Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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.



Write or wrong?

Monday, May 28th, 2012

I don’t particularly like Monday mornings. It’s my own fault; I don’t do any housework (or bare minimum anyway) over the weekend so by Monday morning my house is a mess and I have hundreds of jobs to do. And of course it’s made so much worse by the sunshine because who wants to be tidying and vacuuming and ironing when it’s so hot and beautiful outside? Certainly not me. Plus the food shopping needs to be done and all the weekend clothes washed, and there’s such an air of needing to be productive on Monday mornings. You don’t feel that you can slope off with a good book.

Although, on the positive side, this Monday morning is better than last week’s, so that’s something. For those of you not following my pathetic progress on twitter, my husband went abroad for a week and my life fell apart. One daughter ended up in hospital with suspected appendicitis, I broke the freezer, ran out of food, failed to wash enough socks for my younger daughter and generally spent the whole week feeling stressed and like I was chasing my own tail. In addition to which I was battling on with my horrible new gym routine. People keep asking me why I’m doing it and I don’t have an answer. I was bored with just running 5k every time I went to the gym and if I’m bored then I won’t do it, so I decided to enlist the help of a personal trainer. I told him that I wanted to lose a little bit of weight and be very fit, but I was only prepared to spend half an hour per day doing it. I told him not to give me a lengthy, fiddly routine involving lots of weights and hopping on and off several pieces of equipment because I simply won’t do it. And to be fair, he didn’t. What he did do was devise an appalling, a hellish, forty minute workout using interval training. This pushes your body to the maximum for sixty second periods and then allows for a rest period and it’s the best way to improve cardiovascular fitness. The first time I did it I was simply in shock. The second time I very nearly cried, the third time I was nearly sick, and it’s only now, three weeks later, that I actually feel that I can cope with it. Or bits of it. I enjoy the results though so I shall keep on doing it. Although  the trainer mentioned increasing the routine after four weeks so I’ll have to avoid him like the plague; I can’t do more, I can’t.

And as well as health and fitness, another advantage of all that exercise is to provide me with great long stretches of time in which to consider my current manuscript, as the title of this post suggests. Because I need to, it’s tricky. I have characters, I have a plot, I have houses, names, careers, motivations – you name it, I have it. I am the most prepared person in the world to write a book. And yet – I can’t get at the story. I’ve tried three different things now, and I’m onto my fourth, but I have yet to settle into one of them.  Over the weekend, I realised that I think I will have to change the whole way that I was writing the manuscript before. One of the characters needs a far larger role than I had previously given her. I think that I may even end up writing with two alternate viewpoints, which is something I dislike, but the other option is to incorporate her into the main body of the story and I just don’t think that will work. It’s at times like this that I wish I could plan properly, it would be so much easier, I long for files and ringbinders and neat black lines.  But I realised on Saturday that I really, truly, can’t. I sat down to write a scene that I’d had an idea about with no notes, nor any real idea of where I was going to take it, and it worked. It worked beautifully well. Just holding the very essence of the story in my mind, I wrote over a thousand words in an hour and I was left with a sense that I could have written the whole book in a day; nice when it happens. And furthermore, later on I felt that spike of pleasure that you sometimes get when you’re looking forward to reading your current book (for me it’s The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher) but  then I realised that it wasn’t my reading book that I was anticipating so eagerly, it was climbing back into the one that I’m writing – which has to be a good sign? That said, I haven’t had time since to go back and assess it properly so I have no idea whether I can continue with it or whether I’ll have to go back to how I was writing before. The manuscript itself is in a mess, with different bits dotted around that I’ve cut but want to keep and they’re all in the same document. There’s even two entirely different versions of the book; I must have written over fifty thousand words in total on it so far and I have yet to get at the story in a way that works. It’s there, I just can’t see it properly yet. Happily, I remember reading a blog post by another author on writing her second novel and that went through about twenty different versions before she finally landed on the right one. It’s not even a case of editing, it’s finding the right way to write the book.  And I will, somehow….

These long summer days are perfect for reading! I haven’t read so much for months; I suppose it’s something to do with spending lots of time lazing in the sun and generally feeling more relaxed and lethargic. I’ve re-read lots of Rosamunde Pilcher, Penny Vincenzi and Elizabeth Jane Howard,  but the trouble is that I’m finding there’s nothing on the market these days in a similar style. A very kind author  called Jane Sanderson sent me a copy of her novel, Netherwood, which was wonderful, I thoroughly recommend it – it was such a gentle, engaging read. The link is at the bottom of this post. I’ve also ordered The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick (again, link below), which was published last week and sounds lovely. But apart from that I’m finding that I am mostly re-reading. I love browsing in bookshops though, there’s such an aura of potential about the experience – you might find the perfect novel that will entrap you, excite you, amuse you. I don’t own a Kindle and nor do I plan to. My husband and I did discuss it briefly for going abroad in the summer, but I’m afraid that I just couldn’t get past the screen.  I am definitely a real book aficionado.

And now it’s too beautiful to sit indoors any longer so I’m going to find something constructive I can do outside. And I have to take my daughter a pencil case. She’s sitting her school exams this week and she informed me at eight o’ clock this morning that she needed a clear pencil case. I wasn’t quite sure where she expected me to produce one of those from so I gave her a sandwich bag – and then as the car disappeared down the road, I remembered that I keep my staples in, yes,  you’ve guessed it, a clear pencil case…… I hope that is not an indication of the rest of my week or it might be me ending up in hospital this time. Voluntarily.



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.