Thursday, 24 October 2013

Where The Magic Happens... My Writing Hole.

A while ago I was chatting with someone on Twitter and the subject was of writing space and post-it walls was brought up. I said I'd stick a post up but to be honest it's taken me ages. I tend to say, 'yes', and I fully intend to do whatever it is I've agreed to but the fact is... I need nagging.

It's not really because I'm an arsehole, or that I don't mean to do what I say I'm going to, it's really not. It's just that between the kids, the house, the writing and the worry of making the bills I just plain forget. Sometimes I remember that I need to do something and totally forget who I was going to do it for and so the point drifts into the mists and I don't end up delivering.

Not this time!

So, here it is. Some shots from behind the scenes.

Q: Where do I write?

I write in solitude. I have to be alone, have to be. It's not because I write naked, or because I wear a huge animal costume, or I need to channel my inner Disney and so pop on my favourite adult sized princess costume, Nope. It's because I'm easily distracted. If someone is moving in my peripheral vision then I can't get in the zone. If someone starts talking while I'm hitting a good vein of thought then I just want to rip their head off. In short; I'm a grumpy twat that needs to be left alone.

Out in the big wide world there are all these people wandering about, talking and moving and doing things, things that distract me. Not good. So I head up to the top of the house and hide in the bedroom. There isn't enough room in there for a desk and the dryer is going half the time but it's my cave. The bed is where I hammer out the words and as it can be a bit of a pain on the old back I hope I won't write on the bed forever. I hope to get in a study at some point. A place where I can hang posters and post-it boards and have a window with a nice view that can be concealed with a blind on the days I need the world to fuck off.

Q: Do I use post-it boards?

The simple answer is both yes, and no. I tend to take an idea and keep it in my head. Over a long period of time I develop the idea, life seeping into all aspects of it, shaping the characters and events. I take a notebook and I make notes on all of the story, characters, events, the general theme, ideas for music; the works basically.

That notebook is the story's shorthand. The broad sweep is in my head and after about a years time I convert all the thinking time into words. Thinking time is immeasurably important, but by that I don't mean time devoted to me and the notebook. I mean time spent washing up, listening to the right music; the music I'll write the piece to. It's time spent chewing food and staring out of the window, it's time spent not really watching t.v but more staring at the screen while my brain does anything but watch the t.v.

Finally, when I have music, thought, emotion, notebook, time, theme, character and the bottle to start... I start. At some point there is a need to organise the thoughts because the notebook isn't ordered logically. It's in sections, sure, but it's not logically laid out. When this moment comes I place the post-it notes up if I need them.

I didn't use a post-it board for 'Blank Canvas' mainly because it was a far more internalised story. For the second book (completed, test read, hard copy edited and now being cleaned) I needed a place to collect names and build timeline and structure. It's nearly twice as long as the first book and so I needed a place where I could stand and stare at the timeline to make sure obvious gaps weren't missed and events were recorded as needed.

Book three I was keeping as secret as possible, even from some people in the house. Was that because I wasn't sure of the story? No. I think I was worried because it represented a change in style, a switch to one I'm not as confident with and so I felt the need to keep it internalised. Was that to protect the story or to protect my shortfalls? Really not sure.

Q: What do you listen to when you write?

I used to try and write to music that inspired certain moods in me. Soundtracks from films I loved, never using anything with lyrics in case it disrupted my concentration, that sort of thing. The shift in attitude came when I started writing Blank Canvas and I realised that I didn't want to capture someone else's vibe, I wanted my own one!

I switched to soundtracks of films I'd never seen, by composers I loved. I could feel their magic but I wasn't bleeding into someone else's visual, or narrative. I found Blue-Grass Blues and worked to albums with lyrical content for the first time ever. It wasn't the words that I wanted, it was the feeling that the words inspired in me.

Saying all of that I did use the soundtrack to the film Solaris, by Cliff Martinez. It was the vibe I wanted and it was from a film I loved and so that broke all the rules, and yet I found it helped me plug into my own story and so I went along with it.

I think it worked out quite well.

Since then I have a strict rule that I have to find new music for each book. Each project has to have it's own soundtrack, made up of multiple albums, that capture multiple moods. I am allowed to use some music I know, some soundtracks that I've seen the films for, so long as I've spent time imprinting my own story onto it prior to writing.

This fusion of sound that I both know, and don't, helps me to create a new feeling, a new story. I can be influenced by external forces so long as I am not allowing it to affect the whole work.    

In the end I'm a firm believer in doing it 'your way', not 'their way.' Getting advice is awesome and it's fab that there are so many writers willing to pass a bit of wisdom around, but nothing beats going on instinct. I write in the day because I want this to be my job and I only write in the night when my day job has stamped on my daylight writing time. I stay hidden and control my environment, I squirrel away ideas and leave them in the cold earth, waiting with excitement for the time that I have to dig them up and make use of them.

Many writers use programs to help them organise their thoughts and ideas, make life easier in the edit process and keep track of exactly what happens and when. I don't. I found I couldn't make the tech work for me and so I spent time fighting with it rather than writing. As soon as I realised it was getting in the way it was gone. I went back to notebooks, hours spent washing up and being the world's worst conversationalist because I really and truly wasn't listening.

I'm not being rude, I'm just not really there. Brain is elsewhere.

So, a few pictures, a few words on writing and I think that's me done. A firm believer in muddling through, sticking with the chase no matter where it leads you and doing it your own way, no matter how that way manifests itself.

I write what I want to write, when I want to write it, how I want to write it.

"Start early and work hard. A writer's apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he's almost ready to begin. That takes a while."

- David Eddings.

I took it that he meant that through those million words you'd make the mistakes you needed to make, slog through the doubts and worries, and come out as someone able to express themselves on page. That's cool. For some people it's going to take longer and for some it will be shorter. The natural will shave hundreds of thousands off that I'm sure and the ones that it comes hard to will have to face a few hundred thousand more than that magic million.

Thinking about it I figure all the words you write must count towards that figure, after all you have to learn to write, have to learn to form words, how to use them, their meanings, all that jazz. That must be part of your journey. Using those words in more and more complicated ways until someone turns and says, 'that was good!'

I'm not confident on my vocabulary, I'm not confident about my skill with words, I'm not confident that I'm that naturally talented word-smith that I'd like to be. If you asked me about my strengths I'd tell you I know my characters. That I can make an emotional connection and build a story that grips, has soul and also works towards a natural ending.

I think I've done my million words now, so I look forward to my next million.

Bring them on baby!

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