I’ve been writing a good long while, and blogging for coming up on two years. But I’ve never posted anything detailed about just how I write. Now that Sandra Danby has invited me to participate in a blog tour on the writing process, I have the perfect excuse.
The Blog Tour
Let me take a moment to thank Sandra for passing the tour my way, and tell you a little about her. An award-winning blogger and author of the as-yet unpublished novel Ignoring Gravity, Sandra worked in journalism for over thirty years, regarding the business of interior design. Her short stories have appeared online, in magazines, and two anthologies.
Ignoring Gravity, her debut, is due to be published by BNBS Books in September 2014.
Click here to see her blog. It’s a great read, regularly updated with her work, book reviews, and words on writing.
Passing the Torch
I’ll be passing the tour onto Winter Bayne, an aspiring writer of paranormal fiction. She’s currently working on the Celestial Series and Alien Romance Saga. Check out her blog by clicking here, and keep your eyes peeled for her upcoming post on her own process.
Which brings us to the meat of today’s post: my process. After having worked through it and written about it for the first time in any serious sense, I feel that I’ll probably end up posting individual articles in future to expand on the sections I’ve outlined here – I’ve realised that I actually have rather a lot to say.
But, for now, this is my process.
How Does my work differ from others in the genre?
I tend to have broad, sweeping story arcs that will reach across several books, whole series, even, and often blur into other projects completely. My characters often show up again and again in odd places, stories that seem to have little to do with them. Yet, each story I write seems to be part of something greater that ties them all together.
It’s still fuzzy, but a picture is forming over time of something yet to come. Something big, that will draw on everything I’ve worked on thus far. I’m in preparation, so to speak, for a magnum opus that I hope will come around before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m drawn to sci-fi because I think it gives a writer the ultimate freedom to tackle the issues of the human condition, and the effects that our environment and technologies can have on the way we live, love, and interact with one another.
I’m particularly drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction because you find the setup is great for isolating people in unfamiliar environs, where the fundamentals of human interaction are ramped up to eleven, and you can wheedle out nuggets of truth that are usually obscured by the complexities and niceties of more contemporary fiction.
That’s my arty-farty way of explaining myself. A better way is just to say that I write what I write because that’s where I find my feet landing whenever I tip myself into an imaginary world for the first time.
How does my writing process work?
To Plot or Not to Plot
This is something that gets kicked around a hell of a lot among new writers. Just how do you go about crafting something entirely fictional from nothing but blank paper and a bottle of ink? To those who don’t write, it’s apparently a marvel – remember that eternal question every writer gets asked when it’s voiced to a room that they’re an author: “Oh, man, I always wanted to write a book! Say, where do you get your ideas?”
Some people have a detailed plan before they write a single word. Fully-formed plots, timelines, storyboards, character profiles, maps. A great heaping pile of research gleaned from two years trawling obscure texts in dusty library reading-rooms.
Not for me. I find myself, more often than not, sitting down with a single image in my head. Like a backdrop, a canvas at the end of a long dark tunnel. And I take my first steps towards it by penning the first words on that first blank page. No direction, no plan. I just sit my arse in the chair and see what comes out. There isn’t much more to it than that, bar the occasional steer in the right direction for the sake of continuity or exposition.
Yeah, I’m one of those.
This one’s probably the one that will get its own time in the spotlight in future. I find that music doesn’t really feature into a lot of commentary on the writing process. This might be because many writers need peace and tranquillity to write a single word. But I still think it’s been overlooked; music is, after all, one of the most powerful emotional triggers that we have in our lives.
I write anywhere and everywhere. I write at my desk, in bed, in lectures, on the bus, at the bus-stop, at the beach, in pubs – and don’t forget cafes. So I don’t need music, nor do I even listen to it while writing in the majority of cases. But I find that every once in a while it can give that little extra something that brings everything into focus.
What I listen to, however, all depends on what I’m writing. Don’t get me wrong, a little Elgar always helps when the silence gets to me. But the tone of my work often dictates what I can listen to, lest it become a hindrance rather than a help.
There’s a good range. Literary pieces tend to get written to country folk, jazz or blues. Sci-fi gets a lot of contemporary rock and alternative, with a few film soundtracks thrown in there (don’t knock them, there’s some sublime music in the cinema).
