How do I write? #amwriting

A common question writers debate amongst themselves is do you write linear or not. Is it better for a writer to start at the beginning and move through the story to the end, or go to the part of the book that appeals most and start from there?

Ebook coverNow, I would say I’m a linear writer. I have an outline, I know the roots of my story and the outcome at the end. It’s easy, just begin at chapter one and … Except, I don’t really know my characters. What if I can’t find their voices or one character refuses to settle down? I know, it’s crazy, but authors have these voices in our heads and they can be quite independent. For The Last Thing She Said, I had to evoke the life of three sisters, including twins, meaning three personalities – what a challenge after my last book where I primarily focused on one voice.

To overcome this possibility, I wrote a passage in each character’s voice from somewhere in the book, just to make sure I knew them and had their voices in my head. It snowballed, and I ended up writing each of their parts as separate narratives, then rearranged them according to the plot. It wasn’t quite what I had planned!

The other concern I had was in critical scenes where the plot evolves dramatically or changes direction. What if those just didn’t go as I planned? I abandoned chapter two and wrote something much further along in the story. This scene had to work or else that character would not live on the pages of my book. Again, I broke with the linear writing definition and jumped into the book three-quarters of the way in. Then I danced back to the middle and wrote another crucial scene, before finally settling back at the beginning. Then I jiggled everything around so the middle became the beginning and… okay, it’s not linear at all.

If asked again by a writers’ group – do I write linear style or not – frankly, I don’t know. It depends on the book, and the great thing about writing … no two books are the same. I’m writing my third at the moment, and that too is going its own particular way.

My desk is a little cluttered #amwriting

A cluttered desk – is it a sign of a disorganised mind or a busy one?

I’ve a jotter pad with things scribbled on it, which at the time of writing meant something, but a few days later has lost all hope of being something.

Stacked next to me are printouts of chapters with annotations; tiny writing scrawled in margins and highlighted passages I want to change.

A piece of paper with a family tree, important dates, the names of my characters!

Waiting for me to start work are two pairs of glasses – one for reading and one for when I use the computer. My eyesight is complicated and frustrating at times.

When I feel the urge, I write with a fountain pen and leave ink stains on my fingers like a badge of honour or tattoo. My handwriting is appalling, but sometimes the words flow quicker on paper and I’m forced to keep writing, rather than go back and make corrections.

Every morning, I switch on my laptop and wait for it to connect to the internet and monitor. Every morning Windows refuses to recognise my monitor and requires a manual kick up the bum to make it work. It takes ten minutes for the software to kickstart. Just long enough to make a cup of tea.

The most important tool is my keyboard – a split ergonomic one. My husband can’t cope with it. I love it, primarily because my little finger dislocates from time to time and the ergonomic design relieves the strain on my fingers. It seems perfectly natural to have my elbows sticking out, my wrists angled and my fingers splayed – I play the piano.

I learnt to touch type as a student using a mainframe dumb terminal and integrated keyboard – mechanical and noisy. Both the keyboard and software were unforgiving in their feedback, ‘speaking’ in the strident tone of a drill sergeant as if one was standing over my shoulder instead of a curt message on the green screen.

‘If you don’t get this right, I’ll send a thousand volts through your fingers’

‘You have eight fingers and two thumbs – use them!’

‘Are you wearing gloves today?’

I guess whoever wrote the typing course had a sense of humour. Years later, it is the one thing I learnt a university that I use every day of my life. Even when I studied to be a biologist, I was inadvertently preparing myself for a writer’s life.