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!

 

Welcome To My Mind!! (Via my notebooks…)

I have a strange addiction to notebooks. I just can’t have enough of them. I have far too many floating around my writing space, but they all serve a purpose, and if any of them were to go missing, I think the wheels would fall off this operation. My notebooks are the physical version of what goes on in my mind. So, I thought I might share them with you. I would be really interested to know if anyone else writes and lives like this!

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My To-Do List Notebook!

Introducing the backbone of notebooks. The one that holds everything else together! My to-do book. I always have one of these on the go and when it’s used up, I buy another A4 sized notebook to replace it. Every Sunday night I write my to-do list for the week ahead. It usually starts off pretty short and gets added to as the week goes by. It will include things like posting my author interview or guest post blogs, my usual Wednesday blog post, making sure my newsletter is drafted, finishing a short story or article, printing stuff out for workshops and so on. It also reminds me to order dog food on Thursdays, and pay for school trips online and so on! I don’t think I could function without a to-do list book. There is something so satisfying about ticking things off as the week goes on! I feel like I am keeping on top of things in all areas of my life, and I’m sure a lot of stuff just wouldn’t get done if I didn’t write them down!

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My Non-Fiction Notebook!

This A5 notebook keeps me on track with all things non-fiction in my life. I list possible blog post ideas in here and tick them off when I have written and published them. I also write down ideas for articles. I use this book to note down ideas, research, and plans for any workshops I might be running for Dorset Writers Network, or for my own venture Chasing Driftwood Writing Group Anything I read that inspires me, any plans I have for the future, I note down in here!

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Current Work-In-Progress Notebook!

All my books have a notebook. The notebook comes into action once the voices get too loud in my head. This notebook is for my current WIP A Song For Bill Robinson. As Elliot Pie is having another round with beta readers, and I am just not ready to revisit the tricky Tree Of Rebels yet, I am having a stab at a YA novel I first attempted when I was sixteen. There are two stories related to this in Bird People and Other Stories. The book is basically written, I am just having to make it better than it is! (Oh the cringe of reading your own teenage writing..!)

PTDC0094.JPGThe Tree Of Rebels Notebook!

Self-explanatory. This is the long and complex story of a novel still not finished, all wrapped up in one now very tatty A5 notebook! We will get there one day with this one!PTDC0096.JPG

Elliot Pie’s Notebook!

Here it is, Elliot Pie’s notebook. As with all my books, this notebook contains character bios, themes, ideas, plotting, and the many, many lists I make when rewriting, which I then go through and tick off. 

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Plans For Unwritten Novel!

Recently a short story I wrote to include in the newsletter, morphed into something far, far bigger. Something quite epic. Something four books long epic. Something I would love to see on TV as a drama series for kids epic. So far I have written mini bios for lots of characters, several short stories which basically serve as sample chapters, and have loosely plotted the book, or books. It is definitely going to be a four book series, and I need to have Elliot Pie, Tree of Rebels and Song For Bill Robinson all done and dusted before I can bury myself in this little beauty for a very, very long time…

There are actually two more notebooks I couldn’t be bothered to photograph. One I take with me to my writing group and workshops so I can note down thoughts on people’s readings, or make plans, or tick people off etc. And the other is my very secret and special Christmas planning notebook! But obviously, I don’t want anyone to see that one!

So how about you? Are you a list person? Do you need to write things down in order to remember them? Maybe you use your phone, or a calendar? Am I the only one who makes use of copious amounts of notebooks at the same time?? Please comment! I love hearing from you!

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