Welcome one, welcome all. As some of you will be aware, I sometimes try to piece together words in a way to which they could be collectively referred to as a story. Up to until recently, I have been rather secretive about my story writing habits. My dream job is to work full time as an author, and it’s somewhat difficult to do this whilst remaining super secretive about it. Which means I had to take the plunge into doing a few things that bring me an immense amount of anxiety.
1. Telling people that I write stories
2. Occasionally even letting people read my stories
3. Actually sitting down and finishing some stories
As some of you know, I live a rather solitary life – I don’t have any IRL friends or family and I’m incredibly shy and introverted. There are some positives to living a life like this, but I’ve found that writing in complete isolation can be a soul crushing experience and I find it very difficult to stay motivated. As part of my efforts to change my writing habits, I thought about doing the occasional blog post about writing, with the hope that this will keep me focussed and on track and maybe even receive a little bit of feedback along the way.
So, I went to the twitter machine and said ‘I’ve been thinking about doing bi-weekly posts that are centred around my current WIP. Some would be me just talking about the process, and some could be character interviews etc. There would be no spoilers and no plot details would be revealed until the right time.’ I put up a poll to ask if people would be interested in this and a whopping 100% of the votes were ‘Yes’. That’s right, all 3 people that voted said yes. It was a landslide victory of historic proportions. I’m a Brit, and I’ve been told that apparently Brexit means Brexit! The public voted for it, and the public will get it, so here we are with a new series – Stark Writes (I’m super creative with my naming of things, as you will come to see). I did a fancy graphic for it with my sick art skills and everything. So you know I’m taking it serious.
For my first Stark Writes post, I wanted to introduce myself as a writer and give a little on my habits, WIP etc. So I searched for author tags online and came across The Rising Author Tag. Well, I actually came across 3 different versions of The Rising Author Tag. No doubt they all started from a similar place and evolved into the 3 (or maybe more) variations. So I decided to take the best questions from each and mash them together. I’m like a blogging version of Frankenstein, I am. Originally, this post draft grew to be massive, so I decided to break it up into 3 parts. Obvs, I haven’t been tagged to do anything like this, but I am a rebel rule breaker to the core and so here we are.
Enough rambling. Hey ho. Let’s go!
How long have you been writing?
This post? Maybe about 10 minutes. *ba dum tshhh* No. Don’t encourage me. I must take this serious. Well, growing up I wrote stories when I was told to for school assignments. I always got good feedback about my writing skills and got good grades. After school, I wrote the odd story here and there in my late teens. Then I didn’t write anything for a number of years, and picked up writing again about 5 years ago.
What’s your writing routine?
I have 3 days a week that I book out to write on. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Those are the days that I’m not at my day job. I normally find a writing playlist on Spotify (I change it up every time to keep things feeling fresh), sit down at my PC in my home office, and crack on whilst drinking too many triple shot cold coffees. Sometimes I can be there for 10 hours, sometimes I get stuck and write nothing of any worth after an hour. I just go with the flow and try not to force my creativity.
What’s your writing process and method? I.e. Do you plot things out and/or outline, or just figure it out as you write? Do you type or hand write? What software do you use etc?
I come from the school of thought that there is no correct or right way to be a writer. I think each writer has to find what works for them. My method is continuously changing and adapting as time goes on. I’m always open to trying new things. In a metaphorical, yet very real way, I think of the story as already existing, and that I just need to pull it from whatever hidden dimension it is in. I’m being rather pretentious, but what I’m getting at is that I can’t force a story out of myself. I can’t just sit down and say, ‘Today I am going to write a story about this.’ I have to let a story grow and develop over time. I HAVE to plan everything. Not knowing a plot point or character trait can just stop me dead and the story never gets going again. My typical process is as follows:
1) The initial story idea or concept comes to mind. Often at the most inconvenient of times. I am always coming up with new ideas. I have no problems with ideas. I make a quick note of the idea immediately, otherwise it will be gone for all of eternity. I can not tell you how many times a story idea has come to me whilst sat on the train, or buying food at Tesco, or sat in meetings at work that I should be giving my full attention to. Once I get to a PC, I create a google doc in my google drive and transfer the idea to that. This is still just a brief sketch. It often ends up being a paragraph or two of very basic info. Sometimes, it’s much less. For instance, one of the story ideas in my concepts folder just states ‘What if a watchmaker could give someone more time?’ I try my best to not worry about details or plot holes or motivations etc at this stage. Sometimes these ideas find their way into other stories, and sometimes they become a story of their own.
2) If the idea is good enough, it will stay with me, and it organically grows over the next few weeks. I often relate it to watching a play in slow motion through thick fog. I ask myself a lot of questions about the story, such as, Who is telling this story? Who else is there? What happens after this? What happened to lead up to this? Why is this happening? Am I at the start, middle, or end of the story? It’s in this stage that characters (in a very basic form) start to show themselves. Sometimes, I come up with the odd scene involving them here or there.
3) If the story has stuck with me long enough and I feel that it has potential, I start to plot it out and develop the characters. This means creating a new Scrivener project and giving it a folder of it’s own and a working name. Often the working name is a single word that is completely unrelated to the story itself and chosen at random. I prefer for a title to come from the story, and not the story from the title.
