Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

Writing. How to do it?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I am beginning to be frustrated by how I write. I know I’ve mentioned this before but I really wish that I was one of those people who plan meticulously and then write their scenes. I yearn for a neat plan of each chapter before I start writing. Not only because it would make things easier, but because in my experience it also makes them better. I can devote my entire mind to creating what is already sketched out for me, rather than the odd hybrid of planning and writing, and then re-writing. I’ve tried many, many times to be this way. With each new manuscript (or each new excuse that I can reasonably conjure up) I go out and buy new notebooks, new pens, coloured pens, sticky labels, plastic wallets, box files – you name it, I own it. And each time it is with the promise to myself that this WILL make me a more organised, structured and prolific writer. I will sit down daily with a clear plan for my working hours. I will know what I have to do and why and by when. And it will get done. I will be more disciplined. I will write for a solid hour and then make a cup of tea. I will not check my emails. I will not suddenly remember that the washing is on the line when it starts pouring with rain and leap up to get it in. I will be focussed.

And now shall I tell you what actually happens?

I wake up and (post-school run) I have no idea what I should do first. I make a cup of tea and I sit down at my desk. Then I remember that I also like to drink water while I’m writing so I get up again and fetch a glass of water. Then, should I edit what I have already written? Because, goodness me, it needs it. Or should I harness the early morning creativity and plough on with Chapter Four? But then an insidious voice pipes up – but how can you write when you haven’t planned? Oh yes….perhaps I’d better have a little think first about exactly what I am going to write. Hmm, where to start….with my main character, obviously. Let’s think long and hard about her and the points I want to make….but first I’d better check facebook. And twitter. Because it would be rude if someone has messaged me and I don’t reply. And then I’m sure that there were emails I needed to answer and a wedding invitation to RSVP to. And I can’t possibly concentrate until all of those little things have been attended to, so I’d better do that first. And then I open up the manuscript. And re-read bits to get me back into the way of thinking like my main character. Then I remember that I have done some planning so perhaps I’d better look at that. But the problem here is that at best, my planning consists of plain A4 sheets of paper with scrawled notes all over them, in no particular order and in no particular pen. I have a ruler on my desk for neatly underlining topic categories – it has never been used. I make rough notes as and when they occur to me which is either as I’m writing feverishly (makes sense because that’s when I buried deepest in the story) or when I’m in the middle of cooking the girls’ tea (makes sense because that’s when I’m most bored). That leaves me in the position of trying to marshall these random jottings into some semblance of order so that I can work from them – and this has never happened. So I end up ignoring the planning and jumping straight back into writing the story which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

I need to recognise that I don’t work tidily. I work instinctively. I can only write when I have fully submerged myself in the story and I am watching what happens. If I try and construct a conversation between A and B to make the point XYZ, I always fail. It will only work if the characters are making the points themselves. I can only plan in my mind, and only then by letting my subconscious do it for me. I cannot decide for myself what is good and what is bad and what is superfluous. At a latent level I think about my latest plot all the time, trying to guide the threads of the story because I am not quite there yet, I can’t quite see how to tie it all up and I am 12,536 words in. I suspect that with this manuscript I will have to edit heavily, that’s the only way it will work. I’m going to have to throw it all down onto (metaphorical) paper and then go through and decide what’s what, which isn’t something I’ve ever done before. I usually write pretty closely to what I eventually end up with.

