My Writing Process

I have been tagged by novelist SD Sykes in the blog tour titled #MyWritingProcess.

It’s essentially a chain letter between writers, where each interviewee answers four set questions. SD Sykes (debut novel ‘Plague Land’, 25 September 2014) has given her answers here.

My answers are below.

What am I working on?

I’m currently winding down my work on ‘The A to Z of You and Me’ (Doubleday, 12 March 2015) by looking through all the shelved material, and seeing if there is anything there that might be worked up into an interesting standalone piece. It’s a nice part of the process, creating these little independent islands nourished by the richness of the mainland.

How does my work differ from others?

It’s amazing that, given the sheer quantity of possible influences, any writing is ever even vaguely similar. So my difference is the same as anyone else’s: it’s fuelled by the influences I’m under.

During the opening stages of writing ‘The A to Z of You and Me’, I was immersed in the work of painter Chuck Close, who has spent a portion of his career developing methods to remove authorial intent from his work. He works incredibly close-up, working on individual ‘pixels’ of vast portraits, which retain the photo-realism of his source material.

I worked with existing structures that would be more or less the same for every English-speaking person (the alphabet; the body) and tried to generate a portrait of a person with it. That presented certain hard-wired questions, so I set about answering them in the only way I could. Any other writer would approach the same problem in a different way, so you could use the same structure and end up with any number of different versions of the book.

Why do I write what I do?

Margaret Atwood’s statement “War is what happens when language fails” has really stayed with me. It’s generally true that, when something fails, there is never nothing; there is a more chaotic other thing. Language (written language) is to me what happens when feelings fail.

And while I’m talking resonant quotes, there’s also the Isaac Asimov statement: “Writing for me is thinking through my fingers”. Yes, yes. Writing things down really gives me the opportunity to evolve and develop ideas. Arguing a point in real time is not really for me. You see it on the news: people using their voices and volume and physical presence and status to duff up logic. It’s an inaccurate imitation of the Socratic method. But then again, maybe it’s the only way to do things when you’re working to a strict programming schedule.

How does my writing process work?

When I have a structure I’m motivated enough to work to, I think about it for a couple of years. Any ideas that last that period I begin to write around.

I write longhand with a wet black ink in a hardback A5 notebook. I write on the right-hand page only, because surely, surely every right-thinking right-handed person instinctively knows that writing on the right-hand page is best.

When I get to the end of a notebook, I turn it upside down and write on the now-right-hand left-hand page. This is an important detail for me, because so much of writing is about choosing what feels nice, and feels like home to you, even if I’m on a boat or in a hotel room or in the canteen at work or wherever – that specific physical ‘home’ is a constant to return to. If it feels right, it flows, and I currently have a fairly good hit-rate of ‘right-feeling’ writing sessions. If a scene hasn’t worked out very well, or has splintered into two or more different thought streams, I will rewrite it longhand from the beginning.

I transfer to a computer and type up the bits I’m happiest with, feeling free to wander off in another direction if it occurs to me. I try to shape it up so that all of the good bits are in there, and well expressed. Once I have everything down, I call that a rough sketch, and I forget it, and move on to the next.

This collection of sketches forms a rough shape of the book. Then it’s a question of growing it and reducing it, growing and reducing until I’m happy to show it to a trusted reader. That’s when the fun stops.

The next writer I am tagging is Catherine O’Flynn, (What Was Lost [Costa First Novel winner, Man Booker Prize long-listed (2007)]; The News Where You Are (2010); Mr Lynch’s Holiday (2013)]. Read Catherine’s #MyWritingProcess blog entry here.

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