Posts Tagged ‘characters’

The Privacy of Writing

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

How private is your writing?

I’m dying to know the answer, but I can’t possibly start writing a new blog post without alluding to the length of time that it’s been since I wrote the last one.  There are two reasons for this: summer holidays and the subject of this blog post.

To take the first reason, I find it virtually impossible to write when my children are spending long periods of time at home. This extends to weekends as well. Not one minute goes past when my eldest girl isn’t saying “Can you just watch me….” Or the younger one demanding “Can you make me have mermaid hair? Real mermaid hair please, like a real  mermaid. What is a real mermaid? Where do they live? But where is mermaid land? I like their tails. Can I have a mermaid for my birthday?” To which I usually say yes and then the older girl rolls her eyes and says “Mummy….why are you letting her believe that mermaids are real?” And then I scowl and say “Actually they are.” And then the older girl says “All right, if they’re real where do they live? How do you know? If you haven’t seen one with your eyes then you can’t prove that they’re real.” And all sorts of other logical arguments that I struggle to apply to mermaids. Any day now I expect her to whip out a fully researched and typed up article entitled “Why I Agree With The Proposed Theory That Mermaids Are Mythical Creatures” in response to me happily putting some mermaid curls in my younger daughter’s hair. There cannot be a trivial conversation in this house with my older daughter, at least not unless you have thoroughly researched the topic and have a compelling argument as to why it’s trivial so we can all be in agreement that it’s trivial before we have it. So this leaves me mentally exhausted and unable to make proper use of my valuable thinking time. I use thinking time to iron out plot problems or conjure up ideas. Whenever I imagine authors thinking, I envisage them sitting at their desks, fully and smartly dressed, pen against their mouth and staring into space as they THINK. Earnestly. I don’t think like that. Whenever I’m in the middle of writing something, it never really leaves me so I’m thinking all the time. It hovers at the back of my mind continually whatever I’m doing – getting dressed (thinking), cooking pasta (thinking), yelling at the dog (thinking) – I can always feel it there. A little thought bubble with my characters inside and the events that I have lined up for them. If someone else is demanding constant attention of me, the little thought bubble gets squashed and when I look at it again nothing has progressed. And this happening day in and day out is not good for my poor manuscript – or blog posts. I need my thinking time unadulterated.

The second reason why I haven’t posted anything on here for a long time is basically because I’m in the middle of writing a book. Well, to be absolutely and completely truthful, ‘middle’ is an optimistic statement. I have written a comfortable and (currently) satisfactory 20,000 words. I am a good way into an estimated 100,000 word manuscript. But the thing is, whilst I am writing my book, I actually have nothing to talk about on here. I should just hang up a sign saying “Still writing”, really. And this is because my writing is actually quite private. As in, the manuscript that I am currently working on. I don’t feel that I can discuss the plot or characters or any of the (various) problems that I have encountered so far because it is all so private. I am not sure enough of it it yet to share, and if I write about it with no detail then that would be beyond boring. Basically, it’s just utter insecurity!

One of the things I loathe happening most when I’m writing is someone coming up behind me and reading what’s on the screen, either deliberately or inadvertently.  It’s because these are my words, fresh from my mind, that I have just typed down, not edited or re-read and they are not at the stage where I am ready for someone else to have them in their mind. They still feel like my intellectual property and anyone seeing them before I say so feels like an absolute invasion that makes me extremely irritated and defensive. Only when I have gone over them thoroughly and I’m pleased with how they fit into the story and I’m sure that they work, am I happy to metaphorically put my hand up and say “Yes, these are my words, I wrote them and I’m proud of them.”  And then of course I become desperate for people to read them; quite often it’s my husband who will be happily involved doing something of his choice and I’ll say “I’ve sent it to you, come on, read it – NOW.” Or else my scuba diving instructor sister out in the Cayman Islands will receive an email entitled “Quick, quick, get out of the sea and read this.”