And I think the thing I find most difficult about working this way is that I have to hold everything in my mind, rather than on paper. If I write it all down then it’s only moments before something else has occurred to me and I would have to change everything I’d written to incorporate it. But it isn’t as it sounds; what I am holding in my mind is just the essence of the story. For my main character I have an image of blond, curly hair and just that is enough for me remember exactly what she’s like and how she thinks and what she would say. I have different colours that I have linked mentally to different elements of the story and that tells me how to write it. I know this all sounds fantastically bizarre but the point I’m making is that I don’t have neat lists in my head, I am relying on my subconscious to present me with a picture of the story I need to tell, in whatever way it wants to do it. I’ve often thought about spider diagrams, and great big A1 white boards that I could easily alter, but the reality is that I only need the barest, minimum of facts written down to work from. The rest usually just flows. Usually. But of course with this method, on the days when my brain isn’t working quite at full capacity I am completely stuck and go round in circles and spend a lot of time staring at the screen with no idea how to proceed. It’s like looking at one of those Magic Eye pictures where you need to disengage your brain to see the real image; that’s what writing is like for me. And if I try too hard, I can’t do it.

I’m quite fascinated by, and in awe of, writers who are able to write diligently every day, no matter what. A few names from twitter spring to mind. If I do that then after a week or two my brain is exhausted and I need a good few days off before I can continue. I used to think that I was just indulging myself by doing this, but then I realised that I actually wasn’t. I genuinely need that break and write far better, and more prolifically, after it. For example, I didn’t write a thing for the entirety of the Easter holidays (four weeks). I kept thinking I should, even though it was near impossible to find the time, and very soon feelings of guilt crept in about not writing. Anything. But when the girls returned to school and I returned to the manuscript, I discovered that the break had given me the distance and clarity that I needed to see where I was going wrong. And now I have almost completely re-written the 10,000 words that I had. My sister had read the first chapters and returned a “Hmm, yes, quite good,” verdict, but “…you need a hook for the main character. I don’t know what she’s like.” And of course she was right. Once I’d immersed myself in the story I saw exactly what I was doing wrong and the main character now has far more shape and substance. She is an artist, for example, as I learned yesterday. That’s not a terribly convenient thing because I have little experience of, or interest in, painting, but it can’t be helped.

And as far as old writing goes, I’m afraid that I still don’t have any news about Daisychain. Things are happening with the manuscript, but I’m not really at liberty to discuss them. Which is very difficult for someone like me who is the most rubbish secret-keeper in the world. I have a natural compulsion to tell everyone, everything. I re-read bits of Daisychain recently to see if I still had the same confidence in it, and the answer was yes. Swiftly followed by a horrible lurch of self-doubt, something along the lines of “I will never be able to write anything to this standard ever again”. So I stopped reading it.

I’ve also been reading for pleasure a lot recently. Much more than normal. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve gone back to reading old favourites; lots of Charlotte Bingham and Rosamunde Pilcher and Penny Vincenzi. And that was what prompted my question on twitter the other day – which authors are writing in the style of these authors these days? There doesn’t seem to be anyone. The heyday of the Aga Saga is over (apparently), but in my view there is little on the market at the moment that does the same job. Although I may possibly speak too soon because a lovely author called Jane Sanderson saw my twitter plea and very kindly sent me a copy of her book, called ‘Netherwood’ which was published by Sphere on 29th September last year. I haven’t started reading it yet but as the cover quote by Milly Johnson is “A romping tale of history, ambition, greed and survival”, I am very intrigued to begin it.

And now, much as I’ve enjoyed writing this because it gives me slightly more clarity of thought, I really must go and do some proper writing. And proper defrosting food for dinner tonight. And seeing as I’ve signed up for the Great South Run this year, I’d also better do some proper running. It would be perfect of course if I could do all of these things in my subconscious as well, but sadly, I don’t see that happening.



Me, on the West Wittering beach during the Easter holidays.