Then there’s my alter ego, Terry. A character due to appear in an upcoming novel, he’s a horror writer by trade. And I’ve dived under his skin on more than one occasion to see what he’s had to say. And boy, he’s got some good taste. AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Guns n’ Roses, you name it. Anything that can be cranked up and blows his hair back.
But let’s not restrict ourselves just to music. Like I said, I can write anywhere. And often, I find the hubbub of bustling bodies to be an even greater soundtrack. Writing is, after all, all about people and how they interact with one another and the world. What could be a greater motivator than to sit amongst the chaos of life as you whittle away?
Pen & Paper vs. Keyboard & LCD
First drafts are written longhand, in a notebook, for the most part. Then they get transcribed at the end of the week onto my laptop. I’m a sucker for old-school.
But don’t be fooled. I’m all for using whatever I can in a tight spot. Sometimes, I just need to mix it up. I’ll write on scrap paper, napkins, my iPhone, tablets, or my arm. Whatever comes to hand. Hell, some of my lecture notes have scraps of a manuscript scribbled in the margins.
Situation, or character?
I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting a few writers in the flesh. But this one crops up a whole lot, along with plotting. There seems to be a large divide between writers, as to the motivation behind their writing, i.e. whether they start with a situation and throw their characters in, or start with their characters and let them form a situation of them own.
For me, writing is all about people. I may write sci-fi, but I loathe sci-fi that reads like a technical manual, with two-bit cardboard characters thrown in to pad things out. Yet, I start with a situation. What pops into my mind always tends to be an unspecific, sweeping arena that I can settle down in and see what kinds of people take shape. My characters are moulded by their situation; when they wander onto the scene, I have to get acquainted with them, learn about their lives as they interact with the world they occupy. I’m not in the pilot seat. I’m just transcribing what I see, recording a day-dream.
I wear shoes when I write. Even if I’ve been at my desk all day, and have no plans to leave the house at all, I wear shoes to write. I even put them on specifically to write, then take them off when I’m done. Not comfy special slippers, either. Work boots and sports trainers, mostly.
It makes me sit up straighter, and keeps me flying straight. No idea why.
The only exception is writing in bed. As much as putting hiking boots on over my PJs is an attractive prospect, you gotta draw the line somewhere.
I already said I could write just about anywhere, but most of the time, I’m sitting at my desk like any other writer. Little comforts that help things along are some soft lighting, a few paintings I picked up abroad, and the sight of all the books on the rickety old shelves over my head.
My house is a mad one, and my university dorm is seldom quiet, so I pretty much never get any quiet time. I’m never more than ten feet away from a bunch of people watching movies, chatting, arguing, playing music, cooking, or just tapping. You never notice how often people tap until you sit down to write.
That’s my environment. So there I sit, in my shoes, surrounded by eternal mayhem. That’s how my stories are born.
I don’t edit as I go along. Sorry, but that approach just doesn’t fly with me.
I need to finish a complete first draft, then put it in a drawer and forget about it for a few months. Even then, sometimes I let it stew on my desk a while before I even think about coming back to it. In the meantime, I work on something new. That way, when I finally sit down and start editing, I see it all afresh – often, it’s almost as though somebody else wrote it.
Though that makes the necessary cuts easier, I still can’t bear to let some things go. For the gems that might be salvageable at some time in future, it all goes into a single file on my computer. Stored away for later, just in case.
What am I working on now?
My WIP is a near-future dystopian novella called Our Fair Eden. In the late twenty-first century, runaway climate-change has shifted the balance of political power forever. The West lies in ruins, fractured and penniless. In its place, south-east Asia and South America have risen to fill the power vacuum.
As forests become deserts, cities disappear beneath the waves, and countless millions are made homeless refugees, the world’s nations are forced into unprecedented levels of international co-operation. The UN has funded several sustainable Projects across the globe to begin anew, dotted across the globe, in locations suspected to soon become habitable as the climate slowly reaches a new equilibrium.
When Desh, young man from the slums of California, is selected in a lottery to join the ranks of a Project in Mongolia, he can’t believe his luck. This is his one chance to live a good life, and escape the destitution of the United States.
But, when he arrives at the Eden Project, he finds an isolated community of disturbing uniformity, where the promises of equality and freedom have turned to ash, led by an elderly Texan matriarch, Mother Eden.
The race is on for Desh to find out what happened to the Project, how the truth is being kept from the UN, and how to escape across the endless tracts of desert now separating him from the outside world.