But to give an update, the manuscript is progressing quite well. It’s an emotionally challenging one to write; for some reason a character that I thought was a minor one has evolved into the most major one and developed in a way that meant she leapt into my heart. But she hasn’t had the nicest of lives so I find it difficult to inflict more horrible things on her – but I have to. So as well as taking it slowly emotionally – I have to stop every few hundred words and take a deep breath – there’s also a lot of research to be done, in subjects as disparate as various medical conditions and education for girls in the 1950s. I am doing this very painstakingly because I want it to be perfect, and the information can be quite hard to get hold of so it’s very time-consuming. And then I need the necessary mental space in order to be able to knit all the various details together, and bizarre though this sounds it’s almost purely a subconscious process.  I only see the results of it when I sit down to write and watch what happens.  It’s quite thrilling when it works and it feels like my mind moves into another sphere entirely. When I finish, and go to feed the cat or something, it can take me a few minutes to readjust back to the real world; I feel all dreamy and dopey.

I would be really fascinated to know how other writers feel about their writing. Is it entirely private? Or do you make copious notes and plans so by the time you write it down it’s already pretty much perfect and you don’t mind people reading it as you go along? Or do you sit down with no idea, stumble your way along gradually and take time to hone the detail? Answers on a postcard 🙂

I’m off to try and fit in 1,000 words before the swimming gala that I have to attend later, but as a final plea – if anyone has any compelling evidence of the existence of mermaids then do let me have it because it will probably get my manuscript written faster.



The beginning of a long road.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

As anyone who follows me regularly on twitter will know I have started writing Manuscript Number 3! It does have a name which I will keep to myself for a while; suffice to say it is one of my favourite words in the world. As the title of this blog says it is the beginning of a very long road so I thought I would write a post about each stage of it because I find the creation of a book a fascinating process. You can never predict what will happen or how it will happen, and right now I am at the very, very start of it all.

If I have one aim every time I start writing something new, it is to plan better than I ever have before. The number of times I look at my screen and just wish that I had detailed notes about what’s going to happen written down next to me is huge. But that would be a massive luxury and I am slowly learning that this isn’t how I work. And when I say slowly, I do mean very slowly  – it’s taken me approximately 440,000 words and six years to learn. I should have realised before, really. I aspire to be an organised person and I’m not. I would love to have set routines every day, but I don’t, I behave very much as the mood takes me. And my writing is no different. I spent about three solid days planning this manuscript and poured hours and hours more of thought into it. As I commented to someone on twitter I felt like I never stopped ‘working’. No matter what I was doing I found myself shifting ideas around in my head, peering through the tangles of potential plot lines, ruthlessly scything away anything that was superfluous and seizing upon all inspiration. It had to sort itself out. Once I had the bare outline of a plot I wrote it down. But I struggled here too; I mean, how do you create one, coherent document of what is going to happen in your book when it necessarily involves relationships between all the characters? I found that I couldn’t. So these are honestly the tags I have taped to my planning notebook (in order):

  1. ‘to remember’
  2. ‘main female character’
  3. ‘random details’
  4. ‘main female character and secondary female character’
  5. ‘main female character and main male character’
  6. ‘secondary male character’
  7. ‘plot construction’
  8. ‘secondary female character’
  9. ‘main male character’
  10. ‘PLOT’

And in between all of this well-behaved preparation the only thing I wanted to do was to start writing and bring the characters to life. And of course once I did the whole thing was out of my control anyway. I will never cease to be amazed by just how much a book constructs itself. Within a very few hundred words I had changed the POV which was a huge gamble for me but it seems to have paid off. I always email my sister chapters of my manuscript as I write it and she critiques it for me.  When I did so this time I deliberately didn’t mention the fact that I was writing it in the first person rather than the third person  and she didn’t  mention it in her reply so I’m assuming she didn’t notice and if she did she felt it worked. I sent her on this occasion the prologue and the first chapter and her comments were: “What’s the character’s name???? And what does she look like, I have no idea what she looks like! And the conversation between X&Y is too long and too boring.” Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear but it did make me realise that I had made a grave and fundamental error which I instantly corrected and rewrote the chapter which she much preferred.

