Monday, 8 September 2014

How do you write? by Keren David

How do you write? I've just been reading a fascinating Facebook thread on the subject, and so I thought I'd post my answer here.
The cafe where I write. Power points and no music

When I've writing a first draft I try and write 1,000 words a day without planning too much ahead. I can tinker with what I've written the day before, but I try not to do any wholesale editing.

I can't write with music on, and I'm very distracted if I have an internet connection. So I often go to a local cafe at 7.30am and work there for two hours, when it fills up with mums and babies. Early morning is a very good time for me to write, and it leaves the rest of the day free to do other stuff and think about my story and characters.  I also find it useful to have a self-imposed time deadline, so I have to produce the right number of words by 9.30am. (This is a throwback to a life spent in newsrooms).  The cafe is perfect for me - no music, plenty of power points and I don't know the internet code.

I don't start with a chapter plan, or even much of an outline. I want the plot to surprise me as I write. But I do need an idea -  a what if? or an x+y+z -  and a voice, or possibly many voices. My first task is to establish voice. So a lot of what I write at the beginning is trying to nail the character through their voice-  their language choices, rhythm, metaphors.

Once I have the voice, then in theory the character tells me the story. The more voices, the more difficult that process is. Sometimes one voice drowns out the other. Whatever happens, it is fatal to stop and go back for anything more than some light editing. I would rather rewrite an entire book than ask too many difficult questions at the beginning of a book when most of it is hidden from me.

At the stage where I have 60,000 - if all's gone well, that should take around three months -  I have a first draft. Many, many things about it will need changing, but I know that. At this point I am shaky with relief that the book has a beginning, middle and  -  crucially -  an end.

This is the point when I generally share my book with my agent. I am blessed with a fabulous agent whose judgement  I  trust absolutely. She will guide me through the bits where I've gone spectacularly wrong, and there is generally a frenzied second draft rewrite at this point.

And then to the editing process, when the book is in the hands of an editor, and a dialogue begins - first about the book as a whole, and then about the detail of the writing. Generally I enjoy this stage, there something thrilling about discussing my characters with people who find them almost as interesting as I do. But it might lead to a third or even fourth draft, and it can involve negotiating some disagreements.

Then the copy edit. I like to do quite a bit of  rewriting at this stage. Editors tend not to be so keen. I've done this stage in various ways.  First I mark up a hard copy. Sometimes I send that back to the publisher. Ideally though I will sit with the editor, and we will discuss all the items in our marked copies page by page. This takes many hours and many biscuits.

Throughout all of this I make very few notes. Sometimes I scribble in a notebook or make notes about future chapters that might slot into the story. Very occasionally I plan out a section of, say, five chapters. I might do some research, but I generally do it on the internet and just copy and paste into a document. For the historical book that I have been working on for the last two and a half years (between other projects) I have read books and visited libraries. Sometimes I interview people - Camelot, which runs the National Lottery, was very helpful when I was writing Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, about a 16-year-old girl who wins £8million.

I know when things are going well when I find myself thinking obsessively about my characters and their story, hearing their voices in my head, waking up in the morning with plotholes explained. At these times I'd rather talk about my fictional creations than my actual children.

Right now I'm halfway through the editing process with one book and nearly finished with a second draft of another. Brewing at the back of my mind are one or two new ideas. And I am also turning the lottery book into a musical which is a completely different sort of writing process altogether.

So, how do you write?


Nick Green said...

1. Initial idea

2. Note-taking to see where it goes. Basically 'telling the story to myself' in a rambling tramp rant, with no regard for language or style. Even so, occasionally a good line will pop up which appears in the final version.

3. Most ideas will have stalled by now. If not, the story concept now has a beginning and an end, and maybe a hazy sort of middle. I'll have about 20 or 30 pages of notes. This is too incoherent to be called a synopsis, and too rambling to be called a plan, but it's the raw ore from which the book can be mined and refined.

4. Writing. (twiddle thumbs, time passes.). Writing. More writing. I'm slow. Maybe 400 words a day. Come back and check on me in a year's time.

5. First draft is finished. I now tell people, 'I've started writing a new book.'

6. Rewrite first draft.

7. Rewrite second draft. The third draft is now perfect.

8. Read third draft. It's crap. Rewrite third draft.

9. Keep editing till I lose count of drafts.

10. The End.

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Heather Dyer said...

Wow, even such a successful and quite streamlined approach sounds incredibly laborious, doesn't it? But that's what writing is I suppose. A story that works looks, in retrospect, like it was composed from A to B without a hitch - but it just doesn't happen like that.

Nick Green said...

Whenever I think writing seems laborious, I think of what film directors have to go through. Marshalling hundreds of people, who in turn need props, hair, makeup, costumes, continuity advisers, and to be fed and watered and kept happy... and then you shout 'Action' and you get a minute or two of footage, and that's your whole morning gone, and tens of thousands of pounds/dollars. And it'll probably end up on the cutting room floor. We have it easy!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Keren -- once again I am convinced we were separated at birth!

Nicola Morgan said...

I seem to do it differently with each book. I wish I had a system.

Though I do HAVE to have music (loud, and of a certain sort) when writing fiction and definitely none when writing non-fiction.

Becca McCallum said...

Thanks for sharing your writing process. I have a haphazard approach - I have notebooks, which double as idea collectors and scribble places. So I'll have a passage copied from a book on future global economics next to a dialogue snippet or a descriptive piece. Then I have word files on the computer that are a typed up collection of bits in the notebook and stuff that I've written on the PC. The blog is somewhere in-between...a way of getting me to just write an not bother too much about editing the first draft (I'm terrible for editing on the go - I find it very hard not to score things out and re-write)