The writer James Hannah has placed a curse upon me. Apparently I have to participate in something described as ‘Blog Tour’ answering questions on the theme of ‘My Writing Process’ and if I don’t do this I will die. He didn’t actually make the death threat explicitly, no, he’s too smart for that, it was all very nice and ‘only if you want to’ and ‘no obligation at all’ and similarly intimidating language. Clearly my life was in danger.
Anyway, you can see James’s apparently thoughtful and menace-free answers here.
I think I’m supposed to infect someone else now by tapping them with my virtual finger. Instead though I’d prefer it if someone volunteered to be a carrier. If you fancy posting answers to the following four questions on your blog, let me know and I’ll retrospectively point in your direction.
Here is what I gave up under interrogation:
What am I working on?
This is a question I ask myself a lot and it’s not often that I have a good answer.
The occasions on which I’m embarked on a tangible project, when I have a clear idea of what I’m doing are pretty rare and precious. To be more specific, here’s my impression of my working life averaged out over a few years:
Writing – 15%
Concertedly thinking about what I might write – 15%
Feeling bad that something I thought I might write has not worked out – 15%
Feeling bad that I have no clear idea of what I want to write – 30%
Revisiting unfinished projects/pieces/chapters in vain hope they might come to life – 25%
When you write you are your own boss. This is not great if the kind of boss you are is basically a demotivating, despairing colossal catastrophe-monger.
What I’ve learnt to do is to protect the boss from the truth. The boss needs to believe I’m working on something all the time so now I let her think that. In the past, if I had an idea for something I tended to interrogate it under fluorescent strip lights for half a day until it cracked and revealed itself to be weak then I’d run and tell the boss. Now I go gentler, I let the idea be, I don’t look at it too closely or too soon. When the boss comes by I shout inanely positive statements whilst punching the air. I even try and high-five her as she passes but she leaves me hanging. When she’s gone, the idea and I exchange a look and breathe a sigh of relief. Of course the day comes when the idea really does have to be tested and stretched and poked, but I try and postpone that until another idea has come along to either reinforce or replace the original one. The boss is basically a baby that needs to be pacified.
Returning to the original question, as it happens, I am in the golden 15% zone at the moment. I’m writing a short story to commission. It’s quite an unusual commission. The West Midlands Readers’ Network pairs writers with reading groups. The reading groups then commission the writer to write something to their specification or at least they suggest some possible ideas for content.
It’s been a little while since I’ve written any fiction (see protracted explanation above) and so I quite liked the idea of someone else coming up with the ideas, but of course I was also horrified at the thought of someone else coming up with the ideas. As I’ve already detailed, there’s a high body-count of ideas in my writing process. What hope would someone else’s ideas have? And what if they had too many ideas, or their ideas conflicted with each other, or they were simply terrible?
Well, the results are unveiled at this event.
I’m grateful to the members of the Lichfield reading group for providing some respite from the boss.
How does my work differ from others?
More people and places I recognise.
Why do I write what I do?
I feel a connection with an idea or a place or a character. I’m not sure what the connection or attraction is, I’m not clear what it is that has its hooks in me. So my urge to write starts off with an impenetrable, but somehow enticing knot. When I write, if I write well, it feels as if I’m unravelling the knot, opening it out and laying out the pieces.
Also there’s some sense of guilt or responsibility. Writing makes me stop and think and take the time to look at things. When I’m not writing (ie most of the time) I’m letting the world glide past me, I’m not noticing. It feels as if I’m wasting life, whereas when I write it feels as if I’m according my life the respect it deserves.
And sometimes I just write for laughs.
How does my writing process work?
Can we grace it with the title ‘process’? Does it work? To me it seems more like a haystack or a skip, which fiercely resists any attempts at overhaul.
I go through phases of keeping a journal or taking notes and phases where I don’t. The notes or journal entries I do keep are scattered across any number of notebooks, computers, phones and occasionally this blog – there’s no organising principle or system. The concept of having one exercise book in which I jot down my thoughts would seem to be a simple one, but is a far beyond my grasp as the moon.
Writing a novel involves casting about in those old notebooks, computers and phones for things I’ve written at some point and have incorrectly remembered as remarkable and then forcing myself to sit in my office for long hours that turn into weeks and months and think. When I eventually have some kind of an idea for a story mapped out I write a rough list of all the scenes I need to write to tell the story. I’m fairly disciplined then in sitting down each morning and working my way through the scenes, the only hitch being that I am unable to write them in chronological order. I just write whatever scene I feel I can write on the day – creating a hideous tangle of continuity errors and duplication to sort out later on. I tried very hard not to do this with my third novel. I wrote chapter one, then chapter two and then I stopped writing for almost a year, entirely blocked. One day I waved a white flag and had a go at writing chapter 36, it worked, my writing process had made its point and I toed the line after that. Now we know who’s in charge.