Every time we sit down to write, our objective is to let those good old creative juices flow and the perceived wisdom seems to be that the more comfortable we are in our space, the more likely this is to happen. For many years, after the word-processor became accessible, my writing place of choice was at a desk-top computer. I usually had access to a laptop as well but this didn’t provide me with the discipline I was looking for. Perhaps it was due to me primarily writing non-fiction at the time, where I needed to be more structured in my approach.
That’s not to say that I didn’t find other places to write which suited me very well. My favourite, of all time I think, was sitting in the sun outside a waterfront bar in La Rochelle with a glass of wine, a notebook and pen, working on a draft guidance booklet for a Government department. Unfortunately, access to that particular space was limited to a couple of afternoons in the middle of my holiday.
Now, I have two main spaces where I work. Three years ago, increasing pain in my lower back caused me to abandon the desktop for a laptop (literally on my lap). I sit in a club chair in our ‘sun-room’ with windows onto the garden on three sides. The time I tend to write is between six am and eight am in the morning, with the first, and possibly second, mug of tea of the day on the windowsill beside me. I’ve always found early morning to be most productive. Once or twice a week I also find a table in a coffee shop, where I write longhand in a notebook, using a pen made from oak taken from the bog. It pleases me to think I’m holding a modern ballpoint encased in a material possibly 2000 years old and I find that even if I can’t get the words down on the computer, the old fashioned pen and paper usually does the trick.
Most of my researched material is stored on my laptop and I use a mix of Scrivener and Word. The former for organising and drafting, the latter for later editing. I’d like to use Scrivener for all of it but I haven’t quite got the handle on all the skills needed to get to the finished product. I have Scrivener synced to Plain.txt on a tablet so that I can dictate from my written draft – it is possible to dictate directly into Scrivener, at a cost, using something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking but I haven’t got round to making that investment yet.
It would be nice to hear where other writers find they are most productive.
I’m a procrastinator in my writing. In real life I’m pretty good at making decisions and figuring out the shortest path between two points. My creative self is significantly different.
First of all I plan. Some time ago I discovered the joys of Scrivener after working my way through FreeMind, Writers’ Cafe and half a dozen other programs designed to supposedly increase my output. I can’t help thinking that if I’d dedicated half the time to writing as I did to mastering (huh!) the software I’d have finished my first novel in half the time. Still, you never know if the effort is going to be worthwhile before you put it in. I’ve certainly been impressed with the way Scrivener has helped but it’s a shame it took me so long to get to it.
Secondly, I commit that cardinal sin warned against by writing pundits – I edit as I go along. I’m not sure why it is but I read and rewrite every sentence, every phrase, two or three times before I move on to the next. Not that it stops me making mistakes, nor enables me to write faultless prose, that would elevate it to the status of being time well spent, it’s just something I do.
Finally, I have a need for accuracy and this leads me to endlessly research history and location. My family and friends tell me this is because I prefer the chase to the feast and I’m afraid they might be right. Today, for example, when writing two short scenes, I happily Googled 1930s women’s fashion, the distance on foot between Alexandria and Suez, and the names of British troopships sailing to Cape Town in 1852. I thought, perhaps, I was going too far when I typed ‘how far can a donkey walk in a day’ into my browser. I was going to include the answer in this blog but decided you can waste your own time if you really want to know!
So the final draft of my Inspector Given sequel is finished and with my publisher for consideration, it’s also been submitted to a couple of agents and I’m sitting here with fingers crossed – making the typing much more difficult than it needs to be. I’ve had some excellent help from my daughters and their spouses with the final edit. Two spotted the villain quite early so that’s been changed!
I’ve started a new project, significantly different to the detective novels and I’m finding it both challenging and thrilling. It’s certainly something I couldn’t have written a few years ago because I simply wouldn’t have had the skills nor the confidence to make it work. I’m not sure that I have now but I’m enjoying trying to write it. It only has a simple working title for now, so I can file it, and I’m finding that the time spent learning to use Scrivener was worth it because it is a complex structure, switching time, point-of-view and voice frequently.
Basically it tells the story of three generations of a family through the medium of a mother sitting at the bedside of her daughter who is in a coma. The timeline begins at the height of the Irish famine and ends in the last days of the Second World War – so not much danger of historical accuracy errors there then.
If you’d like to see a draft of the opening scenes, or maybe ask a question about my use of Scrivener use the form below.
A couple of years ago I damaged my back so now find it difficult sitting at a desk for long, consequently I use a laptop in a good armchair when I’m writing. This still wasn’t a problem whilst doing the edit on a paper copy, the way I prefer. However, over recent weeks I’ve been transferring the changes on to my digital copy and balancing the manuscript on the arm of my chair whilst typing has been a real pain. Then this morning ‘Eureka!’. I came up with an idea that’s transformed the situation – my music stand.
Now, with paper copy firmly displayed and Scrivener on the laptop I’m flying.
I even have a ledge for my pen – magic – I may stay like this forever.
