3rd August 2012

Stop and Think time

One of the novel locations. Pic c/o http://www.twistedimages.co.uk

Yes, I am at that point, the two thirds of the way through the novel point… or rather, me and my co-writer are.  We started our adult contemporary novel at the end of February this year, so have had five months working away at it.  I had this vague idea in my head that we should have it finished by October, and it’s looking as if we will, despite the various incidents (and there have been many) that have slowed down the process.  Life often gets in the way, but, in the this case, it’s woven itself into the story too.  You know that feeling, when you think like a writer and use what’s given to you?  Well that!  It’s a tad cranky at times, when something a bit grim happens and you’re thinking… Ooh, I could use that! Hands up to doing this though, and to working real people into the novel too, quite innocent people, sat on train platforms, in train carriages, standing around and minding their own business.  Crikey, if only they knew!!!  There are a whole host of locations that have inspired scenes in the story too, so much so that a scene or chapter can literally come into being quite at random, depending on where one or the other of us have been.

So, now we are about to embark on the last third.  Normally when I write, I carry on

Another location. Pic c/o http://www.twistedimages.co.uk

until the end in a kind of mad writing frenzy, and then go back, once the first draft is complete, to start the editing process which can then go on for some time, producing as many as seven drafts (as was the case with Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan.) Not this time though. This story has been assembled thus far in a rather haphazard way, with chapters being moved and spaces being left for chapters as yet unwritten.  We now have an (almost) complete two thirds and, with a bit of a quandry as to the direction of the last third, and two or three possible endings, we thought now might be a good time to stop and think.  In theory, we have enough ideas to continue to the end… but what if we are missing something?  What if  we could do a better job of the last third if we took time to look at what we’d done?  What if there are plot holes, or threads that fizzle out and could be made more of?

So, that is what we’re doing – taking time out to stop and think.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading through the first 65,000 words again.   I’ve devoured every bit of it.  And I decided to do two things with this edit: to add any new bits in red, and to highlight any themes, threads and recurring imagery in blue.  This has been really useful in focusing me and reminded me of areas to be picked up on and built up in the last third.   Once edited, I printed it out, and, although it isn’t finished, got that goosebumpy feeling that every writer will recognise when you see your work as this huge pile of paper.  My goodness, talk about a lump in the throat moment!  You forget the amount of words you have written when your work is on a computer screen.  Scrolling down through the pages on a computer screen just doesn’t give you the same sense of achievement somehow.

So what’s next?  Well, I’m going to read it again.  I’ve printed it in double line spacing and single sided… why?  Well, LOADS of room for notes!!!  I expect to be making lots of them!  From the screen edit, I noticed a huge chunk where the pace is too slow and needs zinging up, and I’m sure there’ll be a host of other things that come to light in the next reading.  But overall, I have to say, I love it!  I think we are all our own worst critics, so it’s a pretty fab feeling when you read what you’ve written and love it.  It doesn’t always happen, and more often than not I go through a lot of angst and head in hands moments before I get that feeling. It still needs work, of course it does, and the plotting needs to be tighter and developed a whole lot more…. but, I have that goosebumpy feeling when I read it, and there are moments that have brought me close to tears, others that have made my heart race, and one part that had me squirming behind my hands!  I’m sure some of this is because I am co-writing the novel.  Co-writing really gives you chance to bounce ideas off someone else and both work to your individual strengths, and it means the writing always seems fresh somehow and full of surprises. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will be able to launch this little morsel on the publishing world… after the edits, of course! Here’s hoping they like it!

Do you journey through your writing in one go, or allow for stop and think time?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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18 Responses to 3rd August 2012

  1. Jo Carroll says:

    It varies. With the travel writing I just go for it – after all, I know what happened! (Though I can struggle with the parts where I was particularly daft, as it’s not so easy writing oneself being a prat!) Fiction – I tend to just go for it, the novel I’m working on has 4 clear sections, so I’m going away to get one out of my head before tackling the next one. Only time will tell if they slot together in the end.

    All the best with your efforts – I’m deeply impressed at the co-writing!

    • Oh your approach sends fairly like mine, Jo. I tend to think in chunks and this novel has definitely been written in that way, with a lot of randomness thrown in! I guess it is different when writing something factual. Daft? You? Bahhhh! 😉

  2. Martin Day says:

    As ever – fascinating to read about your processing, Abi, and thanks for letting more light in on the magic! My own creative energies are focus on developing a board game at the moment, so I feel somewhat of a fraud even presuming to read an author bog… But my major project, my musical, had been ten years in the process so far and there has been far more ‘stop and think’ than anything else! But with all the diverse things I have tried my hand at, because it is the as same mind producing it all, the processes have more in common with each other than anyone looking in from the outside would imagine.

