How My Writing Habits Have Changed

I’ve never understood the type of people who refuse to change the way they do things. You know the type. Even if what they’re doing is not going so well, they’ll hang onto the adamant belief that it is the best way to do it, simply because it is the way they have always done it. It’s even worse when it comes to opinions and beliefs. I have strong beliefs and opinions, but I like to keep my mind open and accept that knowledge and understanding are open to interpretation and change. If some new piece of knowledge comes along, I am always happy to admit I was wrong and change my way of thinking. I think the refusal to ever change your mind or admit you were wrong, is actually very dangerous. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking lately about how I write now, and how I used to write. You see, over the last few novels, things have changed. And with the WIP I am on right now, and the book I have planned after that, I feel they are changing even more. Here’s how, and why…

  • I edit as I go…Not word for word, not every paragraph, but I do now go back over what I wrote at the start of the session. And I always read what I wrote last before I start writing again. I used to do things quite differently. I would rush out this clunky, crazy first draft. It would be this desperate measure, this way of getting this thing out of my head once and for all. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and I think with some books it’s totally the right way to do it! But I have noticed lately that I’m slowing the process down. I’m going back over what I last wrote and editing out mistakes and typos. Previously I would not care about these in a first draft. I just wanted it done. Now I think I am probably saving myself some time later on, and it is also helping me get to know this story and its characters, to feel and breathe with them as they develop and take form. Reading over and checking what I just wrote is helping me to make sure everything stays on course.
  • I plan more…I used to plan as I wrote the book…so as ideas came to me, I would jot them down and the novel would often change course and follow twists and turns as I wrote it. I would start, not really knowing how to finish. Now, I try to plan the whole novel before I start writing, chapter by chapter if possible. Not in too much detail, and always allowing for change and development and the surprises which will inevitably pop up. But now I like to be able to see where I am going…I like to know the general destination of my journey.
  • I’m aware of my potential audience…This is not to say I am writing anything and aiming it at a certain audience. Doing this with The Tree Of Rebels caused me untold problems (see Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?) so I won’t be making that mistake again. But I do have a better idea of the genre I am writing in before I start writing, an idea of the type of person who would pick this book up and want to read it. I never used to consider this at all, and had a very hard job picking genres and categories for my finished books because of it.
  • I write the log line and synopsis first…Now, to be honest I am only just getting to grip with loglines! They are actually quite hard to do. The idea is you should be able to write a one to two sentence paragraph which explains your book, and if you can’t, you may have a problem. The logline can then help you to shape your synopsis. With early novels, I always left the synopsis to last and found them nothing short of utter hell and torture. How to condense a massive novel down to a paragraph or two? What to cut out, what to leave in? How to lure people in without spoilers? How to pick the right key words? Hard, hard work. With the last two books I penned (The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, both still not quite finished) I wrote the synopsis first. I’m not sure why. It just seemed like a good idea, and I had a general idea of what to say, so I went for it. Neither is perfect and both will need tinkering, but overall, I think they both say what they need to say. Lesson learned. From now on, I work on the synopsis first!
  • I research as I go…This is another thing I used to be quite lazy about. I was in a hurry. I just wanted to get the book written. So I would make up stuff as I went along, noting down that I needed to properly research it later.  Now if something comes up that needs looking into, I do it there and then before I write another word. Again, this saves me time and stress later, and if what I research ends up changing the story in some way, it’s much better to know this early on! Plus it’s fun. I used to put off research of any story because I thought it was boring. Just detail that needed throwing in to make it all sound better. But now I look at it differently. It’s important to the story and I’m also learning new things all the time!

So, over to you followers! Have you always done things the same or have your writing habits changed through trial and error? Does it all depend on the book you’re writing? Let me know!

 

Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?

I don’t know for sure, but it feels like it.