Creatively Writing

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

DISASTER! A fully-fledged disaster has occurred in the world of Sarah Haynes. You all know that I indulge in the occasional glass of wine, well, last night my eldest daughter sent one flying across the keyboard of my laptop. I reacted quickly – and volcanically – but it became clear this morning that the machine has died a death. This is very sad but it did occur to me that if you’re going to die then being saturated in wine is probably the way to do it. As an emergency measure I was using an external keyboard connected somehow to my computer but this was difficult because some of the keys worked on my laptop and some didn’t so I had an interesting time typing things on two different keyboards and not being able to see what I was writing half the time.  Luckily, we are the type of family who have spare laptops in the loft and so I do have a temporary one. Don’t panic – I will still be able to fire my innermost thoughts and observations into the worlds of Twitter and Facebook. I cannot imagine life without the internet now actually. Would it be possible to exist?? It was sad but inevitable news the other day that the OED will no longer be produced. Apparently people are not buying dictionaries any more but using the internet for definitions. I understand this, but games of Scrabble will never be the same again. I’m getting more used to Twitter now by the way, and I have nearly 100 followers. For those of you on Facebook, you will all have seen the great big fuss I was making to get 100 fans on my Facebook author page. I’m now up 116 at the time of writing and considering having the same sort of foot-stamping episode for Twitter.

Anyway, in other news, over the last few days my husband has been reading Things He Never Knew. This was for the first time – he didn’t read it as I wrote it. And I hesitate to say that I forced him into it….but….well….I kind of forced him into it. To be fair, it really isn’t his sort of book, it’s commercial women’s fiction, and I’d just like to make clear that this isn’t his usual chosen genre, but unfortunately I don’t write the philisophical stuff he favours. I genuinely wanted his opinion, he reads a lot and is a very intelligent and thoughtful person and I knew that he’d give it to me straight, good or bad. So I signed a copy for him, wrote nice things inside and presented it to him. He really didn’t have a choice. Obligingly, he began reading it immediately, which is harder than it sounds because I was watching him like an absolute hawk; studying his face for traces of emotion – smiles/grimaces – and generally trying to assess whether he was enjoying it or not. I held back from asking him because I wanted to wait until he’d finished the whole thing and I managed to wait until he was one chapter away from the end before I finally gave in to my ‘now now now’ mentality and demanded “Well???”. He looked at me and just simply said “Brilliant. It’s brilliant.” Obviously I then demanded a complete in-depth rundown of exactly what he thought and felt and why (not restricting myself to the book) and his responses were both gratifying and obviously truly held. So there you are – my husband says my book is brilliant. I realise that it’s only a small step away from saying that my mother thinks it’s brilliant, but still. I sent a copy to her as well but unless she’s reading it aloud to the flock of cats as their bedtime story I can’t imagine that she’s had the time to finish it yet.

There was another interesting dimension to having my husband read my book and that was forcing me to think about how I develop my characters. This was because he kept quizzing me suspiciously as to how I knew so much about the characters emotions when I’ve never been in that situation myself. I know that sounds very cryptic but you’ve all seen the back cover blurb – or you SHOULD have done seeing as it’s plastered all over here, my website and my facebook page – and I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. So anyway, I tried explaining that it’s not real, I have made it up, but he simply kept saying “Well you must have got it from somewhere.” And he’s absolutely right, I did. My IMAGINATION!

So it got me thinking about how I do create my characters and where the elements come from. I’ll write about it next time because it is quite interesting and there’s too much to say for now. But every time I think about the actual creative writing process I am inevitably drawn back to a description I once read in a book of how Enid Blyton used to write. I bought the book (a biography of Enid Blyton by Barbara Stoney; absolutely excellent) last year in Corfe at Ginger Pop, the Enid Blyton shop. It’s a fascinating shop, lined with her books; she was a prolific author. An estimate puts her total book publication at around 800 titles, not including decades of magazine writing. I can’t see myself achieving that. Anyway, in that book Enid Blyton describes creating her stories, and she says that it was like watching a play and writing down what happens and this is the best description of writing fiction that I have ever found. Except for the manuscript that I am currently working on – for that I am literally watching what happens and writing it down. Friends and relatives: you have been warned! On which note, thank you to anyone who has recently left me a comment or clicked ‘like’ on my Facebook author page. It’s an easy thing to do and is a great help to me. And if anyone does have any questions/comments/concerns/queries, or just wants a chat, you can email me at  I’d hate to think that I have to write 800 books before I get any fan mail.