The sharp-eyed will note that I’ve been AWOL since my last blog post in March. This is for no other mysterious reason that I’ve been busy with editorial work, which is great. Not so great – I’ve been unable to find the head space so essential for writing. It’s a common issue. Most writers, and definitely most unpublished authors, who have yet to dip their toes into the mad world of publishing, have day jobs. So how do you juggle a demanding 9 to 5 with writing your story?
Whilst I haven’t been writing I have been plotting. This can be done in bite-sized pieces at any time of the day and even the night. (Maddeningly, I often find I have the best creative ideas before falling asleep and on waking up). This is where ‘the notebook’ comes into play. Mine isn’t very big but it’s absolutely crammed with random bits of information about characters, ideas, subjects I need to research, locations to visit, (not easy during lockdown, although St Google comes in handy) and bits of language or description that float into my head. And I’ve noticed a pattern. Around 60% of information in the first half of my notebook gets jettisoned, or is so further developed that it bears no resemblance to the original idea. For me, this is all part of the refining process. What I wind up with is then typed up. Characterisation plays a key role and I’ll have yards of stuff about physical characteristics, background, pet hates, passions, obsessions – the list is endless – as well as locations. Running alongside, plot points, which can be a little sketchy to start with, until I start building scenes, including those key ‘turning points’ or revelations, necessary to power a narrative. Again, this can all be done in the odd spare half hour and, if you can find a little time each day over a week, it soon builds. The point is that there is absolutely no pressure. It doesn’t compete with the ‘day job’ or family commitments, or even, that most important thing, having a life.
After a few months of ‘noodling’, I usually find a host of plot holes that require resolution. This is crunch time. If, and it has been known, that things refuse to make sense, I may abandon the entire project. As importantly, I might find I’ve fallen out of love with the story – a killer for any novel. If you don’t love your characters and your story, it will show through in the writing so it’s a good idea to be really honest with yourself at this point.
However if you feel that little thrill of excitement, that basically gives you the green light, then flesh out your story, which may take more months, until it’s at that stage when it’s strong enough and you’re confident enough to sit down and write. ‘But how do I find the time?’ I hear you say.
While I can’t magic a space in your schedule, I believe that the longer the thinking time, the shorter the writing time. When authors say ‘it’s as if the story wrote itself’, chances are this is because they adopted the approach outlined here. They didn’t just grab an idea off the top of their heads and bang it out. Instead, they thought about it, gave it due consideration, avoided stereotype with their characters and played around with the plot so that one scene doesn’t sound remarkably like another. They gave it a little love. And the best stories are a combo of head and heart.