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!