How I Write A Book

A few weeks ago I was chatting to someone and the subject of my writing came up. She asked what I had written and when I told her, she was politely impressed and asked me this question; ‘so, how do you even write a book anyway?’

It’s a great question, and one I have never really thought about before. To be honest I think I’ve always been a little bit scared to think about this question. In my head, my books just seem to happen, and yes, it feels a little bit like a lovely dose of magic. I like having magic in my life and I don’t want to ruin it. But seriously though, there must be a process, even if I am not always that aware of it. Recently I’ve also become more aware of how other people write books. This is fascinating! Spreadsheets and things! Now I have to admit, I am not really a spreadsheet kind of person. I exist in chaos and I quite like chaos. But this got me thinking about my process. How do I write a book? How does it compare to others? Do let me know in the comments at the bottom! But for now, here is how it works for me;

1) I never force anything. I never decide to write this, or that. I never decide to write Young Adult or Adult. I never decide anything. Which is good, because I don’t like making decisions. It all starts with a character. The ideas are there too floating about in the background, acting all shy. But the character is clearer. The sex and the age might come first. The character traits fade in and out. I don’t pay much attention to them to start with because I am always busy with other things. I’ll be writing or editing a book already. Or just living real life, and trying not to make too much of a mess of it all. So I try to ignore them at first. It’s not their turn yet, whoever they are. They will have to wait! Eventually they get braver though. They start chatting, they come out of the shadows and they become realer by the day. Soon I have a name for them, and a whole heap of issues.

2) At this point the notebook comes out. To start with it will be scraps of paper, or the back of a notebook I am using for something else. I will make note of their name and their character and some of their problems. Conversations will be quite frequent now, especially when I am out on dog walks. They all seem to start yakking then! I try to remember as much as I can, and when I get home I will jot things down. Before long, they need their own notebook.

3) The notebook should be a neat and organised thing, but it never is. It’s starts scrappy and it stays that way. There is the occasional stab at organisation. A time line here, a character bio there. But no, mostly it is a crazy mess of what would look like scribbled nonsense to anyone else. Luckily, it always makes sense to me. I will start writing the book when I have time and when the voices have become too loud to ignore. By this time the notebook will be quite full, with possibly the entire plot outlined somewhere amidst the scrawls and scribbles! Every now and again an idea will hit me, a character will suddenly develop, a dilemma will spring up, things will link up and a story with a beginning middle and end will weave itself together. Normally it’s pretty much all there before I start writing, but not always.

4) I start writing. With my notebook by my side I will dive into this story that has been niggling me for some months now. Maybe even longer. I can practically hear the main characters clapping their hands in glee. The notebook will now develop with the book as I write it. So if there is not a timeline, or character bio’s for everyone, then I add them to the notebook as I go. The first draft is always horrible but exciting. It feels like a massive relief to finally be writing it, and I can only hope that other voices remain quite while I try to concentrate on this one. If I haven’t got the whole plot figured out, I never worry. With two of my books, The Mess Of Me and The Tree Of Rebels I really had no clue how they would end, or what exactly would happen. I had the main gist of the story and I had the characters, and that was enough to get going. The complexities of the plots revealed themselves to be on the journey, and I never panic about this. I just wait for it to happen. With some of the other books I know before I start writing what is going to happen. This sort of makes it easier, I suppose! I can write a loose plot in the notebook and use this as a framework.

5) I never worry how good or bad the first draft is. It’s just for me. It’s just to shut them up. It’s just to get it all out of my head. It’s like pulling a plug, or picking a scab, or squeezing a spot! Relief. I don’t worry about how long it takes. I don’t worry about word count or page numbers. With every single book except for The Tree Of Rebels (which is aimed at my 11 and 12 year old daughters) I don’t even worry about who the audience is. I know this will shock some people. Surely I need to know who my target audience is before I start writing? Surely I need to research this group of people and find out what makes them tick? What to they look for? What do they expect? Then I will be half way there with the whole monstrous marketing and promotional thing, right? Well no, sorry, it doesn’t work that way for me. And to tell you the truth, knowing who the target audience was for The Tree Of Rebels made it the hardest book I have ever tried to write! It took away the fun. I’m not sure why. Maybe because writing has always been such a personal and private thing for me. I guess I’m doing it for me first, to quieten those voices, to reveal those characters and help them with their load. I’ll have so much fun doing this that I sometimes have to remind myself that I do want people to read the book as well!