On Sunday afternoon a wonderful thing happened. I finished the first draft of my second novel. I’m not a Stephen King-type 2,000 words a day writer but I had been consistently pushing out 600-1,000 words every day for the past two or three weeks trying to get the job done. Coming to the end was a strange experience, different to A Shadowed Livery, and, because I’d decided to put the manuscript to one side for a while (they say you should do that), I suddenly felt bereft and I’ve been the same for the last couple of days. Not quite knowing what to do with my time. So yesterday evening I began another project. I say ‘began’ but I was actually returning to a novel I last worked on two and a half years ago. I’m not sure where it will go but there’s 7,000 words in the bag and a fairly comprehensive draft plan in place. I think I may have given it up when I started the editing of my first novel because the date coincides with receiving a contract from the publisher.
I’ll only work on the new project intermittently because I do want to get back to the real job of editing ‘Let Venom Breed‘. The first task will be to re-sort the chapters – some are an acceptable 2k-3k words but some are as high as 7k, just a result of expansion in the redraft. Then I’ll check the whole thing with Pro-writing Aid, a great tool for finding all the repeated words and phrases, cliches, over-long sentences, etc. I had a note they’ve released a version for Scrivener so I’ll have a look at that one soon. These steps are really a bit of a slog, but necessary (even without Pro-writing Aid I’d have to find all that stuff).
I’ve already made some project notes as I’ve worked on the first draft, such as checking for conflict in every scene, strengthening my protagonist’s internal goal, ensuring there are barriers to achievement of his internal and external goals, etc. So I’ll work on these larger themes next.
Then to reading the manuscript again. Slowly, sentence by sentence. Can I say this any better? Have I said this before? Does this need to be moved? Underlying this is the check for spoilers related to this and the previous novel, completeness of the narrative (e.g. have I left anyone standing at a bus-stop for ten chapters?), are my characters rounded and the overall shape of the novel.
All of this, of course, is only the first phase of the edit, getting it as good as it can be before it’s wheeled in front of a publisher. If they think it’s good enough then the process starts over again – only this time it will have the benefit of external eyes.
Actually, I’m looking forward to it. Let me know your tips and tricks.
I’ve had my head down for weeks, so apart from five hours a day wasting time on my newly discovered Twitter (@charliegarratt3), I’ve been redrafting the novel, working title: Let Venom Breed. Back at the end of June I was in the mire, still 20k words short of target and lost down narrative arc alley. I’ve added about 16k words since then and am close to finishing the first draft. Five months ago I’d only reached 40k words and only had my last few scenes to write. Consequently, my first full draft will actually incorporate a substantial redraft – if that makes sense.
I’m in a good place mentally with my writing and I’d say, without receiving sponsorship, or anything, I don’t think I’d have arrived at this point without Scrivener. I referred to it in an earlier post where I’d just started using a trial version of the program and was still unsure. I used the trial and was so happy with it I bought the full version. I also plugged in to a free online workshop from Learn Scrivener Fast which gave me a few more helpful tips (although they have chased me a bit to buy other products – but I guess they’re in business so it’s fair enough). It’s an incredibly versatile piece of software and I’ve found the payback to be well worth the time I had to put in to learn how to use it.
So, enough of the free advertising for them. Not really meant to be an ad, simply a bit of writerly advice to have a look at it. If it helps, why not?
Biggest problem with spending so much time writing is that there’s not much left for marketing of the previous novel, A Shadowed Livery. Anyone want that job?
A few posts ago I wrote of the impending disaster of arriving at my penultimate chapter with 40,000 words short on my target. Since then I’ve been back at the drawing board thinking, revisiting my plan and occasionally weeping. I also discovered that my chronology was all wrong, with weekends where there should be weekdays and vice-versa.
I decided I need to get a grip and go back to basics on my plotting, to try to look at the structure of the novel and identify where I’d fallen down in my word production target – I know that sounds a bit like Stalinist economics but it is a practical consideration, novels are an average length and that’s what I’m aiming for.
So I started by going through a printed draft with the easiest task, sorting out the chronology. By having to read every scene afresh to look for date/time stamps I spotted quite a few areas where I’d skated over issues or, perhaps more importantly, missed the opportunity to add depth and colour to the scene. These were, obviously, marked up on my paper copy.
Then I remembered reading about a program called Scrivener. I’ve tried a number of different packages to help with planning and haven’t found one that suits my particular style but thought I’d have a go with this one as it is, reportedly, the best on the market. There’s an excellent 30 day free trial, where the days are actually available, that is, they don’t all have to be used up within a month, if you can only work on Wednesdays then the trial will last 30 weeks. Although a little complicated initially, especially if you don’t bother reading the manual, it does seem an excellent tool with the ability to plot using an index card and corkboard system, add an outline and notes to each card, stamp each card/scene with a status e.g. ‘To do’, ‘Completed’, etc, and to then write the text of each scene with the cards in view.
It took me a few hours to transfer the material I’d already produced but I’m now about a third of the way through my new outline with very clear indications of where the work needs to be done. Getting it done is quite another matter but at least I now feel confident I’m back on track.
I did worry it was just another diversion but then agreed with myself that if I hadn’t done something my project would be dead in the water. Instead of wasting a day or two trying something new I’d have wasted the year it’s taken me to get this far.