consistent advice I read for writers, to keep writing. Starting is always the hardest part, and, because I know this, this often leads to me writing until the early hours or being late for almost everything when I’m in the thick of it. I know that if I stop, I’ll have to go through the painful slug of forcing words out of my brain again until I get into a rhythm.
Once I have hit ‘the end’ I religiously have seven shots of tequila.
Joking. What I actually do is check the date, and vow not to look at it again for a month, and usually drape myself on my sofa and watch Desperate Housewives. After a week away from my MS, my brain starts to twitch, and I find more ideas sprouting. Once the month is up, I’m desperate to touch it again, and I read the whole thing without stopping to edit, and then I go back with my literary machete and slice the thing open.
I write on word, but I do also have Scrivener, which has this great (and also, mortifying) function in which it will read your novel to you with all of the acting ability of a corpse. Imagine Siri reading your book. Now imagine Siri is hormonal, starving and can’t be bothered to do anything. It’s like that. So, I highlight my entire novel and sit back and listen to the droning voice read my carefully crafted novel to my fragile, withering ego. In all seriousness, this is a great way to listen to the rhythm of your book. If you’ve put a hideously long sentence, you’ll hear it. Or, if you’re trying to create pace or tension, you’ll hear it. If you’re repeating a sentence over and over without even realising… you’ll hear it. (Lol). You’ll also work out very quickly if your jokes are funny, and Scrivener will boldly declare when you have accidentally typed ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’. There is nowhere to hide. Maybe now is the time for the tequila.
I should point out that I did none of this for my first two books (both of which got rejected repeatedly). I did try and edit them (the word ‘edit’ used loosely), but I did not let them sit alone for a month, nor did I take my time writing them or follow any plotting structure. Although there are elements of those first two novels that I love, it’s clear to me now why they never got picked up.
It is only after I have done all of this that I send my book over to my Agent, and then, it goes off to my Editor and the real editing begins. I only like to give my MS to my Agent when I think it’s the best I can make it, and that I can’t possibly make it any better without her help. It’s like giving over your newborn baby that has been crying incessantly for twelve hours and praying that they’ll know some secret trick to make it stop. Or, that’s what it’s like for me anyway.
I wrote The List That Changed My Life in three months, and spent about six months editing with my Editor and Agent. This involved line edits, copy edits and many editorial meetings and calls (one which ended in me explaining to my Editor what a ‘slut drop’ was, not my proudest moment). But, all of this happened after eight months of writer’s block where my brain was switched on ‘do not disturb’ mode. I wrote my 30k of drivel, and it wasn’t until I finally had my lightening bolt moment that I started writing properly.
Now, on book two, I am 50k in, but am still knee deep in drivel. With my editorial sword in hand and a fresh mug of tea, I’m going back in. Wish me luck.