Thanks to the lovely, supportive and talented SJ O’Hart, today’s blog post is a little different (for me, at least) as it’s part of a writer’s Q&A blog tour. The idea is simple: you answer three questions about your writing/writing process, then ask the same of another writer you’d like the world to know a little more about. So, here goes…
What am I working on?
I work on several pieces at a time, switching between projects when I need distance, so my current projects are:
The first draft of an apocalyptic adult novel, currently at 20K words, progressing at a speed of around 1-2K per day. I usually write a first draft in 30 days. I’m giving myself 60 days for this one because I’m also looking at…
An experimental rewrite of my completed Young Adult novel, switching from third to first person. Although the book is polished to submission standard, I’m checking whether the story would be more engaging told in first person. My instinct is telling me yes. Why did it not tell me before? I don’t know. That’s just part of the process. This would be a huge rewrite, so I’m taking my time with this one. I have the first 5 chapters & prologue rewritten – I’m letting it sit for a while before comparing the two versions one last time.
A poem for submission to Furies (in aid of Rape Crisis): I write very little poetry and this poem has been milling around for quite some time, so I’m hoping that I can improve upon it enough to submit to this worthy cause. At the moment, it’s proving rather challenging and not at all what I want it to be. I have one month to kick it into shape. And although it is a poem of less than forty lines, I’m definitely going to need it.
I’m also working on several short stories, varying in length from 1000 words to 5000 words; I have all my 2014 submission deadlines organised in my diary and I switch between the stories (once the day’s novel writing is completed) with one eye on the deadlines. The way I work is to take a story as far as I naturally can – e.g. write a first draft (sometimes this can be as short as a paragraph) then set it aside for another day, switch to a final edit of another story then set it aside for a final read through before submitting, then redraft another story to move it forward a little, before setting aside.
I make sure I have at least five stories on the go at all times as I’m never sure where they will lead. Sometimes they don’t work at all. I can usually tell a flash fiction piece or a much longer story when I begin writing it, but I let the stories develop naturally and don’t limit myself with word counts. I find word counts for competitions useful and they can really help you to tighten your work, but I’ll never crop a story to its detriment just to make it fit a deadline. Having several stories available, I feel I have more freedom and more control.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is a really tricky one to answer because originality comes down to voice, and that’s probably one of the hardest areas to try and discuss or explain. It’s also difficult to see/say what makes your writing differ; I think the reader is the one that makes that decision. The way I see it, your job is to create something that moves a reader in some way.
Whenever you write, whatever you write, you’re writing the kind of book/story/poem you want to read. You’re initially looking at a germ of an idea – a feeling perhaps that you want to convey, a character that’s bugging you, or a situation that grabs you and won’t go away – and then you’re led by the characters and how they act and react to the challenges that arise, often being surprised yourself by the turn of events. And all the time, you’re using what you know about human nature and the world around you to convey the story in a way that makes it convincing. Hopefully you combine these elements skillfully enough to create something that grabs a reader, keeps them with you to the end and affects them in some way that makes the story resonate.
I’m not sure I’ve answered the question thoroughly, but like I say, this is a tricky one.
How does my writing process work?
I’ve realized that I have two distinctly different working patterns during summer and winter. I’ve been teasing these out over the last three years since I moved to a rural part of Ireland, and have finally found patterns that work – which isn’t easy because I despise any form of routine.
In summer, the days are extremely long and bright and so I wake up naturally early (around 6am) and do about 2 hours of writing before the rest of the world wakes up. I focus on the main WIP as I find my concentration is at its best and this really sets me up for the day. Then I usually fit in another 4 to 6 hours in short bursts (2 hours seems to be my natural concentration level) around my social media business, running, exercising the dog, fishing and the vegetable garden. I also work three days a week in a bookshop, so on these days, I start the morning with some free flow writing (sometimes called ‘morning pages’) to generate more short story ideas and then I go for a run with the dog in tow. I don’t write after work as I find the quality isn’t good enough, though I do have to keep reminding myself of this. Overall, this setup keeps the WIP fresh, the ideas coming & the days varied.
In winter, it’s a different story. I wake later, around 8am, and I find it takes longer for my brain to wake up, so I take a walk or run, take time over breakfast, and get the chores done like cutting/gathering wood, seeing to the animals, answering emails and bailing water from the boat. Then I settle down to a 2-3 hour stint of writing, before heading out for more fresh air. I’ll do another 3-4 hours in the evening, with the fire & candles lit. My writing is slower and calmer, like my energy. I get some really intense writing done in the winter and it’s the perfect time for me to write first drafts.
Living rurally, you’re really exposed to the elements. There’s no hiding in theatres or gyms, no shelter from buildings or distractions such as art galleries or shopping. The second you step outdoors, you’re cold/wet/wind blown/all of the latter. I find the lack of light really difficult in winter, so I need to spend every opportunity that I can outdoors. I walk and run in all weather, but if there are really bad days (like the gales/storms we’ve seen this winter) I find my concentration (& writing) suffers.
I’m delighted to be passing these questions on to Irish writer, Lia Mills, who is due to have her fourth book released later this year.
And finally – a big thank you, S J O’Hart, for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions. I hope this has been of interest to some of you, and I’d love to hear whether your writing day is similar or completely, utterly different. It’s always good to take a step back and think about your own story, not just those you’re creating on the page.