Thoughts about process

I have spent the last couple of days catching up on admin and reading, trying to flush my mind for the read through of novel #2 (which I hope, one day, will actually have a title). I have had to fill in a couple of interview forms for a couple of places, both of which asked about my process.

While it may sound a little precocious coming from a first-time novelist, I do believe that I have a process, or a way of working that suits me.

Here are some excerpts from an interview I did with NaNoWriMo (I’ll post the link when it goes live).

On first drafts:

I see the first draft as a voyage of discovery. I used to be a devising theatre director (before the website design, but that’s another story), developing plays with actors improvising in rehearsal. Writing for me is more or less the same process. The only difference is that the performers in my novels are my own creations, rather than gobby actors, and they only have limited powers to argue with me. Although I do find that they sometimes take over in the writing. I start a scene saying to them ‘right, we’re going to end up here,’ and they end up taking it way, way, over there. I say to them, ‘ you can’t say/do THAT, surely? And they say, ‘just watch us’.

It’s very exciting when that happens. Even a bit spooky.

When I get stuck, I give up and go for a run. I live by the sea, so it’s very refreshing. Mostly the answer to my problem comes if I have the right music on and put my brain into neutral.

On editing:

Printing out your first draft, however crappy it is, and giving yourself a couple of weeks to really read it through with a pencil in hand is a good thing. You mustn’t be afraid to scribble all over everything.

Then I like a mixture of real index cards and the Scrivener corkboard (I always work in Scrivener) to get a solid structure. This will mean there are completely new scenes that need to be written, and whole scenes that you can just junk.

Then I rewrite the whole thing, working from my hard copy, and the Scrivener split screen. I retype everything, rather than cutting and pasting, because then you have to think about every word again.

After another print out and read through, it is ready to be seen by others.

I have had a great experience working with my editor at Headline. Her suggestions have almost unanimously been brilliant, and have moved the novel into quite another plane. I really enjoyed this process, and love that stage of writing, where you are threading in the final strands that make it utterly coherent.

Do you have any advice on writing or revision for NaNoWriMo participants?

The usual stuff – be open and free for the first draft, be ruthless with the structure for the second, and fanatical about the words for the third – examine every sentence. Remain true to your characters and story, but also be flexible and listen to and value feedback, see things from the reader’s point of view.  Oh, and read the whole lot out loud, every draft.  Get lots of pens, stickers and index cards to make structuring fun.

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