I have a custom template in Scrivener. At the start of each writing session, I do a save as, and give the document with the following name format; YYYY.MM.DD working name CONCEPT/PLANNING/DRAFT#. Occasionally, as the folders get fuller, I go through and delete some of the middle saves. I always keep the first concept, planning, and draft versions as I sometimes like to go back to them and motivate myself with how far the story has come. My template has these planning areas as standard:
Story Planning – I use this to note down story themes, key moments, and a basic beginning, middle, and end plot outline. I may also write the odd scene here. Scenes that I know I want to put in the story, but don’t know where it belongs.
Quotes – Occasionally I will think of phrases that a character says but I don’t know where it fits in the story, so I write it down here so it isn’t lost.
Chapter Plotting – See point 5.
Character Info – Each major character will have their own folder under the Character Info section. Within that folder, they will have a document (which I rename with their name, once I know it). That will have some basic information in it. As characters develop, I will get them to complete some of those tags you see at the bottom of the list. This just helps me to get to know them. I plan on sharing some of these tags (written in character) as part of this series. Also in their folder, each character has a pin board, and I put reference photos, videos etc here.
Settings – Similar to the character info sketches. Each major setting will have a document for it. This is populated with information and descriptions about the setting, how to get there, smells, sights, reference photos, the history of the place, links to videos and songs etc.
This planning stage is the part I love the most and the one that lasts the longest. It can last for months, sometimes years. In this stage, I grow the characters, the settings and locations, and the themes of the story. The characters come alive here. They reveal their names to me, their physical descriptions, their characteristics and personality traits, their goals and motivations etc. Characters can stick with me for weeks at a time and they come along with me through everyday events. I will mentally have conversations with them and discuss current situations with them. I’m aware that this may sound a bit odd, but I guarantee you that every writer does this in one way or another. It’s so much fun for me.
4) Sometime during the planning comes the research. This is less of a stage, and more of a constant through to the end. It’s often difficult but I have to remind myself that ‘writing’ doesn’t always mean putting words together. By now, I will know the characters extremely well and roughly know what the story is, and that means I can start finding subtleties that I can use to make something or someone feel real. I do a lot of research for the most trivial of things sometimes. It’s ridiculous. I really want my stories to feel real, even when they contain fantasy aspects, and so I can spend hours travelling around a city on Google Street View, or reading up about different kinds of caravans, or blacksmithing techniques, or the history of paper production. Honestly, I once spent a whole night (maybe 10 hours) just learning about trees, their native origins, and their vulnerabilities to disease, just so I could make a one line reference in a story, in a scene that I ended up removing in the end. I would estimate that maybe only 5% of what I research ends up being used. Sometimes, much larger and important themes need researching. For instance, if I was to write a story set in a watchmakers workshop, I would most likely spend weeks researching watchmaking. This would involve reading books, watching documentaries, reading articles online, joining online forums and even trying to make the odd watch myself. Because of my crippling shyness, I can’t just go and talk to a watchmaker, so it means it takes me longer to research these subjects than if I could talk to IRL people. But I love learning, so it works out fine in the end.
5) Next, it’s time to plot out the story in the Chapter Plotting section. To start with, I break it down into 3 sections, (beginning, middle, and end) and start plotting each chapter. I often start at the end, and then work my way to the start. Then I go through each section and expand it a bit further with chapter numbers. So for instance the story may be 3 parts, then 6, then 9, etc. I continue with this until I have a full story formed. I don’t put a huge amount of detail in this. It is often just a paragraph or two per chapter. The writing is terrible, has no prose and is often very direct. The grammar is all over the place and it just looks a mess. If I get stuck at any point, I will just put ‘Something needs to happen here’ and move on. Often plot holes or conflicts etc fill themselves in when I am not thinking about it too much. I’m a messy worker with any project (I’m the same with work projects). It’s like I have lots of little piles of bits going on at the same time. I add a bit here, a bit there, this pile gets bigger, this one stays small. Then, all of a sudden, everything starts to come together into something (almost) cohesive. This is my zero draft.
6) The next stage is the part I struggle with the most. By now, I know the characters, the plot, the settings, all the major (and some minor) events – essentially, the whole story. And I often lose interest and motivation to keep going. I have only completed 2 stories because of this stumbling block. When I do get going, I don’t work to a word count target. I tried this for a long time and after a while recognised that it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I focus on a section, or scene. I go through each section of the zero draft and expand them, often rewriting them completely. I keep doing this over and over again until I have a first draft manuscript, and then I don’t touch it again for weeks. I want to start my editing stages with somewhat fresh eyes and I need to have a complete break from the story in order to do this.
7) The editing stage. Now, let’s be real here. This is a section that I am not experienced in. I know that here, I would need to do multiple edits to correct major and minor issues with the story or writing. But I have not published a novel yet. This will be a huge area of learning for me and I am really looking forward to it. I intend to keep you up to date with it when it happens, through this series.
And that’s pretty much my process. It’s the same process for short stories, although in a much less intense and time consuming way. I can normally complete a short story in just a couple of weeks. During this whole process, if at any point, anything doesn’t seem to be working or I get stuck on something, I’ve learnt to just walk away from it. As I said at the start, I can not force anything. I’ve tried, and I end up just getting stressed with the issue and then attach a negative mindset to the whole project. Also, if the story stops working or becomes boring or stale, I simply archive it and move on to something else. I do want to write stories for a living, but I don’t want it to become a chore. Maybe I’m a little naive about that. Fortunately, I am quite good at coming up with concepts and story ideas, which means I always have something else to move on to.
So that’s a huge blog post about my writing methods and the such. Part 2, out later this week, will focus on my current project(s), and part 3 will be more lighthearted quick fire questions.
Anyway, I’m off to research the history of dolls. Until next time, Peace and Love!