Saturday, June 27, 2009

Madly, Without Measuring (Tansy's Writing Process)

I think my writing process is somewhere between Rowena's tidy linear progression and Trent's addictive scrambling in the dark.

Generally speaking, I do start at the beginning of a novel, keep writing until I get to the end and then stop. I've written with different techniques over the years and have realised that doing too much in the way of note-writing and plotting ahead of time is very bad for me. Having said that, I usually have an end point - a final scene or moment - and do my best to fall gracefully towards it.

I don't write that scene down, though, as Trent does. (I did this once and promptly stopped writing the book) I rely too much on the twists and turns my brain comes up with as I write to dare guess things like the mental state my characters might be in at the end of a book.

With Power and Majesty, book one of the Creature Court (which I sent off the final version of to the publisher about ten minutes ago) I had that scene in my head for years. I knew exactly how the first book would end, and it would blow readers out of the water! During my enforced exile from that novel (as I finished my thesis and had a baby) one of the toughest things I had to come to terms with was that the amazing scene that had dragged me through so much writing so far would not in fact fall at the end of book one. Too much had to happen. In the end that scene fell in the middle of book 2 (I wrote it for real a couple of months ago) and I hope it will have similar stunning effect on readers (though it may make fewer of them wish to kill me than if it had been the end point of a book).

The big difference to how I write now, as opposed to how I wrote before motherhood, is that I have learned to draft more 'lightly' than before. I used to be the kind of dense (as in thickly spread prose, not dumbarse) writer whose book would be at least in third-fourth draft stage by the time I came to the end of it. But that kind of writing requires uninterrupted space, quiet, and an attention span. All things that flew out the window when I gave birth.

Now I write faster, more furiously. I lay down drafts without worrying too much about the details, and then come back and put in the hard yards on the Make Writing Good aspects. Oddly I find that the end result of this is still more time-efficient than my old style - though I've written quite a lot between then and now, and it could just be that I'm a faster writer than I used to be.

Indeed, I've learned that anything to push the pace along is good for me. When I am in Writing Mode I need a daily quota to hit. Nanowrimo's 1667 or so daily count is a bit of a push, but I found earlier this year that 500 or 1000 was perfectly doable. I am an obsessive, compulsive person and if I don't tap into this side of me, I don't get any writing done at all. (I've just come out of a 2-3 month stint of Editing and am so looking forward to getting back to daily wordcounts)

As for the rest of it - well, when I first saw Rowena's references to scene notes, glossary of terms etc, I laughed, because I now have all these things for P&M - but only constructed them over the last month or two, in self defence, after working on the book on and off for over five years. I knew I needed the glossary this year when I started writing Book 2 and realised I didn't remember half the names of my minor characters. Likewise I needed to sort out a timeline for my backstory once and for all - as I learned upon the discovery that I had at least three versions of several relationships floating around in my "notes."

My Swedish writing fairy has been begging me for a copy of my Fasti (the festival calendar I use for Power and Majesty) for ages, so I finally sent it to her, in an excel doc full of various notes, plans, etc. She declared that my worldbuilding could fill a book. I got mildly hysterical and said 'it's not worldbuilding, it's self-defence!' Actually, the calendar, based on the Roman Fasti, is the only piece of worldbuilding I set up for myself *before* writing, and thank goodness for that.

So yes. I have actually come up with a similar process to Rowena's, but instead of setting myself up properly from the start, I hurl myself haphazardly into my novel-to-be, only producing supporting material and organised notes when the many problems caused by not having such things stack up so high that I can't see daylight.

In short, I write like I sew, madly and without measuring! Anyone who has ever seen one of my quilts is currently nodding sagely and saying 'that explains a lot.'

There is more to say here on the inspiration side of my writing process - words, music and images, but I might come back to that next week. Right now, there is celebrating to be done. One book down, two to go!


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Tansy, we're not so different. I don't have my glossary of terms and time lines when I start. These grew as I write and discover I've forgotten someone's Uncle's name.

I and SO looking forward to Power and Majesty! What's the release date?

TansyRR said...

Hee yes Rowena but I *started* mine about 5 drafts into the book...

Release date is July next year. Aaaaaaages away.