Let me explain. I am, of course, talking about The Tree Of Rebels, a book that once seemed so simple in its concept and execution. I tend to write quite hard hitting, gritty stuff, and I decided (rightly or wrongly) that I wanted to write a book my children could read. Specifically, I was aiming it at my daughters, who were at the time 11 and 12 and devouring books like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

It wasn’t like I invented an idea to try to fit this genre and audience. I already had the idea for a dystopian future (one I am genuinely scared of). But I have to admit, this was the first time I ever sat down and tried to write a book knowing who the audience would potentially be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing your audience. Knowing your audience is key! How else will you know how to describe your book to potential readers? How will you know what categories to choose on Amazon etc? How will you know what cover and font to go for? All these things matter!

In fact, not knowing exactly who my audience were caused me no end of problems in the early days. You see, I didn’t know what kind of writer I was, because I had never really had to think about it before. The first two books I released, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me featured young adults as the main characters, but this was purely incidental. In fact, if anything, I didn’t consider myself a YA writer at all and even kind of rejected the idea. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself, I guess. I wanted adults to like my books too. It wasn’t deliberate that my characters were all young; that’s just the way it worked out. Or so I thought.

Truth is, I didn’t really understand the YA market at that time. I hadn’t looked into, or researched it as a phenomena. Since then, I’m glad to say I have learnt a lot and come to terms with the fact, that although not exclusively a YA author, YA is what I do best, YA is in my heart and soul, and YA is undoubtedly what I tend to seek out for reading material. I just didn’t really connect the dots in the beginning.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is this. It can be good to know your audience before, during and after you write a book. It would have made things a lot easier for me when releasing The Mess Of Me if I had got on board with this and fully embraced and accepted the YA market I was aiming at.

BUT I do feel that knowing who to aim The Tree Of Rebels at has had a negative impact on writing the book. It felt like there was someone looking over my shoulder the whole time, saying no, don’t do it like that, that’s not how you write this sort of book! Looking back, knowing which audience I was aiming at definitely changed the way I approached it, making it one of the most challenging books I’ve ever written. I mean, none of the others ever felt that difficult, you know? They just kind of, happened. It’s not the only thing I can blame it on, and anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how many issues I have had with the book including the ones talked about in  Getting To Know Your Characters  and Final Draft? Patience is the key…

I’ve done so many drafts now that I have lost count. I have sent it out to beta readers three times and received very, very detailed edits and critique. I originally wrote the damned thing on Wattpad, so I had feedback on the very first version as it happened, and then posted later versions on there too. Lots of people have been involved and all of them have been incredibly helpful. Before I started this latest draft my intention was to fill it in more, add some detail and meat about how these people exist, but then towards the end I realised there was still something major missing.

Me.

'The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publisher and the reader can, and will come later'-Patricia

 

It hit me one day while talking to my daughter.

I wrote this book to please them, and to please a certain type of reader who likes a certain type of book. I have never ever done that before. All of my other books were written to please me. They were written to scratch an itch. They were written to get the noisy people out of my head and onto the page. They were written out of passion and necessity. There was no other reason to write them other than that I simply had to. I’ve never known at the time of writing, who would like this book. Even with my current work-in-progress Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, I have absolutely no idea who this book would be aimed at or how I should even describe it! That for me, is familiar territory!

Of course, with my other books, on further drafts and edits I did begin to write and rewrite with my reader in mind. You have to! But they were not there in the beginning. It was just me.

So, how has this revelation helped me with The Tree Of rebels, you might ask? Is it totally ruined?

No, of course not. I still believe in the story and the characters. I have even started a sequel! But for now, I  have decided to leave this book alone. Put it to one side and focus on something else. I have decided to forget who it was aimed at, and essentially write it again. I have decided to write it the way I write all my books. I have decided to let it be whatever it needs to be and to stop trying to sculpt it into something I think it should be. In other words, forget about the perceived audience…For now.

I have a feeling it is now going to become an altogether darker book. But this is good. And would you believe it, while walking the dogs the other day, I had further revelations. Extra characters and another storyline, an important one, to feed into the others. It might make it a longer book. There might be more cutting. I’ve written the ideas down and that’s it for now. I am still not going back there yet!

But when I do I will be rewriting it entirely and writing it for me.

What do you think? How do you write a book? With the audience already decided or with just yourself to please?  Is anyone in your head when you write that first draft or do you really have no idea what sort of reader would enjoy it? Please feel free to comment!