Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dirty little secrets

LM asked me yesterday about the importance of word counts and the rules of writing. I could ask her the same thing - what are the rules of painting and sculpting?

The trouble is that there are rules that apply to writing, if not to the process then definitely to the finished piece. These rules are set by the Gods of Publishing and concern layout, house style, gutter depth etc, but give no clue to the magick formula of writing a novel.

I am not very comfortable talking about my journey through writing a novel but I will attempt to share some of my unsavoury habits as clearly as I can. You can decide whether they are useful to you, or condemn me as off me trolley.

In the beginning....
I start with a sniff of an idea which I carry around in my head for days/weeks/months. As soon as the idea has a shape that I can recognise I start to write. The first thing that goes down on a word doc is the last sentence. This is my eventual goal - the finish post, but how I get there is often a mystery to me (oh dear, no help there then!).

Harry Plotter....
I am the world's worst plotter. No one told me in the beginning that plotting was the thing to do but after I enrolled on a creative writing course (after I had written two novels) I found out that I was a bad, bad person.

"Plotting a novel in detail stops writers block" my 'dull as ditch' water tutor informed the class.

"What's writers block?" I asked meself, immediately thinking that I was due for a dreadful bout of constipation. I am not going to say that I will never suffer from word blockage but when I feel that I have come to crossroads I stop and go and do something else for a couple of days until it becomes clear where I must go.

Drafty in here.
What is a first draft? For me it is the result of my 'vomit' style writing. No editing, barely spell checking (unless one irritates me) and often a sentence or a paragraph is dotted with stars to remind me to fill something in later. I make notes as I go along, adding thoughts and ideas to the prow of the next chapter.

In search of the grail.
I don't spend months researching my subject, I do it as I need to know. Saying that, I can get stuck in a particularly juicy bit of information for days and have recently been trawling the net for suitable house building materials capable of withstanding temperatures of -50 degrees.

Counting the wordies.
A useful tool to see if you have progressed any. Why bother with something that is going to put constraints on your writing? Let it run free and worry about it afterwards. Some writers like to set a goal of words a day. I think I would have trouble with this and cause myself undue mental problems. When I get going I write very quickly (the first draft of Coven of One was finished in 3 months). If I worried about the words then I might not stay up all night to finish a chapter and then where would I be?

How long is a piece of string?
How the fuck should I know? This is my piece of string and that is yours. Coven came in at 120, 000 words. By the time the editors (word executioners - Debi and Skint) had ripped it to shreds it was down to 110, 000 wordies. This is a fairly standard length I think, and the editing process weeds out all yer useless decorative touches (Debi, if you mention the word 'had' I will dig yer eyes out with spoons). I have never had a word count goal - the novel finishes where it does, hopefully somewhat longer than a poem.

My tool box
I started writing just over six years ago. I have learned a lot in a very short space of time. No one can teach you how to write, or how to acquire style and my advice would be:-

Read everything you can lay your hands on.

Study and compare styles of other writers.

Talk to anyone who will listen.

Share your work.

Write gooder English.

Believe in yourself.

Question everything you write.

If you don't love a character then chuck them out.

Write every day (my only discipline).

Relax, enjoy your writing.

Live the book.

Drink gin, eat naughty biscuits and sing, frequently.

Questions may be asked in the comments but I probably won't answer them as I am hiding behind this bush.

Pee ess-

Maht, at Moon Topples, has a relevant post, revealing his own thoughts about his first novel.


Unknown said...

What's writers' blo..?

Debi said...

Can I say haddock? Even though it's got the h** word in it?

The Moon Topples said...

Yay! Very well done, my Limish friend. I've taken notes.

Unknown said...

I can't hear any of you - I have a bag over my head.

Unknown said...

'Vomit' style writing. I once told a friend that that's what I did. At the moment it's more like afterwards; you know when you're gagging and only a little bit come out! And I've kind of decided against word count bars too, although I will keep counting. And lastly does writing every day include tedious e mails of complaint to fuckwits?

