Or, in other words, How to be a Word-Tortoise (all will become clear, I promise)
I’m incredibly fortunate that I’m working on my children’s middle grade adventure novel with Penguin Random House UK on their incredible WriteNow mentoring scheme. We are paired with an editor and supported to get our book as fabulous as it can possibly be, ready for publication. I didn’t realise until this opportunity, because I’m a North East lass with ship building in her blood not London literature life, how many people go in to supporting you. How your editor (especially if you’re ridiculously lucky and working with the wonderful and talented and clever and brave and funny and book-lovingly brilliant Emma Jones from Puffin) will love your book, your characters, your world as much, if not more than you do and they will do everything possible to help you make it GLORIOUS. But that, despite all that, you’ll have to write it yourself…
And that’s what this post is about – trust and faith in HOW you do that.
I spent years putting off novel writing because I was searching for a secret HOW.
There’s nothing wrong at all in reading about other people’s process, in fact it’s great for trying out new things, the problem was, I didn’t know I was allowed to say;
That’s lovely that getting up at 5am and writing for 7 hours straight after a jog and a vitamin juice works for you, and that you believe that if you’re not writing 1000 words a day you’re not a writer you’re in fact a lazy wannabe who’ll never make it, and that you have to plot your novel and write character profiles and write all your scenes in the correct order, BUT I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT TOO, AND THAT DOESN’T MEAN I’M NOT A PROPER WRITER.
That I was allowed to try these things and then go nah, nope, not for me that.
I spent a ludicrous amount of wasted time trying to make things work for me that just were never going to fit; with my temperament, lifestyle and impairment. That’s something I didn’t consider for far too long, that my brain and body don’t conform to those books and ‘ideals’, and that’s okay. It’s all about finding the method which works for you and sticking to it. Or completely and utterly altering it when you need to. Basically, let’s say this together, there are things to learn from and take on board and dismiss out of hand, but there
ARE NO RULES
For me I’m a notebook collector and hoarder. I love the idea of having a book for each project, filling them with copperplate and detailed illustrations. Reality check – THIS IN ACTUAL REAL LIFE STRESSES ME OUT. It actually makes my brain ill. What if I don’t have the correct notebook with me? What if I have to write in the wrong one? How on earth will I carry all of them? At all times? Everywhere, just in case. Does anyone have a pretty wheelbarrow I can borrow? So, I have one notebook on the go, I chuck everything in there. It’s a nightmare to find things in it, messy and will not be a beautiful addition to the British Library one day, but it calms my brain. And my notes app on my phone is always with me, stuff gets chucked there too. So I collect pretty notebooks and mainly just look at them. I’m okay with that.
I do not have a set time for writing. I do not have a word target. I do not write everyday. I do not write most days. And I’ve learned that this is okay. There are a multitude of books out there that will tell you how to do all those things very efficiently if that floats your boat, and if so, please go forth and read them and be glorious finding the thing that works for you. Because that’s what this is all about. But let’s just hoy this in here…
I made myself really ill, really broken, medically back to being in a white room and directing the birds just by blinking, trying to keep up with that stuff, because no-one told me that I could find my own way. My mental health, my body, they have to be taken into consideration when writing. You have to do that for you. However you make it work, IS RIGHT.
So what do I do? I think a lot. I day dream. I follow my characters in my head, I let them wander and do stuff. I read and listen to the radio. I sit outside. I sleep. A lot. I lie down. A lot. I look at my pretty notebooks and don’t write in them. The world grows and grows. Then I begin to make some scattered notes, in the one notebook that also has shopping lists and workshop plans. The things that keep knocking on my brain walls and I don’t want to lose. Fragments of conversations. Ideas for scenes. Odd phrases. I kind of have an idea of where I want to go and let the characters get there. If you’re lucky like me and have an amazing editor who writes you detailed incredible heart-joy notes I stick them in my brain percolator with the other stuff and just carry them around with me for a couple of months.
THIS IS NOT BEING LAZY.
THIS IS ALL WRITING.
THIS IS IMPORTANT AND VALID AND OKAY.
Then I print out the notes, or some work, or get some paper and brain splurge some stuff on to it. There’s no specific time when I do this, it’s almost when this is the only possible thing I could possibly do next. And it’s usually in bed. And my Harper Lee literary dog is usually there. I then make a list. Of things I want to do, of things I don’t want to forget. I like lists. They keep my brain happy and safe. They provide a map, a safety net.
And then, straight on to the laptop (energy saving), I pour the stuff out that has been living in my brain for so long. It comes out pretty much fully formed. Some people draft on the page, in notebooks, do idea swirls and idea maps and character profiles. This is brilliant! For them. Too knackering for me, it doesn’t work, I’m too pooped then to do the actual writing. But all that time they’ve been writing and drawing those – I’ve been LIVING it in my head.
As for deadlines – go ahead and set them. Have word count goals, and days to write and all the things that make YOUR HEART sing. I just know I’d really like it if this draft was finished by mid-July. Yes please thank you, that would be surely lovely. But hey, if I’m broken that won’t happen. That Aesop man had it right, I’m a word-tortoise. How will it still get written without word tallies and deadlines? Because I love writing, this book has stolen my heart and I want to do it. Simple.
And that’s it. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t worthy of a book to add to those on my shelf because this is my method:
I basically think an awful lot.
I make a list.
And then I write it.
It took far too long to know that this was okay. Your method, whatever it is, is okay. Enjoy your words. Be okay with the days where your head is cotton wool tumble weed empty. Be kind to you, don’t push, rest, the words will come back.