Creative Writing

The Act of Showing Up #mywritingprocess Blog Hop

Thanks to Bec Evans for tagging me in on this Blog hop. I have to say it has made me sit down and really think about my work, especially the second question!  Bec’s fabulous post about her own process is here. You can find others by using the Twitter hashtag #mywritingprocess.

January, that heinous month of resolutions and guilt, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get involved with the 31 Days of Waking Up challenge laid down by Satya Robin and Kaspalita at Writing Our Way Home.  The idea of starting the year in the relative calm and tranquility offered by mindful writing greatly appealed to me. The process of producing short daily pieces– small stones–of carefully considered writing aimed at capturing my fully-engaged moments was just what I needed to begin my journey back to serious writing focus.

It was the second time I’d done one of these particular month-long challenges with Satya and each time I have gained a huge benefit in terms of not only honing observational skills but also, amid the frantic pace of my daily life, the ability be assertive with myself, apply my foot to the brake and say, ’hang on a minute, I’m going to just stop now and really connect with what I’m experiencing.’ I have found it empowering, uplifting and fulfilling. The bonus of course is it made me turn up for work every day and get some writing done, produce my 31 small stones and some of my better ones landed here on my much neglected blog which has been somewhat rejuvenated and readership has expanded really well.

What I’m Working on Now

And so with the challenge ended it is time to pick up on a number of projects which I back-burnered in 2013, the first which should be completed by the end of this month is to reformat What We Didn’t Say from print manuscript to eBook format for Kindle et al. It’s the first time I’ve done this and I’m prevaricating like mad on it but I know I’ll feel a lot better when it’s done.

My major project is rewriting a novel I wrote in 2010 which is set in the Staffordshire Potteries.  It is very much a character-driven story of addiction and depression, loss and betrayal; inheritance and the lengths people are prepared to go for what they consider to be their birthright. It is to a certain extent an archetypal family saga with a strong focus on industrial heritage of the area and the demise of the once great pottery manufacturing industry. When I initially wrote this story, I started with a prologue and then leapt forward some 10 years. In the rewrite, I’m considering a linear chronology. I’m not entirely sure which way will work best and the rewrite will help establish that.

In addition to this, I am working on another outline set in the area I grew up in on the Yorkshire Coast this time among the deep-sea fishing community, it’s something that I’m hoping I can turn into a serialization. The plan is to write each episode just before it goes live via my website. I’m quite excited about this idea however at this point I am in the very early stages and have no misapprehension about just how difficult this project will be to pull off and how  strong my outline has to be. Once that commitment is made to the reader, you really have to deliver and so it really is both an exciting and insanely scary concept for me.

I’m kicking this idea about but it will only become a reality if I can see a failsafe way of protecting it from the demands of my day job. I know the argument is that it would surely be easier to write the whole thing first and then just slice and dice it into small weekly servings. Maybe that is the answer and potentially the best way to go about it. Time will tell.

Another project in relative infancy is another collection of short stories. Although my novels tend to fall squarely in the general fiction category, the most recent short stories I’ve written have all involved elements of magical realism, (I am a huge Aimee Bender fan). I’ve never really done much with these but occasionally add a new one.  The thing with these stories, unlike others I’ve written, is that they tend to appear in my head in a rather shambolic and ad hoc manner, arriving in a semi-fully formed condition whenever they feel like it, I can’t sit down and just write them as I do with other stories; this project could take years!

And then there’s the blogs. Currently I have this one and my second, a fledgling– Sallie in Stitches.  They were both really neglected in 2013 and so it is my aim this year to keep a constant flow of relevant posts on both.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?

Hmm. Interesting. What’s my USP? To be honest I had to think long and hard about this.  I play around a lot with brokenness in my characters, they are the kind of runners-up in the game of life. They have normally had some kind of massive and very public fall from grace before ever having the chance to really achieve their potential.  My novels centre on whether they truly have what it takes to become whole and explore their own possibilities. My POV characters all, without doubt, have a brittle and edgy darkness about them that could go either way and I hope that’s what makes them compelling and resonant in the eyes of the reader.  I like to think that my plotting is equally strong and with enough twists and depth the be both engaging and page-turning. Does this differentiate my work? I’m not sure. I certainly don’t write to sound like anyone else but I’m well aware I do take my influences from those I enjoy reading the most so I concentrate on trying to hone my own unique voice.

