Whatever I try and explain about my writing process below is really only intersections or glimpses of parts of the beast, the majority of the writing process is, I suspect, profoundly mysterious involving unconscious mechanisms that are little understood. I can identify leanings, habits and even techniques that seem to work well, but I have no idea why exactly a piece of fiction can suddenly one day radically transform and flow when it was previously stalled, or or an idea suddenly seem obvious that was not the day before. The techniques and approaches I identify and discuss below are all things I commonly attempt while working on a piece of fiction, but the majority of the actual writing process is like the proverbial ice berg; it seems to take place in the unconcious mind and cannot be controlled, only exploited when something promising emerges.
The Writing Space
The Fixed Writing Space
I feel a kind of guilty acceptance about my own limitations when I hear about friends or writers who manage to write without having a quiet sheltered wrwiting space. I find a quiet writing space importantant but sometimes feel ashamed when I hear about a female friend with children who still manages. Here is a picture of my current primary writing space, ie where the prose actually gets written, as apart from where other forms of writing take place.
It is probably the best I have had in a number of years. What I like about this is that it is not too exposed, yet I can look out and see something of the world and everyday going on - get a sense of anther reality from taht I am engaging in which provides a bathing contrast when I can push the fictional reality no further within taking myself away from the writing space or going outside which could well lead to not returning for some time.
In earlier times I would have had a notice board or corkboard next to or around the desk where I could pin images and notes and maps and such relating to the current piece or which simply seemed to be asking questions. I haven't done this in a long time, especially since having easy broad bank access to the Internet. It seems as though tabs in the brower have partly taken over that.
These days with easy access to the internet, I find this space has moved into web browsers but it is something I would like to do again at some point.
Music of the spheres
Sometimes Music of the spheres. Film music in particular. Pace, or melody will suggest a particular sensibility. Find music that relates to it. Example… Zombie… D&D – related to Dragon Age Origins. Earlier image of abandoned palace – age of 16… Images of something, relate some kind of emotion level or coefficient and are packed with a dimension but of what I have not idea.
The Portable Writing Space
The World as Writing Space - Wool Gathering
This is not my term, but one described by Doris Lessing's in her autobiography A Walk in the Shade but I find it resonates with my own experience. She also talks about what she calls 'wool gathering', that is the way in which the writer will be doing something, perhaps some everyday function like preparing a cup of tea, or something like reaching for book on a shelf and find themselves pausing, lost in a space of themselves, knitting an idea or concept or playing with an emotion or image. She, and I too, see this as being as essential and valid and crucial a part of the writing process as putting the words themselves on the paper.
As I describe below, listening to music is an essential part of my writing process. With the technology of the MP3 player and noise isolating earphones I can take my writing space anywhere but music is a particular type of portable writing space.
Last January I went every day to the park with the MP3 player and a note book and playing different tracks searching for more about the ideas.
Fragments of Fascination
I have literally thousands of these things, knocking around in my imagination. Little images, scenes or moments that are asking to be part of something, and probably already are, though the hidden structures and currents they connect to, are elusive.
They demand attention, but will not say why. They have a hold on me, an allure and a mischievousness agenda I am powerless to avoid. How can you avoid yourself? After all, all of them come from somewhere in me, even if only the hook of personal interest that fishes inspiration or reaction from some event or experience in the world I find, when I open my eyes.
The thing is, I cannot actually control them, only weave and evolve them. And there are fabrics they will not fit into, and transformations they will not bear. In a sense, they are wiser than I. They go deeper than my conscious understanding of what I am all about, or what story I believe I am telling. But if they are wise, it is a wisdom of belonging, or desire to be a whole, not that of the individual importance of particles human beings have grown to love. It is the wisdom of particles that want to make a thing, and cannot be anything alone.
I think just about every fictional piece I have worked on has started with one of these fragments, and certainly every novel I have written incorporates dozens of them, and some novels have stolen them from one another. They have jumped ship, or may be they were never really a part of a specific weave, excepting the deepest sense of origin in me - just part of the pattern.
Often enough they will appear apparently independently, and without obvious relationship with any other fragment, but they will demand to be part of a particular tale. Surely at some level they must be part of the same thing, connected, akin or perhaps they are rather like glimpses of an animal, partial sightings that see only a tail, some whiskers, a patch of fur, a claw - but not quite a mouse.
But I see a problem with this, because they seldom stay exactly the same at the story evolves, as I mentioned, there are places they will not go, and forms they will not take, but if they are glimpses of a mouse, it is the kind of mouse Picasso might have painted, if he had not liked women so much.
Stab at idea, fragments of dialogue, a decrption some rough narrative about what is happening. I think this is somewhat like a complex system. I have feelings and add them but have to througput a lot of different iteratinos until the system of the writing starts to come to life.
In the second volume, " ' she describes the process by which a writer prepares to write. Perhaps pottering about, cleaning things, arranging things, not yet ready to approach the typewriter/computer. She considers this not to be procrastination, but an essential, perhaps even ritual part of the process. She describers how painters and sculptors do the same thing, moving around the workshop, handling their tools, touching things.
