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