Why Do I Write What I Do

There’s a constant cast of characters arguing in my head, some are (thankfully) transient but the ones who stick around imploring for their stories to be told are the ones I write about. They tell me what they want, I try to do them justice. For me characters are always the first to appear, and sometimes they arrive piecemeal–a character flaw, a physical feature, a sentence of dialogue–the challenge is to put them together create the whole and achieve authenticity, it’s my own brand of gestaltism.  I rarely get the plot at the outset until I understand the characters and where they are taking me.

I am fascinated by our industrial heritage and what we have and haven’t done with it so that does feature as a quite prominent backdrop particularly to my novels.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I’m tempted to say badly! I have a very demanding day job and I’m a rubbish morning person, sadly at that time of the day my head is full of what I have to do at that day job. On that basis then, I cannot claim to be up before dawn or even the dog, pounding the keyboard.

As readers of my blog may know, I have Plottdog, my North Carolina Plott Hound, he takes a fair bit of walking–we normally hit between 30-40 miles a week, more in the Summer–and so every morning and evening we are out and about clocking up the miles and I use this very much as my thinking time. It is fascinating how many ideas I get about my characters or tricky plot points when I’m off with the dog.

Originally when I first returned to live in the UK, I was able to write full time. I treated it like a job: at my desk at 9:00am, break for lunch, back to it in the afternoon, writing until 6pm or so. The day was punctuated by flagons of coffee.

This was writer heaven for me; I was immensely productive.

Sadly it wasn’t to last and after a spell of part-time working, when I managed to follow a similar schedule on my non-working days, when my marriage disintegrated in late 2010  there was no alternative but to return to my corporate roots full time, so I had to come up with Plan B–except it wasn’t really a plan. 

I am a night owl and for the past few years my writing has been ad hoc, nights and weekends, depending on my work schedule.  It has been sporadic and frequently derailed by either work pressures or my descent into bouts of mild depression. As I’m fond of saying, my day job is creativity sapping and there are times at the end of a day when I can’t even speak sensibly much less write a coherent sentence. Those are the days I don’t write, it doesn’t sit well with me but I have discovered that sitting at the keyboard expecting anything of value to emerge really doesn’t work and so I give myself permission to use that time for reading or work on a fibre arts project of some description.

I do get plenty of alone time which I guard jealously to protect my writing or other creative activities and it’s fair to say can be known to get a bit snarky when anything tries to impinge on it.

In 2014 I have made a concerted effort to block writing time in the evenings and to write every day–so far it is paying dividends, I have only missed one day so far this year and so I am feeling pretty smug pleased about that although it is only February!

Paramount for my productivity is the act of showing up to write, I don’t set myself a word count target because I understand that some days the words will just fly and yet on many others I will delete more than I write. That’s just the way it is. Learning not to beat myself up has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept.

I never go anywhere without a means to record words because I have a memory like an ageing hard drive, there are a few bad sectors. So I carry either a notebook or my phone – preferably a notebook, call me old fashioned but there’s just something about writing stuff down in a notebook that works for me.

I can write pretty much anywhere except coffee shops–there’s just too much distraction! It it would ever stop raining I would take myself off to places like Cannock Chase or even my local park and write, I really do love to write in the open air. I do occasionally write with a backing track of ambient music and when working in the real depths of a plot I sometimes create relevant soundtracks for my work which help get me in the zone as it were.

As I said earlier characters come first and I spend immense amounts of time on their bios and getting under their skin and I am often surprised at what I find there. It’s not an approach to suit everyone, some would say it constrains the character but I’ve honestly never found that.

Well that’s me, I’m handing over the #mywritingprocess baton to Meg Kingston an inspiration and a rare beast –a self-publishing author who makes a profit from her paperback sales. She’ll be blogging about her latest book of advice for writers and her ongoing Steampunk series of novels.

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