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The Novel Writing Process and why, whatever yours is, it’s RIGHT

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.

two of my bookshelves full of 'How-To' books and assorted keep-sakes such as crocheted toys, paperweights and cards
photo description: two of my bookshelves full of ‘How-To’ books and assorted keep-sakes

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…

Image shows Lisette in a purple t-shirt which reads disability is not a bad word, holding her walking stick with her eyes and mouth wide open.
photo description: Lisette in a purple t-shirt which reads ‘disability is not a bad word’, holding her purple walking stick with her eyes and mouth wide open. photo credit: Laura Tindall at PaperBoat Photography

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 COUNTS.

THIS IS IMPORTANT AND VALID AND OKAY.

photo description: folder of printed notes covered in handwritten ideas which is on a duvet with a sleeping stretched out dog.
photo description: folder of printed notes covered in handwritten ideas which is on a duvet with a sleeping stretched out dog.

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.

THE END.

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.

I promise.

What to do on a wonky head day courtesy of Vici Wreford-Sinnott

Today I was feeling a little bit wonky. A not right in the head, wibbly, I’m a bit rubbish, sort of day. My wonderful friend, activist, writer and director Vici Wreford-Sinnott gave me some brill advice via email:

Stop right there! Do not go near that television! It will drain you of the will to breathe, it will suck all of the breath optimism and hope out of you. That is not being kind to your heed.
What exactly are you doing badly and inefficiently? Is a more accurate word, tiredly? Badly and inefficiently therefore do not apply and are banished from negative internal baboon chatter. Stoppit! By all means have the cup of tea. Perhaps get a big piece of paper and a big coloured pen for a quick colourful bubble-gram of six amazing things that have happened to you because of your writing. A quick re-read of your guiding motto (I’m sure you have one or more) and another big pen and paper of where you are heading. Four big fluffly cloud shaped bubbles with ambitions in them.
I rather thought that was flipping brilliant. So, care of Vici, I’m offering it to you too as a really bloomin good idea. Get out a piece of paper, some stickers, pens and glue. Make a mess. And write and draw the things that make you feel good about you and excited and happy and next time you have a wonky head day you can look at it and remember just how flipping fantastic you are, or at least have a gentle reminder while you wait to emerge from your blanket fort.
Here goes with my six amazing things that have happened since January…..
Photo from BBC Radio 3 web page advertising Sunday Morning with Sarah Walker
photo description: Advert for Sunday Morning programme on BBC Radio 3

Archipelago LEGEND Faye MacCalman was interviewed live on Sarah Walker’s Sunday Morning BBC Radio 3 programme from the Sage Gateshead and featured our title track from Between Waves. Only bloomin danced round the kitchen in my dressing gown and heard my name on the Radio Box! Listen in for Faye storming it 2 hours in, and my little bit at 2 hours 30 mins.


 

I got to sit in a BBC Bitesize Director’s chair and hold an as seen on TV BBC microphone as I spent a day in two schools bigging up the creative industry and all the fab jobs that can be found within.


a caricature of my face.
photo credit: designed by Scott Tyrell. photo description: a caricature of my face.

When my ickle sister was little, she was on a school tea towel – you know the sort where children draw bad pictures of themselves and for some reason they all look like Hitler. I didn’t get to do this. My mum still has the tea towel. I’ve held that grudge for years. Well, the amazingly talented graphic designer and poet Scott Tyrrell created a Spoken Word Map of Great Britain and followed it up with a tea towel AND MY FACE IS ON IT! Beat that ickle sis.


I was privileged to be asked by MIMA to be the first to light the candles at the Sisters exhibit by Chiara Camoni. It was a beautiful way to begin the year with new found friends.


a group of young people collecting awards along with me, Rowan McCabe and Barry Hyde.
photo description: a group of young people collecting awards along with me, Rowan McCabe and Barry Hyde.

I was really proud to be part of the No More Nowt Happens Showcase by East Durham Creates performing alongside Rowan McCabe and Barry Hyde. It’s a development programme that’s right up my street – meeting young people where they are and providing them with fantastic opportunities to create, design and programme their own events. MINT!


12 squares containing in each a photo of the 12 mentees, I am one of them. The Penguin logo and the words Write Now are mid left hand side.
photo description: 12 squares containing in each a photo of the 12 mentees, I am one of them. The Penguin logo and the words Write Now are mid left hand side.

On Friday 29th March I handed in my first draft of my novel to my editor and mentor at Penguin – right on the nose of the deadline. And you know what, I wasn’t sure I could do it. And then I did. First time I’ve ever finished a first draft of a novel. EEEEEEEK. Now I enter completely unknown territory, but I’m so lucky to be working with a fantastic editor who understands what I want to achieve with the book and knows and loves the world of the story just as much as I do. Lots of work ahead, and I’m ready for it! Off to London Town on Friday to get notes on my first draft….


me and my sister, wearing sunglasses, saying cheers with beverages.
photo description: me and my sister, wearing sunglasses, saying cheers with beverages.

Yes, I know, this is the seventh! But I wanted a lovely reminder of all the behind the scenes stuff that enables me to do all the creative stuffs. I have a wonderful army of family and friends who completely and utterly get me and my impairments and what they mean and entail, who always include me and find ways to adapt, and are there throughout the sucky bits and the brilliant bits. This photo is of me and my sister; we found a sunny spot in York for a cheeky beverage, and later at a restaurant, I found out that my sneaky wonderful sister had been planning and there was prosecco and a congratulations card for submitting my first draft waiting for me at the table. Writing is a solo isolating job, but that is made easier and more glorious by having a tribe – this is my reminder to be grateful and say thank you often to my wonderful gang.