How do I write?

Good question. I would like to say that I write every day, no matter how little it ends up being. Even producing 100 words can be an achievement. There are days when I don’t meet my goal, or else perhaps I am in editing or review mode, which of course is all part of the writing process.

Writing on a paddle boat on the Murray at Echuca.

The location is important to me. The bulk of my writing takes place at my desktop computer because it is there and it is convenient, but there are a lot of distractions around as well. The fridge might call to me or perhaps the plants need watering, or even a load of washing needs to be put in the machine. Often I chase rabbits down lots of social media holes. None of this is good for productivity.

Other days, I’ll find somewhere else to write, either with my laptop or just a notebook. I’ll find a café or a quiet corner of a library or even recently the forecourt of a local cinema, where there are lots of tables. I choose my cafés carefully, as I don’t want to incur the owner’s wrath by nursing my coffee for a couple of hours at one of their tables during peak hour. Knowing that I have to make the most of this time, I usually knuckle down and produce some solid work.

Another advantage of working in a new environment is that it’s more productive for brainstorming. I’m a loose plotter rather than a pantser, so often I’ll start a story without knowing the exact ending, or what twists might happen on the way there. A different location stirs up the creative juices and potential paths present themselves to my pen.

If I’m staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write next, I’ll usually swap to pen and paper and move away from the computer. Even if I just start by jotting down dot points, or snippets of ideas, I soon find that words are starting to organise themselves into paragraphs and appear on my page in some sort of coherent form. Writing in a notebook is often more practical in a café or similar external location anyway. For that reason, I usually tuck a notebook into my bag when out for a walk. I never know where I might be when the muse strikes.

Recently, I was walking down the main street in Echuca when a sudden rainstorm hit. I dived for the shelter of a large umbrella in front of an ice cream shop, and there I sat on the picnic bench for the next half hour. With the steady rain keeping me anchored to that spot, I produced another 500 words. Just as well I had my notebook with me.

Writing with other people is a good incentive to focussing and actually producing work. I’ll often participate in writing sessions, whereby we all just sit in writerly companionship and write. Occasionally there will be a bit of discussion or diversionary activity but predominantly we write and knowing that this is the purpose of the day, it’s what I do.  It’s a great incentive.

I currently have a day job, and so cannot dedicate my day to my writing. I will often produce a few hundred words early in the morning or a few in my lunch hour. I still have that daydream time through the day, when a snippet of dialogue or a new twist suddenly comes to me. The current work in progress is never far from my mind.

How do you write?  What stirs your muse?

Do you have to like your lead character?

I didn’t, and this was a big problem for me in developing my last novel. I got to know Melissa in the first book, and there was not much about her that was endearing. She was arrogant, rude to people and self-absorbed. She was a secondary character then and so I only got to know her through the eyes of other people, but it was clear that they were not impressed and so I wasn’t either.

Then she did something really stupid and life-threatening; not just to herself but to someone else as well. She ended up looking a bit pathetic really, and once the crisis was over, she was easy to dismiss and to focus instead on the more pleasant people in the story. Nobody felt sorry for her in relation to the humiliation she experienced.

She scored a passing reference in the second story, but was largely a withdrawn character, with her actions in book one still hanging heavily over her. It was probably a conscious decision of hers to remain distant, but her presence was not generally welcomed either.  Surprisingly, she did show concern for one of the characters who fell seriously ill, but still this was a passing reference in the story.

Not sure why, but I decided that the third book in the series needed to be about Melissa. There was a problem though.  From what I knew of her, she was obnoxious.  I meandered around in circles for a while, trying to break into the story, but I didn’t feel comfortable with her. I had to sit down and get to know her back story.

  • What sort of childhood did she have?
  • What was her current family situation?
  • What was she passionate about? (photography) 
  • What was she afraid of?
  • What innate beliefs did she have about herself?
  • How did she behave when she was by herself?

It was only as I got to know her as a person, and the drivers that were dictating the way her life had unraveled that I was able to develop the plot.  Mostly, romance novels are written in the third person, and changing point of view is frowned upon. Currently, the first chapter also shows the point of view of the antagonist as he also gets to know a woman from whom he has learned (in previous books) to maintain a respectful distance. Both he and I were skirting around her.  Melissa developed her voice by the second chapter though, and from then on the book was firmly lodged in the third person.

 

The novel is still in the review stage, and so I will probably address the point of view issues in the first chapter – not because I want to but because it can send publishers into a frenzy. The challenge is how to do so without losing the essence of that chapter.

 

I’m curious. How do other writers get to know their characters?  Do you always like them? What do you do when you don’t?

How many kilos per thousand words?

My recent visit to the writer’s conference in Melbourne fired up my enthusiasm for getting stuck into book two, which is a sequel to The Red Heart.  This has been helped a bit by the fact that my last position was made redundant, freeing me up to write through the day. This has been both good and bad, as I will explain.

I have no idea what this book will be called, but as it focusses on Sarah, who was Kathy’s best friend in The Red Heart, that is what the draft is currently called.  I’m hoping that inspiration for a truly appropriate name will strike when more of the plot is in place. So far, I am only about twenty one thousand words in. Some sections flow freely and my fingers fly over the keyboard, or else pen scribbles over the paper if that is the mode that I have chosen. At other times though, I stare at the half-filled page, wondering what on earth was in the character’s mind when he/she said or did that and just what exactly are they going to do next?

Sigh. Perhaps I’ll have a cup of coffee.  I wander out to the kitchen. Now that I’m  here, perhaps I’m feeling a little nibbly. Why don’t I have any biscuits? Perhaps some crackers? Cheese?  A few almonds? Before long I am rummaging through the pantry cupboard and the fridge. Just as well I don’t keep chocolate in the house. It wouldn’t last long. As is, I scoff whatever I can find.

These are just diversionary tactics dealing with the hiatus in productivity while waiting for that aha moment when you know just what the response of those characters is going to be. In the meantime, I’m stuffing myself with more food than I actually need, especially as the act of writing entails sitting in the one spot for a lengthy period of time with not a lot of physical effort.  Stroking the cat occasionally doesn’t really count.

I’m not quite gaining a kilo for each thousand words but I can see that writing is counter-productive to maintaining a svelte figure.  How do other writers deal with this issue? I can’t be the only one to have encountered this weighty problem.