What I’m learning about my writing process

Thanks to the wonderful Victorian Writers’ Centre, I received a fellowship which allows me three months in a studio in Glenfern, St Kilda – a gorgeous heritage house. Seventy percent of my Doctor of Creative Arts will be fiction, and so – I have begun the novel.

As this is the first time since I was fourteen years old that I haven’t had a go-to job (I’m still doing some freelance writing, presenting and teaching) it’s the first time I’ve been able to structure my days – and find out what works for fiction writing. I’ve always been curious about writers and their processes – how they can vary so greatly – and I’ve been just as fascinated to learn what seems to work for me. I’ve been writing seriously since I was about eighteen, but the lengthy things I’ve worked on I’ve always had to work around everything else – eg. writing 1000 words a day after work and before dinner, or rising at 6am to write (and almost having a nervous breakdown). The thing is, I’ve always found a way, but now I think I’m starting to find my way.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning, in case they interest you as readers, or as writers yourselves. Please do share your own in the comments!

* I am at my creative peak between about 11am and 2pm. Thus, I’ve learnt to bring lunch or at least snacks to the studio so I can nibble between scenes or sections.

* I write best when I write in great bursts, and when I take a break between fiction writing days. This gives my imagination time to brew the next few scenes, and for bigger arcs and themes to develop and draw related elements together in my head.

* When I finish a big burst of fiction writing, I feel mentally drained but physically energised. I just want to leave the studio and walk and walk and walk and walk (or perhaps that’s all the food I’m eating while I’m writing).

* Food I like to eat during these writing bursts includes nibbly bitsy things like grapes, rice crackers or (unfortunately) pieces of chocolate.

* I need to have a coffee prior to writing.

* It’s a real gift to have a room where you can stick things on the walls. I have a vague plotline, as a series of scenes on separate pieces of paper, strewn across the wall. There are two threads for the two main characters. I can add to the plotline to tie things up later that I’m beginning to write now. I can also move things around. I can chart where the conflict and resolution should ideally be (though I don’t know exactly what the events are yet) and I can look at them and know the general arc of the characters – why he/she needs to go from there to there and why each scene makes sense to be where it is.

* It’s very dangerous that there are so many bottle shops on the way home. (I walk to and from the studio.)

* Unlike the two previous manuscripts, I don’t have to write in a strictly linear fashion. So far, however, I have remained around the beginning of the story. I am still getting to know my characters and I’m getting to know them through their actions and decisions. I’m aware that later on I may have to cut or move certain things which relate to this.

* It is compulsory for me to start a large work only when I really know the world of the story. The world I’m working in here is very clear to me. So much so that I’m aware I’ve hardly described it for the reader yet. I’m mainly writing action and dialogue. But the momentum feels right and I think I can insert the odd image here and there on the second draft which will give the reader enough of a picture to embellish with their own imagination.

* I have no idea if anything I’m writing is any good. I hope it is. I hope it’s really good (or at least will be after all the rewriting). I hope it’s original, too. And I hope it’s both enjoyable and moving, even meaningful. I’d like the book jacket to say something like ‘1984 meets Revolutionary Road. But for our generation. But you know what, I’m enjoying the hell out of writing it anyway (as draining and often hard as it is) so that’s all that matters.

* I don’t want to tell people too much about it – what it’s about, the story, the characters – until I’m finished a complete draft (or three). I can tell you, though, that it came out of a short story I wrote, which is being published in August. More on that in coming months. Why don’t I like to talk about it? Because it seems to interrupt the brewing process. And I do want you to anticipate it, dear readers, in case it is the one that becomes a book. There’s only one person who’s getting to hear all about it, dear thing (and having to deal with my post-writing space-brain).

* On that note, I’m learning how nice it is to be with someone who truly cares about what you’re doing.

* Unlike some writer friends I’ve spoken to, it seems I can still read other books, even books in similar genres, while I’m writing something large. But then I haven’t learnt yet whether those books are influencing my style. I think any ‘inspiration’ from them always comes down to character. I know I already ‘borrowed’ one thing, from Nabokov – just the way a certain character felt when he looked at another. But then I also ‘borrowed’ a memory from someone the other day. I think a writer doesn’t know what is going to take hold until it does (and often doesn’t know it has until it’s written).

Perhaps I’ll share some more when I’m further into the manuscript. What have you learnt about your process? Or, your favourite writer’s process? What do you think of the things I’ve learnt?

9 thoughts on “What I’m learning about my writing process

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What I’m learning about my writing process – LiteraryMinded -- Topsy.com

  2. I’m deeply envious that you can still read fiction when you’re writing it. I’ve learned I have to stay away from poetry, short stories and novels when I’m writing – though non-fiction, for some reason, is fine. It’s not so much that I’m worried about accidentally lapsing into another author’s style, or nicking anything – it’s about feeling isolated from edited, reworked, published fiction during the drafting process. I hate first (and second and third) drafts so much that if I’m reading a lot of finished fiction, I start trying to write the final version instead of putting in the work to actually get there. Probably if you’re more disciplined about drafting, the problem disappears…

  3. I also love hearing how other writers work. I always wished I was someone who could happily wake at 5 and write for 3 hours before starting the day — do those people really exist? But I find that if I sit at my desk at 10 am, next time I look at my clock 1 1/2 hours have gone by. Then I start again, another 1 1/2 goes by and then I’m done for the day. Though things keep percolating, note taking may continue. But 3 hours of actually writing is all I can muster. Seems to be enough, though.

  4. While I’m terribly envious of the free studio – within walking distance of home! – I must admit to worrying about what would happen if my writing process changed. I write when I can. This means scribbling in notebooks or making notes on my mobile when I’m on trains, during lunch breaks, after work, before bed etc., then carving out some bona fide ‘writing time’ on weekends. No doubt my process, and my writing, could be improved, but I continue to be surprised by the fact the ideas still come and the motivation is still there. It works for now.

    I agree, SueG – I like hearing about how writers work, thanks for posting.

  5. Jess – you’re certainly not alone there. I’ve talked to a few writers who can’t read any kind of fiction when writing.

    SueG – they definitely exist – it was a published writer who advised me to try the 6am thing. I’ve heard of others, too. I’m similar to you with the three hours. On a good day maybe four.

    TF – yes, well maybe that is the way you’re meant to write! And you show that there’s no such thing as ‘no time to write’. I know people with very busy lives – 3 kids, a job, etc. who still find time around it all. Having an understanding family/friends/partner helps, I think. They know ‘writing time’ is precious.

    And cheers for your comments, guys!

  6. Pingback: Discovering My Writing Techniques « As Is Writers (Sydney)

  7. I’m terribly jealous of your studio at Glenfern! I’ve always looked wistfully at those studio opportunities but have only just moved on from full-time study. I’m curious as to how you keep yourself motivated, and particularly how you keep writing smaller articles to keep yourself in the game, so to speak – I know it’s important to continue getting published. Good luck with everything, I’ll keep reading!

  8. really enjoyed reading about your writing process- find it endlessly fascinating to hear how other writers do. Anything influenced by Revolutionary Road has to be good in my book – love Yates.
    Also agree that it’s best not to talk in general about the book to people as you write it – just seems to take the magic away.

  9. Thanks for sharing this – great insight into the writing process. (The other thing I have always wanted to hear someone talk about is how musicians write their songs – basically any creative process I find fascinating).

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