Blog Post: How does that writing thing work then?

I was asked recently how I go about writing. Do I plan things meticulously and stick rigidly to the blueprint? Do I just shut out the world and write whatever comes to mind? Do I hunt down public domain works and copy and paste the third word of every fifteenth sentence onto a blank word file then rearrange them into a coherent text?

Well, the truth is, it varies depending on what I’m doing. When it came to WICK, I essentially started writing a completely different book. I began writing with nothing more than a loose idea in my head as to how things would play out and decided to let it flow freely onto the page. At some point while I was writing, the two characters became a little bit more solid and three-dimensional and it became that little bit easier to see how they would deal with the various situations that I threw at them. Then, a mini-disaster of sorts struck.

It became very apparent that what I was writing not going to be the novel that I wanted to write. The concept was fine, if somewhat of a rip-off of a single episode of an anime that I’d been watching, the characters were fine, but there just wasn’t enough there to get a full novel out of it. Now, you could argue that I could have just continued and not written a novel, but the simple fact is that writing a novel was important to me. I’d written poetry, short stories and even a webcomic, but I somehow always managed to give up when it came to novels.

So what was I to do? Well, I took a few things that I liked, worked to apply them to a new scenario and then … scrapped most of it, actually. I still like that particular concept, and will likely use it eventually, but as it was it was just missing something and nothing I was doing was changing that. Oddly though, I kept coming back to an idea that I’d rejected during the tinkering process: card based combat. Not highly original by any means, and certainly not something that would make a novel on its own, but it game me a new starting point.

After deciding to run with this, I switched tactics. I really didn’t want to hit another failure, so had to do something to make sure that I wasn’t going to run out of ground again. What happened next was a series of plans. I made pages upon pages of notes about potential storylines and what I wanted to happen over the course of the story. I came up with and play-tested several different versions of rules for the game itself, each different enough that they would require me to take completely different routes with how they would play out in the eventual book. I made notes about characters as they wandered into my head, I crossed out old notes and adapted them to fit the new characters, I drank copious amounts of herbal and non-herbal teas, I lost several more battles in paly-testing, I researched different theories online and saved bookmarks and text snippets. And so on. For a long time.

Eventually, it hit a point where I knew that I was going to need to start writing. Now, with all these notes, I must have had a coherent roadmap for the story, right? Nope. Like the eejit I am, I had failed to gather my various ideas and concepts into one flowing piece. So I reverted to form. That’s right, after all that, I went straight back to just writing what came to mind. The difference here was that I had a lot more focus this time. I may not have had a set list of chapters and so on, but I did have a lot of stuff to draw from. It may not have all been in one place (and still isn’t for the record), but the notes were there. And there. And over there. Oh, and there were others that I lost or maybe accidentally binned or that the dogs may have possibly destroyed with teeth or urine. But they existed. At some point. Somewhere.

This tactic carried me through the first third or so of the first draft. With NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing month) coming up though, I really wanted to keep working on the book at a good pace. The problem was that writing what came to mind inevitably resulted in there being some nights where what came to mind either wasn’t related to the novel or went along the lines of ‘Erm … what was I writing again? I’m sure I had some notes around here that had something I can use …’ Yup, I was losing my way again. So I did what I needed to: I panicked. I complained to myself, wandered what the point was and considered the positives of giving in completely. That’s right, I let it all out in one big, internal meltdown.

Then I grabbed some paper and set out a plan. I noted what chapters I’d written and came up with a rough outline for what chapters remained. Keeping it rough was the key here because I knew that I probably wouldn’t stick to it, so leaving things too solid would only disrupt things as I went along.

NaNoWriMo came creeping up before I knew it, which meant that it was time to put my new method to the test. What happened was an odd little rollercoaster of a ride for me. For the most part, I did stick to the plan, but as I went along I realised that some chapters needed to be switched, altered or scrapped. I also found myself making more comprehensive noes for different scenes if a particularly good idea struck me (or sometimes a particularly bad idea that had disguised itself in the most excellent of good idea cosplays). Even then, inspiration would occasionally hit and I would just write something that popped up out of the blue. And so it went on until, as NaNoWriMo came to a close, I finished the first draft.

The next step was equal parts harder and easier: ripping the first draft apart in a whirlwind of editing. Through rereads, the discovery of previously lost notes, more spur-of-the-moment additions and my own annoying habit of continually changing the rules of the card game, WICK underwent several rewrites until it was finally ready for public consumption.

There is a whole other story there with my run through of various Agents, all of whom were most pleasant, but that’s irrelevant for this article. You see, I’m now about two thirds of the way through the first draft of CARNIVAL, the second book in The Spark Form Chronicles and direct sequel to WICK. The question is, has my method changed?

Well, sort of. I’m still editing the card game rules, but in minor ways that allow me to add things for CARNIVAL without botching what I’ve done in WICK. I still write with little more than a loose idea in my head, albeit one with far more direction now (the first third and a bit was written almost entirely like that). A roadmap exists to take me from where I was a few weeks ago to the end of the novel and it has a fair bit more detail (and untidy scribbles) than my previous one. It’s also been changed, ignored and generally mucked about with as I’ve gone along, the result of which being that I’ve already switched about six chapters around, combined others and ignored one or two that weren’t needed. Once I reach the end of the first draft, it’ll be back to editing again too. Will that be any different? Nah, probably not. I honestly think that the rewrites were what I did best with WICK, and I intend to stick to my guns as far as possible there.

So that’s it. That’s how I write, at least as far as WICK and CARNIVAL go. Oh, there is the issue that I have an awful habit of self-editing as I go along. A little of this is fine, but it’s all too easy to get caught in the trap of doing it non-stop. How long can you spend on one short chapter, or more specifically three sentences? Try a week. That’s a bad habit and a hard one to break. I do keep trying though, even if it does occasionally sneak up behind me and catch me unawares like some sort of … I don’t know … Author-Staller-Beast.

By way of closing, I say this: If you want my advice, there’s something slightly off about you. That’s OK though, I shall advise you anyway. Make it up as you along. Don’t commit to one method or style of writing unless you’re certain that it’s the right one for you. Experiment, fail, succeed, mix things up and find what works for you. Oh, and slay the Beast. If you don’t, it’ll drop by unannounced at highly inconvenient times, and it won’t even bring tea …

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