The characters do honestly bring themselves to life, decide their own names, where they live and so on and so forth. I have but the barest influence on them. I know that sounds delusional but it’s true. I’d named my characters before I started, nice names I thought, but whilst I was writing the correct names presented themselves to me and of course they were better. And once I had the correct names the characters themselves leaped and flared to life and once they’ve done that they start telling their story far more accurately than I can. It’s an amazing process. And it does feel like having a secret world to creep into. The best analogy I can think of is when you go camping, crawl into a tent and zip it up behind you. That’s what it feels like when I start writing in the morning.

And obviously now the girls are back at school I have plenty of time for writing. My manuscript currently stands at 5,211 words. Most of which was written in one day. I can’t keep that output up, my brain feels exhausted, but I hope to produce an amount of writing every single day. Apart from the weekends, maybe. I haven’t decided about those yet. My eldest daughter has Saturday school so technically I shall some free time but perhaps it would be better to try and stick to a traditional working week? My husband doubles over with mirth every time I tell him that I am ‘working’. But I am. I am sitting down and applying myself and not being distracted by Jeremy Kyle or Radio 4. Disparate potential distractions, I grant you. But I do feel like I’m constructing a new life for myself, I have never had this sort of time before. I’ve either been at school, Uni or had one or the other of the girls at home with me. This solitude and space to write is an absolute novelty to me – and I am loving it. I’m still wondrous every night when I put my younger daughter to bed that in the morning she’s going to get up and go back to school. Every day. I do miss having her around sometimes, but on the whole I feel everyone is going to be a lot happier with this new arrangement. She is thoroughly enjoying school and having a lot of fun, and I am able to be very creative and produce a lot of words, which is great. I wonder how long it will take me to write this book? Another interesting point is that I always feel that the current manuscript I am working on is the best thing I have ever written. I always feel that, and I don’t know why. Is it because I am filled with enthusiasm for the current project? Or is it really the best thing I have ever written because my writing is improving with time and practice? I don’t have the answer yet.

I have no more publisher news.  Which is partly nice because it means that I have no more rejections. It’s an odd feeling to be so far removed  from something that is so personal to me. Out there, somewhere, in some editor’s inbox my manuscript is sitting. And when it is commented upon it won’t be me that receives the news, it will be my agent. There’s a whole step between me and it. Which is nice in some ways; I can get on with writing the next one without having to worry about dealing with the previous one.

See! 1,272 words and it isn’t even ten o’ clock in the morning. I said I was being productive 🙂  xx

So people listen to me apparently!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Sarah Haynes is pleased to announce the arrival of her brand new laptop! Oh yes. No more putting up with my inebriated computer:  unexplained overheating/shutting down apropos of nothing every two minutes/the screen freezing/untold amounts of faults necessitating the immediate shutdown of Google Chrome and the consequent loss of important work (not to mention the loss of important Facebook conversations). I woke up on Tuesday morning and, as is my wont,  thought – right, enough is enough. I cannot work like this. I cannot be a highly successful author with such a ridiculous piece of machinery. My husband disagreed and saw no real problem with the situation; in fact I would go so far as to say that he didn’t listen to a word I said.  So I had no choice but to ignore him and buy a new one and I LOVE IT!! There will be lots of writing and emailing and Twitter-ing and Facebook-ing and Skype-ing going on with it. It’s an HP one and a sort of burgundy colour. I wanted a pink one but it was about £300 more and the proverbial foot went down.  Pretty hard.  Anyway so that’s quite exciting in itself, but what is more exciting is that I have organised my first ever, ever, ever book-signing!! After the raw excitement of receiving my books and then business cards, the excitement for book-signing went off the scale to a level that my brain didn’t recognise and I felt sort of……numb. Like it isn’t true and won’t really be happening to me. That said actually, I’m not sure that a great deal will be happening to me. As a completely unknown debut author I don’t imagine that people will be flocking in their droves to visit me. But just in case you live near me and fancy coming along, it’s at Waterstones in Fareham on Saturday 16th October. All day. And I would love to see you. So do come along and witness me doing my first ever day’s work! Shamefully that is not an exaggeration.

