I was recently asked by one my lovely followers to share a little insight into my writing process. I must admit to having been a little surprised at the question, mainly because I can’t recall anyone ever asking me that before. It seems that this is the type of question that writers ask of other writers, so, with this in mind, I shall endeavour to put into words a little about the way I prefer to work.
I’ll start with the ideas. Like most creative people, I don’t have a particular “system” for coming up with ideas for what to write about. When I come up with a basic plotline first, this is most often something that I have gleaned from a half-remembered dream, or perhaps a skimmed over newspaper article. Either of these scenarios invariably involves some emotive situation, often poignant, sometimes downright terrifying. The story I’m working on at the moment was inspired by a nightmare I had many years ago: I dreamed I was a child, running through my own house, running away from something, someone, who was trying to hurt me; someone who I had trusted for my entire life was chasing me, trying to kill me… From this little snippet I have managed to build ideas for a five-book saga, but of course the events that occurred in the dream are a miniscule part of this story as a whole.
Another way that some stories come about is the sudden and complete visualisation of a particular character. Occasionally, though not often, a fully-formed character will just pop into my head: what they look like, their personality, history, and even their name. This is a particularly powerful event, especially when the character doesn’t seem to be inspired by anyone who I have actually met.
When I have my initial inspiration, whether it is a story or a character, I just start writing and see what happens. I always hand write my first draft. I used to think I was probably alone in this detail, due to its time-consuming impracticality, but I have since discovered hand writing the first draft is a very common feature of the writing process, especially for writers of fiction and poetry. I can’t speak for other writers, but for me personally I find that the ideas flow so much better and more easily through the pen than through the keyboard. This could be at least in part due to my history as a bit of a technophobe and the fact that I have always associated computers and typing with work, rather than a creative process that I can enjoy… At any rate, I struggle finding the words when I try to type them in the first instance. I fervently wish this wasn’t the case, as I would obviously be able to complete a novel in a fraction of the time, but there you go. It is what it is.
Once the first draft is done, I will type it all up, editing as I go. When the second draft is done, then I will get my beta readers on the case, looking out for typos and plot holes, and generally anything that doesn’t make sense. I would advise, if possible, that as many of your beta readers as possible are readers in your own genre. If you are a horror writer, such as myself, there is no point at all in having the opinion of, for example, a chick-lit reader. They will not be able to tell you anything useful about your book. If your beta reader doesn’t like reading books of your genre, then they will not like your book, no matter how good it might be. Also, they will not be able to tell you where it needs improvement, as they will not be familiar enough with the tones and nuances that are common to your genre.
Once all opinions are in, weigh them up carefully and with as much objectivity as possible. This does not mean that you have to take notice of everything that they say, however. But if the same advice keeps recurring from different readers, you must seriously think about taking that advice – bearing in mind, of course, that your beta readers may very well be avid and meticulous readers, but they may not be writers themselves, so you may find that their advice is impossible or impractical to follow. So, if they tell you that they didn’t like a certain part because it made no sense, or it contradicted another part, or they just felt that it didn’t sound very good, then by all means take that criticism on board. On the other hand, if they start trying to tell you how you should have worded something, or that they would prefer it if the story progressed in a different direction, then please take these suggestions with a pinch of salt. They are, after all, only their opinions, and the story is yours to tell, and yours alone.
This is the stage I am currently at myself, awaiting the advice and opinions of my beta readers. When all this advice has been weighed up and either applied or discarded, and my final draft is the very best that it can be, then I will be ready to publish.
I have decided to go the self-published E-book route. This is purely my personal choice and I have no particular reason to recommend it, other than the obvious fact that you don’t have to rely on another individual’s personal opinion to get your words seen by an audience. This way, writing can always remain something that I can do quite happily for myself without having to worry as much about how it will be received by others. And if other people enjoy what I write as well, then that’s a bonus.
Well, this post has ended up being much longer than I planned! I personally find it fascinating to learn how other writers work and the similarities and differences between theirs and my own processes. So I hope this has been an entertaining or even helpful read for some of you. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in the field, but I have been reading and writing all my life and, in truth, nothing in the world means more to me.
So, whatever else you do or don’t do, make sure you keep plugging away. Write as much as you can about anything that moves you or fires your imagination. Not everything you write will be good, and you mustn’t expect it to be. But don’t be put off by that. Sooner or later, you’ll end up surprising yourself.