I was recently asked about my writing process. Was I a plotter or a panster? Did I use post-its and charts and plans when outlining my books?
I realise that my answer to all these questions was – there are two imaginary writers that live in my head. And it’s true. I seem to go between them both.
There’s the one that tells me to take notes, do my research, plot my chapters out, complete a character guide and follow an extensive list to enable my story to take shape. And there’s the one I tend to listen to the most. It tells me to do these things too but it also asks me questions.
How are you? What are you writing today? What stories are flying around your head that need to be shared with unsuspecting readers? Why are the clouds so white? Will your kids ever sleep in? It tells me to see the world. It tells me that even though I have a million ways to find something else to do, I WILL write my first draft. I set alarms on my phone to get away from my desk for a break but I will go back and continue. I won’t put a load of washing on or cut my toenails or any other meaningless task that can wait. If it’s not to do with your book, then it can wait.
Go on the bus it says and take a notebook with you. Write down what you hear. From the old to the young, everyone has a story to tell, it’s whether you want to hear it or not that makes the difference.
There’s a reason why it’s important to get out of your writing cave. There’s a world of literary wonders waiting just for you. I have found myself still on the bus ten stops after I was meant to get off because Jean was telling her friend Anne about her husband’s hip operation. It wasn’t a funny story by any stretch of the imagination but it was real and true and honest and it conjured up images of grief and loss and love. Another time a young couple got on with a very small baby. They tenderly removed the little pink parcel from the pram and carried it slowly to the nearest seat. They fussed and smiled at their little bundle of joy and enveloped the passengers in their new found love for another human. These are the stories you need to hear to enable you to capture the emotion of life and everything that comes with it. Let it all flow, encourage it to unfold in your story. I wrote this blog post in 2014 after one such experience and it still whispers in my ear to this day – The Book Of Smiles.
Snippets of gold like this are worth the early rise, the hour on a hot, stuffy bus or the walk in the park behind a group of weary new mums. Kick up some Autumn leaves or bask in the Summer sun, do what makes you happy and you will find that the blank white page in front of you isn’t quite as scary as it originally looked before. It’s crying out for you to tell it a story, so be gentle and the words will flow.
Take a deep breath and write. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense or the punctuation is something to be desired or in one line she had blue eyes and the other she now has brown eyes. It’s a first draft. As Stephen King so rightly said “A first draft is just you telling yourself the story”. Treat it as such and allow yourself the freedom to experiment with tone, wording and storyline. Anything can happen when pencil meets paper.
Set yourself a reasonable writing target taking into consideration your job, family, chocolate intake and everything else that you need to sort on a daily basis and stick to it as best you can. There will be days that it just isn’t possible so don’t be hard on yourself. Just try. You will notice a difference and before long it will be a habit you won’t want to break.
I have a picture book with an agent and I am staying away from my e-mail refresh key because a reply can take weeks or even months. Once you send your book baby out there, you need to move onto the next work-in-process as soon as possible, otherwise you will go quietly insane waiting for them to get back to you. They are very busy people so don’t annoy them while they have your work, they’ll contact you when they’re ready.
I would highly recommend the following books:
And read. Anything and everything. Just read.