    • Oh I totally agree with you, Martin. I think we put our own stamp on all the creative things we do and that somehow they interconnect. I would love to produce a book of illustrated poems – the whole idea of mixing genres appeals to me, and I love that you experiment so much with your creativity. And you’re still allowed to read my blog, by the way, even if you’re not actually writing at the time 😉

  3. This is a great post; I always love reading about other writers’ processes. And your novel sounds amazing. It’s perfect timing to read this today as I’m about two or three scenes away from typing THE END on my current WIP. Like you what’s held me up is the ending. Not quite sure… but this novel has been a mad rush, mostly written in about six weeks (but in my head for about five years). I’ve yet to print it out but I know exactly what you mean about the goosebumpy feeling when I do. It sits at over 80,000 words and 320 pages–how’d THAT happen, I keep thinking to myself. Here’s to a very exciting end for both of us!

  4. Oh wow! That got written so quickly, Julia! I bet you can’t wait to start editing. There are always tricky bits somewhere aren’t there? I didn’t find the middle bit too hard, but I do think that the pace needs picking up in this section. I bet you can’t wait to print yours out! Loads of luck with those last few scenes and I hope they blossom!

  5. Jenny Alexander says:

    What an intriguing article! It makes me feel curious about the nuts and bolts of your co-writing process – do you write alternate chapters? Do you meet up and discuss the general direction you want the story to go in? Have you worked with this or any other writer collaboratively before? I worked on a soap-style reading programme years ago with Jeremy Strong and Kaye Umansky and I loved the occasional meetings when we discussed the next phase, what would happen to the various characters, which new characters might come in. My own process is like Ted Hughes’ fishing analogy – I sit around, watching and waiting until I land a good idea, then work with that a bit, and then go back to the river. I love both the active and the receptive phases of the process, in different ways.

  6. Oh, I love the Ted Hughes’ fishing analogy, Jenny! That seems a really natural process to me. Re. the collaborating…. I feel another blog post coming on – thanks for that! I’ll write one and hopefully answer a lot of these questions. You worked with Jeremy Strong? How wonderful!

  7. Jenny Alexander says:

    Yes – it was brilliant! An amazing opportunity for me at the very beginning of my writing career, and he and Kaye are both such fun 🙂 I’ll look forward to more info on the collaboration – every writer’s got to be interested in that!

  8. Ah, thanks, Jenny 🙂

  9. Each work has been different for me, when I first wrote my current WIP, it was years ago and I planned it out and dealt with it methodically, now it’s been rewritten a couple of times and I’m working through revisions and edits on a (perfecting it) chapter-by-chapter basis. With my last finished work, I just hit it full pelt and it came as I wrote. I knew the main arc of events but everything happened as it happened, and the revisions worked the same.
    I’m really enjoying fleshing out and refining something I wrote so long ago, and rediscovering the fun I had writing it originally!
    I can’t wait to hear more about your co-written baby, sounds like you’ve had a fun time writing it!

  10. Thanks for that, Lisa. It has been fab writing this novel – still is! Isn’t it odd how what we write lends itself to a different approach though? I always find this fascinating. I’m never quite sure how a manuscript will progress and how I’ll make it work until I’m in there, and, it either flows, like you have said, or needs a lot more planning up front. I love this diversity because I think it keeps our writing fresh.

  11. I generally need a lot of time to reflect to make sure the changes I’m making to the story are in line with the character, etc. Do you find working with a co-author makes this process slow going?

    • That’s a good point, Jackie. I think it is good to ensure that kind of consistency. Re. your question…mmmm! Interesting one! It hasn’t really slowed it down as I do the editing, so I just get on with that side of it. I think it would depend who you were working with too, but as our writing styles are so well matched, they fit together without too many changes needing to be made, and we tend to agree on what’s needed.

  12. Emma Pass says:

    The more I hear about this novel, the more intrigued I get! It sounds like it’s been a lot of fun so far. I definitely need stop-and-think time as I go along, otherwise I end up writing myself into a corner and have to do a ton of work to find my way out again. My daydreaming time is as much ‘work’ as my actual writing time. Good luck with the end of the novel! x

  13. Yay! Intrigued… I like 😀 Yes, I’m the same, Emma. I did that with Buttercup Magic – hence all the re-writes! I agree too with the daydreaming/thinking time – so important. It’s where all our ideas grow isn’t it? Thanks ever so x

  14. Nadine says:

    Such an encouraging post, Abi, especially for a newbie like me. It’s wonderful when you find and know someone who understands the angst and “head in hands moments.”

    Congrats on being almost there! Yaay! I can only imagine what it will feel like to finish the first draft. Then, on to the rewrite, which is my favourite part. Well done, both of you. 😀

    Let me share one of the nuggets from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve already burned into my brain:

    “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”


  15. Thanks, Nadine… so glad you enjoyed it! Yes, those ‘head in hands’ moments go alongside the ‘lying awake with tangled brain’ ones! They’re a bit grotty, but they have to happen for us to be able to see the right way ahead don’t they. I love the Stephen King analogy, although, I confess, I had to read it about 3 times to work it out because there are numbers in it! Me and numbers…mmmm! Not so good 😀 x

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