Marie said...

Interesting. Thanks for sharing this info, Minx.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful, fascinating. I am enthralled with the ideas here, especially the writing the last sentence first.

Hmmmm, he said, to himself mostly.

Unknown said...

You barf as well, V? I don't think we needed the extra details but I am glad to have a fellow puker.
Oo, a question - complaining to fuckwits hones sharp dialogue - heh!

Yes, well, Marie, reading back I'm not sure any of it makes sense really. Then again maybe I should write a guide to writing - it couldn't be any worse than some of the crap out there .....plot, plot, plot......

Please don't be enthralled, Mr Goodthomas. I often feel that I got into medical school without the qualifications. One day I shall find out that one can't perform brain surgery with a spade.

L.M.Noonan said...

Dearest Minxie,late as usual 'cause I've buggered m'foot. What woz that about gooder English?
Thankyou. Half the time the mythologhy surrounding and bolstering an activity is the most difficult to hack through. Mixie Machete hath done a wonderful job, now I can get a little closer to sleeping beauty, albeit with a few scratches.
Plot...what's plot?
Writing the last sentance is a curious thing. My problem Minxie-and I don't remember if I've said this before; is that I'm accused of being too sparse by the few who have read my work. Consequently I have a hard time writing a lot of words. I'm no good at padding anything but my waistline.

soubriquet said...

-50 degrees.
been there, done that
wood wood wood. woodshavings, wood.... okay...
rockwoolrockwool tooo....
galv tin roof.

Unknown said...

I have herd, LM, that is yer engerlish is gooder then you gets publishized.
Re padding. A while ago, over a few gins, I listened to my friends arguing for an hour about the physical appearance of Dorcas, me witch in Coven of One. After they had picked over every mis-remembered detail I told them that the only clues in the book were hair/eye colour and the fact that her dresses have large pockets. I don't labour over long descriptive pieces, preferring to be very sparse in my outline and let the reader do the work for me!!

Soubriquet - you're an angel. A little stoned in your delivery I feel but I got the gist of it. Can't use tin (it's a future ice age) but I am busily inventing a yurt type building with wooly/woodshaving walls, kind of. Thank you!

Jon M said...

Cor, I'm going off to write now!

Unknown said...

Seems you do, Mr Mayhew.

Jan said...

Just discovered this interesting post so shall be back to read it properly.
Thanks Minx

Jon M said...

Thanks for the lead! I am now a fully paid up Shameless Lion! Roar!

Anonymous said...

Coo! I am too lazy for all that stuff... thats why I blog! By the way - in case you hadn't heard its not too late to vote for ME at the blogpower awards. Just follow the link on my blog...oh dear I am being crushed by the forces of reaction Minxy - what should I do?

Unknown said...

Jan, now I'm really scared - you being a creative writing teacher an' all!

'Roar' back at you, Mr Scrabsnitch.

In a crisis, Mutley, I have a gin and a little lie down. If the crisis is bad enough I lie down first and then have five gins.
(I really should have been an agony aunt.)

Debi said...

Wow! What an amazing coincidence (though I suspect witchcraft meself). No sooner do you call on the services of an agony aunt than one appears on your blog the very next day.

'Tis magick ...

Unknown said...

Tis correct, Debi. Agatha returned from Bridport (under police escort) just in time to give me a break. The woman is a wonder and a fountain of valuable information that can change your life.

Kay Cooke said...

This is all great stuff - practical and written with humour. I really like the idea of writing the end first and heading for that.
I'm also quite fond of the naughty biscuit idea!

Unknown said...

As you would, Mrs Biscuit. I suspect that your tin is full of naughty chiefbiscuits.
The writing process (Goddess doncha hate that word?) is different for all. I have picked up loads of tips on the way but no one taught me how to write. I find using words helps as well.