Novelist and creator of awesome cheesecake Rachel Connor invited me to contribute to this blog tour where writers share their process. I think it’s incredibly important to reflect on our writing practice – by understanding how we work we can make the most of our creative time. Writing this blog made me realise how little writing I’m doing at the moment, so it’s given me a well-deserved kick up the ass.
What am I working on?
It’s easier to talk about what I’m not writing at moment. For the past few months I have been developing and testing a website for writers, so I’m full of excuses why I’m too damn busy to write. You’ve heard them all before.
There are several projects languishing in my bottom drawer including the seventh draft of a screenplay about a woman trying to outrun a deadly virus when eight months pregnant – her baby will be immune so she has to survive long enough to give birth. There’s a half written novel about a teacher on a school trip when one of her class goes missing, unfortunately she’s having an affair with the child’s father so she makes stupid decisions putting the child, her lover and herself at risk. There’s also a pile of short stories that could really do with an edit.
Enough already! I promise by the time this blog is posted I’ll have tackled one of the above.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s really important for me to have decent female characters in my work. I apply a rough version of the Bechdel test where you ask of any work of fiction whether it:
- has at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
My characters have boyfriends, get pregnant, do a bunch of gender specific stuff, but there’s more to them than that. I hope…
I also try to be funny. This is important if a character is unsympathetic, but mainly because I like funny stuff and if I make other people laugh I’ll have earned my place in this world.
So my goal and USP is women plus funny.
Why do I write what I do?
I write for the same reason I read and watch films – to live multiple lives. It’s not to evade life but to be more fully immersed in it; to vicariously experience the pleasure, pain and resolution of a story well told.
How does my writing process work?
I’m a writing habits obsessive – my bookshelf is weighed down with author interviews and autobiographies. Though I’ll never attain the writerly heights of my heroes I’ve learnt from their practice, and here are my tried and tested ways of working:
Write daily – It’s much easier to keep writing when you write every day. I like to follow Jerry Seinfeld’s advice: ‘don’t break the chain’. However, I write in fits and starts with periods of daily practice followed by weeks of inactivity. My dream is to reduce the gap to have an unbroken chain of writing and editing days.
Write before doing anything else – If I don’t write first, I don’t write. There is too much that needs to be done in the day that if I schedule my writing for later I’ll be spent – work will have depleted my essential writingness.
Get up before the dog – if it’s important it’s worth making time for, and with a day packed full of other responsibilities that means getting up early. I shuffle to my desk in the attic with an apple and a cup of green tea and move words around the screen before the sun shines a light on the million other things that need my attention. I’ve got until the dog needs a walk at about 8am.
Sort out the structure – I like structure in writing as I do in life. For longer pieces I use screen writing plotting methods to include an inciting incident and plot points for tension and drama.
Draft at speed, edit slowly – I try to write the first draft quickly and spend my time editing. Writing is rewriting, is rewriting, is rewriting.
Review your work backwards – One tip I got from doing a class on screen writing is to create a beat sheet (this works as well for novels as it does for screenplays). You use it to analyse your story for excitement, tension, consistency, drama, etc. The important thing is to start at the last beat and work back towards the first – this way you see each beat individually and aren’t misled by the forward momentum of the story.
Now I just need to learn from my learnings, take my own advice, and damn well write something.
Next on the blog tour
Wyl Menmuir is a freelance writer, editor and literacy consultant and is juggling writing his first novel with the demands of family life, freelancing and the call of the sea. You can read his blog on his website now write about it.
Sallie Tams is a fiction writer originating from Yorkshire now based in Staffordshire, by way of New York and Boston. In 2010 she won the Whittaker Prize for fiction and her recent collection of short stories, What We Didn’t Say, was published in 2013 by CompletelyNovel.com; she’s also published by EtherBooks. She shares her life with a North Carolina Plott Hound called Willie (aka Plottdog). Sallie’s blog is on Travelling Hopefully.