AND I am very pleased that have agreed to review Things He Never Knew. I love the website, their reviews are honest and straightforward and provide good parameters by which to judge a book – she says with some trepidation……I just hope they like mine. But that’s part of the appeal of the site; honest reviews.  But just in case my excitement levels were dropping off, this bit of news served to perk them right up again. Honestly, Christmas is going to seem such a let-down after all of this.

So – I was going to write about my characters this time and how I create them. Having given it a lot of thought,  the answer is that I don’t really. I decide on a basic plan, for example, I am going to have a 2.4 family, the father will be called William, the mother Mary and the children will be Daisy and Michael and I will have an idea of how William, Mary, Daisy and Michael are going to interact and why. I then sketch out the rest of the plot, pretty thinly as I tend to find it twists and turns as I write it, and then I get going. I am very, very bad at planning individual chapters. I wish I weren’t because it would make my job a lot easier but I’m always too impatient to throw myself into the actual writing. So I do. And then William and Mary and whoever will come to life as I write. Just like Enid Blyton described, I watch my characters and listen to them. I don’t decide what words they’re going to say, I just write down what they do say. This often leads to me being surprised at what’s happening, and if it’s too absurd then I will change it, or if I find they’re going off in the wrong direction, like wayward children. I can’t have William and Mary misbehaving. Obviously at some subconscious level I am deciding what my characters will do, and this is where outside influence comes in. I will often hear things that anger/amuse/outrage/fascinate me and these get stored away for me to use on specific occasions. For example, in my new manuscript there’s a line where a parent is describing the terrible conditions of rooms at their child’s school and she says “Oh goodness – they’re practically third world!” which a friend of mine did actually say to me and I’m  pretty sure she doesn’t mind me repeating it (never mind publishing it…) and which I then filed for future use and created a scene where I could use it because it amused and interested me so much, for lots of different reasons. That’s an easy example. More difficult to pinpoint are the smaller elements that I draw in, as I said in my previous post, the colour of someone’s hair, little mannerisms, modes of speech, those sorts of things that make a person who they are. I must have quite a collection in my mind now and I suppose I just pluck a few out at random and try them for size on my characters. There’s no doubt though that they make themselves, I just help shape them.  And then clothe them, because that’s important.

I’m not much of a psychic but I do foresee that my life is going to get very, very busy over the next two weeks and beyond. Actually, that reminds me, I have three different web ‘areas’ for want of a better word ( and I’m sure there is one); here, my website and my facebook author page and information is liberally sprinkled over all three. Yet I’ve noticed that people ask me the same question time and time again, and that’s “When is the book being released?” This both amuses and confuses me; it’s a fairly major detail but obviously one that people just don’t take on board. Interesting. Anyway, so back to being busy – and I really will be. I already have a litany of tasks mapped out to be achieved and not enough days in which to do them. This could be interesting. However I always make time for the truly important things, which should come as a relief to some. And I tell you what, having a laptop that I don’t have to keep re-starting and giving little breaks to should make a world of difference.  Honestly, it was like taking an elderly relative out for a stroll and stopping to have little rests and cups of tea to make sure that they don’t keel over completely. And watching with a keen eye to prevent any unorthodox behaviour. But no more, my newborn laptop is working brilliantly, if confusingly (I am not clever with computers) and on that note I’m off to check progress on my facebook fan page (135 last time I checked) and twitter (100 followers!), so just think – assuming some overlap there are still in all probability over 200 people willing to listen to what I have to say on a regular basis. I must email my husband and tell him immediately.