Lifting the Lid #2 “How I Write.”

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16th April 2015

“You can’t threaten me with misery. You can’t tell me what you want me to be. I feel like taking on the world.”
Ian Prowse and Amsterdam, 2005

Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed Part #1 of Lifting the Lid – ‘Why I Write’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s still available on the blog menu.

To recap, my main idea behind writing this series is to share my own (at times very personal) experiences about the journey of a writer from sitting down that first very time to write to finally becoming published. I have thought long and hard about what to share, and I said last time, I’m open to give up everything. Part #1 took us through the emotional spectrum from suicide to escapism to pure joy. Effectively, ‘Why I Write’.

This time, How I Write.

You have to bear in mind, when I tell this story that although I always dreamed about becoming an author, I really knew nothing further than that. It’s a little bit like saying that I wanted to be a rock star, yet not being able to play an instrument (those who have met me will testify that I cannot sing). In those beginnings, the only way I knew how to attempt to try to achieve my goal was to book time in my diary to write. I wanted to treat it like a job. So I blocked out a few hours here and there dotted about the week and stuck to them rigidly. I gave myself a weeks lead-in (just to get used to the idea) and then came the time whereby I sat down at my laptop.

I began to write the story, not knowing if (a) I was even any good at writing and (b) how to do it.

[Today, my advice to anyone beginning to write is to read Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I wish someone had told me to do that. Alas, they didn’t.]

So I began to type my first chapter. Each sentence carefully thought out. Reading and re-reading over and over as I went along. Days and nights passed. Work. Kids over to stay. Write. Kids. Work. Kids. Write. Work. Work. Work. Kids. Write. Edit. Edit.

About a month or so in, the first chapter was done. And I have to say I was pretty pleased with it. It read well. I think. I went back through and tweaked it, changing words here and there. Switching words around, removing adjectives. I wanted it perfect.

The next week. Chapter Two. I was off again, this was easy. But then, my storyline led me to a situation which affected the chapter before. I went back and changed Chapter One. Phew, all was well. I got Chapter Two perfect. In my room, I was quietly smug. The week after. Chapter Three. It flowed; until an occurrence in Chapter Three altered events in Chapter Two and horrifyingly, Chapter One. You can guess the rest.

This continued throughout my first novel, The Radio. Enjoyment and escapism was tainted by frustration. Finalising my novel, before the dreaded edit (which we’ll deal with some other time) became a hard uphill trudge. A slog. If it wasn’t for lack of printer cartridges, I would have visibly sunk beneath a blanket of screwed up A4. It took so much time. The same mistakes over and over. Editing. Rewriting. Continuity. Two and a bit years later it was done. And the way I approach writing now, is totally different.

So: How I Write.

Create the story in my head. Write the entire story in no more than three sentences. I have these for The Radio and The Page but won’t share them here so as not to give away the twists at the end. I then decide on the protagonist (in three or four words) and loosely develop the supporting cast. Block out three or four writing sessions in my diary. Stick to them. Regardless of whether I get an offer to go out for a pint; whether there is a film I want to see; whether the cat is ill. Sit down and start writing. Then I write what I feel. If I’ve had a good day and I’m happy, write about a happy situation. If the day has been appalling and I’m down, that’s what I’ll write. I pay little mind to what I’ve written before. I simply write.

Gone are the days of perfecting sentences and chapters. It’s pointless, they get ripped to shreds in the edit. Just write the story. Gone are the days of writing chronologically or in chapter order. There’s no point. It just forces you to write something that your mood may not reflect. Take for example, you’ve just had a bust up with your partner, why would you then force yourself to write a wedding scene? I just get the story down. In whatever order.

The key is to use those blocks of time that I’ve put aside solely to write. I want to finish three hours later feeling happy, blissful, jubilant. Like I could take on the world. Struggling over words or scenes won’t allow this to happen. Get the story down.

And that, I suppose is how I write. I see myself as a storyteller. I get enjoyment from getting the words down and imagining the characters acting out my story. The edit comes much later.

There are times when I don’t even feel like writing the manuscript I’m working on. I doesn’t matter, I just write something else.

Maybe there is something in here that strikes a chord with you. Hopefully so.

In next time’s blog, I’ll be bold enough to tell you ‘Why You Should Write.’ (how dare you? I hear you cry.)

Until next time, take it easy,