When I was married the second time, time, my wife, a very practical and down to earth lady, never understood this. She could not comprehend how I could sit at the computer, type a few words, and then just stare into space for several minutes. She did not understand that the pauses were as essential, if not more essential than the minutes and seconds when the fingers were tapping on the keys.
The Word Processor
In former times, writers wrote drafts by long hand, or typed them on paper. And there you do have the possibility of having multiple drafts of the finished work. I know that my first book, which I wrote from the ages of 14-16 went through four revisions, It started out in an exercise book, after several chapters I typed the existing work and then continued on the typewriter. I rewrote the book by following the typewritten pages and retyping, correcting, editing and rewriting as I went. And finally wrote corrections, edits and added passages on loose pages. This was all typed again by my grandmother into a finished typescript which went out to publishers. She also corrected a few things along the way.
Since I started using a word processor, over twenty years ago the drafting process has changed dramatically.
The way I write is usually by writing notes in a word processing file and looking over them from time to time, or each day, adding some thoughts, writing some nuggets of dialogue or prose, and when the prose starts to gain some momentum, breaking it off into another file that starts to be a draft of the extended piece itself. These drafts usually themselves start to fragment, contract and expand, so that some parts of the writing, and some notes, get deleted and overwritten by the emerging prose.
Also, I sometimes decide to take the book in a new direction to see if it will work. I will then save a new version of the novel, and moved forward with the new version, always with the possibility of returning to the original draft if the experiment or new strategy in the writing does not feel satisfying.
I think it would be fascinating to be able to watch, like a time lapses sequence, the seeding and evolution of a piece of writing. You might see notes become paragraphs, paragraphs and sentences shooting around the page, like creatures in the deep ocean, sections of the book expanding rapidly, then slowing, the writer's attention moving backwards and forward through the text as one development informs others already written. I am not sure what you would learn, but it seems to me the kind of thing many of us would love to be able to experience with writers who work engages us. It would also reveal that very human and chaotic process of bring a piece of work to a final draft. It is confronting sometimes to look at the work of gifted writers, and see how polished and complete it is in its own vision, and you can forget that it was once a blank page.
As my novels are essential images and scenes that gradually connect I tend to write in real-time scene. Set pieces and scenes, see in real-time scenes. Build these around piece of music. Tends to be connected, why they connect is part of the development and drafting process.
Some other characters are suggested by existing ones. The more I learn about them and more other personalities in their lives start to make sense.
Small detail of character… habits, particular because we tend to see people like that – impressionistic but in words. I usually find the character will have something distinctive about them that will relate to the tehemes or fascinations of the story. For characters which are fairly minor this might be the majority of what you see of them but for major chracters or protagonists.
So what is the reason for the Photophobia and the sunglasses, besides the literary footwork that I am sidestepping practically in its entirely? Well I guess it is common enough for writers to add something memorable or distinctive to their main characters - Sherlock Holmes' hat and pipe for example. It helps to make them interesting, and in an epic drama it is not uncommon to add something a little unusual to spice the character in the reader's imagination. It... anchors them, announces them.
Early in the development of Minerva Milton, the Devil's Personal Assistant, it became apparent to me that she was going to be sensitive to light, meaning she has to wear dark glasses most of the time - even indoors. Originally I thought of this as 'photosensitivity', and used the word in very early draft material. However it turns out that this is actually a skin condition, one in with the skin reacts to sunlight by forming rashes. Her problem is with the eyes, not the skin.
So, although, there are many quite literary dimensions to her association with the darkness through sensitivity to light, while being the actual champion of the light - contradictions, to explore and dramatise I hope - the ultimate reason for her wearing sunglasses, is that she is, in essence, a kind of superheroine, a being sprung out of a comic book world and into 'literature'. A being who shines bright, but is blinded by the light.
Patterns of Speech and Mannerisms
I find it very important for each character I write to have distintive patterns of speech, words and phrases they use. I would always like a reader to be able to tell as much as possible which character is speak without necessary marked it as that character. THe way people walk, if I know that I know something about them.
Kernels of Fascination
His point that was interesting, is that narrative does not have to have obvious plot points such as the introduction of a central mystery, or a love interest to push a story forward. This is the Dan Brown airport thriller kind of structure. Chapter one, someone dies, chapter two hero gets embroiled in the implications of the murder, chapter three herioine is introduced and they flirt, chapter four they are on the run together. Dan Brown type writers have pretty much this kind of structure in every book, all that changes is the central premise or mystery, who gets bumped off, and the name of the hero and heroine.
In the current book I had an invitation - what is it for, why is this powerful man approaching a insignifiancant young woman. From that lay sense of conflict for the two main characters. Metonymic.
WeavingAt a certain point into imagining a fictin and the drafting process I will become aware of threads of ideas moving through the fiction. Might add some. become self referential.
Find strands and images and reweave them slowly
Scaffolds of Creation
There are occasions when these may be an entirely different version of a section of a novel.