For me, writing comes in two varieties – conscious and mostly subconscious. Almost every word of my novels is written by a process which involves me having a vague idea of where the current scene might go then setting off and seeing where it actually goes. I don’t plan much and, if I do, I don’t feel the need to stick to the plan if something better reveals itself.
It’s an odd process – like discovering things you already know but have forgotten. It’s never entirely felt as if I’m making my plots up. I mean, I know I am – I’m not some flake who thinks a voice out of the ether is dictating my books – it just doesn’t always feel as if the process is wholly at my beck and call.
For instance, the other day I was writing a scene and, at a particular point, I thought we needed a break in the dialogue, a re-focusing for a second or two. So I decided to have a robin pecking at the window. This did three things immediately – firstly the necessary re-focus was achieved; secondly the underlying aggression in the scene was echoed by John’s comments on the ferocity of the robin; and thirdly John looked beyond the robin and saw somebody listening at the window. Instantly, it was clear to me who the eavesdropper was and, without any kind of planning, that character was taken in a new and unanticipated direction. All from a need for a break in some tense dialogue.
See, the thing was, I hadn’t planned that that character would be listening at the window. Not even a tiny little bit. But, once he was discovered doing it, I knew why he was there. It was as if part of me had just been waiting for him to turn up all along.
Weird. But it works for me. Also, it’s fun. (Bonus!)
Then there’s the conscious kind of writing that I do on the periphery of the novels. That’s less fun (no bonus L) because it’s more like the kind of writing I have to do for the day job; writing where you’re cudgelling your brains for a logical and succinct communication style. We’re talking synopses, blurbs and writing for marketing purposes. I’ve got two short pieces – one commissioned, one on spec – on the go at the moment as publication date draws near. They’re hard work because you can’t just set off and see what happens. With only 500 or 800 words at your disposal, you’ve got to know exactly what you want to say, say it pithily and then desist, preferably with a few amusing turns of phrase or original ideas in there somewhere to make it worth the reader’s while. Oh, and some kind of passing reference to your book.
That kind of writing process is not remotely weird. It’s the kind most people are familiar with and pretty much everybody can relate to. It’s less fun but its absolutely necessary.
By the way, my recent talk at the Monmouth Women’s Festival also fell neatly into this latter category because, although I didn’t write the whole thing out (I was speaking for over an hour, that would’ve been a long piece) I did have to know exactly what I was going to say, the order in which I was going to say it, and what bits of the book I was going to read out at what point.
Did it go well? I’m probably not the one to ask, in all honesty. But, on the basis that I neither ran out of things to say, forgot what to say or when to say it, and didn’t omit to mention the book once or twice, I’d have to say it went well. And I really enjoyed it – the planning may be hard work but I do enjoy talking about stuff. And, judging by the kind things people said and the interesting conversations I had afterwards, the audience enjoyed it too. Another bonus!