6) Finish the first draft and send it to a friend. I am lucky I have someone I really trust who reads my work and helps me with editing and proofreading. She is not the only person I use, but she is the first to get her hands on anything. The draft comes back to me with comments and we’ll have a few conversations about the themes of the book, what works and what doesn’t. By now I will be more than ready to get my teeth into the second draft. I can’t tell you exactly how many drafts there will be. It really varies from book to book. I will tell you that The Boy With The Thorn In His Side has had the most, by far! So that’s kind of how it works for me. I use a notebook and a pen, and only use the laptop when it all gets to much to contain. I’ve never used a spreadsheet in my life. There is nothing organised or properly planned. My head just doesn’t work that way. But somehow, I hope, it all seems to come out ok!

So over to you, how do you write your books? 11124930_964965450189387_1781543778663520427_n11127478_964965093522756_6604301044566462222_n

15 thoughts on “How I Write A Book

  1. I so enjoyed reading this. My way of writing is unbelievably similar to yours so I had a smile on my face throughout. I love the organic, chaotic process (to be fair occasionally I hate it too). Character is everything to me, that’s where it all starts, with such depth that these quiet intermittent voices in my head develop into complex friends. I’m very affected by my dreams too – I often use them to help with plot, and my characters dream also, dream scenes are some of my favourite to write.


  2. I like to write about female scientists and their woes so I come up with a scientific situation that interests me (often something historical or a future time that’s based on a previous era). I try to free write in a linear fashion for as long as I can. When that goes off the rails, I make notes and write scenes that I stitch together to read the crisis point. Like you, there is often a voice I want to quiet, usually something about society is irking me. My first draft is often so terrible it’s hard to find anyone I want to share it with. I often will take a writing class at this point. I live near the U of Iowa and they have a writing festival where people can take not for credit classes. Last summer I even got accepted to two one credit workshops, one with Geronimo Johnson and one with Amber Dermont. Once the manuscript is readable, I hire my sister to edit/proof read because I am a typo queen. I’ve tried and started using spreadsheet/outline but there comes a point where the characters and situation move away from the best of plans. I often focus first draft on plot and characters, second draft for gestures and quirks, third draft for transitions.Doesn’t always work out that way,


    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I feel the same about my first draft, it is always terrible, but I try to just accept that and push the embarrassment aside! I think my drafts work in a similar way to yours too. The first is definitely only concerned with plot and characters!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on VitalWrite and commented:
    Interesting post on Chantelle Atkins’ method of writing a book. It closely resembles my own organic process, and gave me a reminder to stop pushing and let the words come when they’re ready.


  4. I love this! I have changed so much about my writing process over the years. In the beginning, it was yellow legal pads (for character sketches, notes, etc.) and a purple plastic binder for the story itself. It has taken a long while to as inspired by a blank screen as with a blank page. But now I write with Scrivener. I create a document for every scene idea, just a few words of description for a doc title, then notes inside with what I want to accomplish in it. Then I organize the documents into an outline and write scene by scene. I used to write without an outline, but I end up writing myself into a corner every.single.time.


    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! ooh scrivener is something I keep hearing about. It’s fascinating to hear all the different ways authors have of keeping track of things!


      1. I thought about note cards, but I would probably lose them. Organization=not my strength. Scrivener is incredible. Best $40 I have ever spent. Seriously.


  5. A fascinating glimpse into the writing process. I wish I could be as organized as having a notebook; it was sharp pencils and unlined paper for 90% of my massive book. But having it typed in sure makes the editing go smoother.


  6. Yep, I follow your chaotic character develo[pment thing too, but it’s hard yakka! I’m having a break at the moment , but wrote a poem for ANZAC week called “My Brother Jack” and went to the Corkman Pub for a night of Irish music participation last night and lo and behold Paddy asked if I had something to recite and I did and it went down a treat! Somebody else also sang “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”; almost had me crying as I was joining in. Poems are so much easier than Novels, but I will keep at it. Main thing is to enjoy yourself!


  7. Thanks for the insight. I see everyone has there own method of creattion. But I suspect different methods for non-fiction; real life stories. To begin……..


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