Sunday, 9 June 2013

Guest Post - A Writing Process

A Writing Process.
by Sarah Jane Avory

After reading several conflicting tales, I’ve always been curious about how other authors actually sit down and write behind closed doors – no lies, no tales, just the truth. As for myself, I’ve tried various methods and can disclose what I have discovered...

I used to believe that one had to write a complete first draft, then bin it to write the next draft, and the next, until the book was finished. I’d read about writing an overview for the whole book first, detailing every scene. But as with anything to do with writing, there doesn’t appear to be a golden rule for this, and every author is different. Some authors plot in great detail, while others are happy to make things up as they go along. I guess I am somewhere in the middle.

For my first book I started by piecing together a whole heap of ideas, trying to assemble them into some sort of story. I sat down and wrote an overview, nothing too detailed, just brief mentions of characters movements and major events. This took a while, the story changing, evolving the whole time as ideas changed and new inspirations took hold. I still have folders here full of scribbled notes and ideas, most rejected, but kept just in case...

With what I thought was a solid overview, I began writing the book. I wrote a few chapters, then went back to read through it all, deciding it wasn’t quite right. So I edited the text until I was happy with it. More chapters followed, and still I went back and edited my earlier work, found myself going over and over the same old text, tweaking the odd word, rephrasing sentences.

Being a full-time games programmer, I was also trying to juggle writing code at home with trying to write a novel, and making no good progress on either. That lasted until late 2011. By that time I had a book almost finished, the last few chapters detailed and ready to be written.

Only I wasn’t happy with the whole story. I didn’t like the beginning, and the flow felt wrong, the book describing and explaining events to the point there was no mystery. And the ending was so dull compared to a major event that took place in the middle of the book. I shelved the whole project not sure how to proceed.

Well as it turns out, I knew exactly what to do, and it took me until January 2012 to push myself into doing what needed to be done.

I scrapped the whole thing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. What I did do was pull the book apart and write a new overview, salvaging and incorporating as many ideas as possible. I still ended up re-plotting half the book. I managed to reuse some of the old book as there were plenty of scenes I was happy with. That took some doing; the new overview was in a completely different order, so sections I could reuse needed to be heavily modified to make them fit. Looking back now it might have been quicker just to have completely rewritten them. Oh well, live and learn I say.

I used my existing strategy to rewrite the book: take a chapter description from the overview, expand it into something more detailed, then write the chapter in stages, going back to edit before pushing forward.

One has to be careful with this approach. It’s very easy to get stuck in a cycle where you’re editing the same chapter over and over (because it is easier) and not making any progress.

It ended up taking 7 months to rewrite the book. I spent another month or so editing the finished book before I put it aside (after reading advice to do so and come back to it later).

In September 2012 I started work on a new project, my currently published book, The Spirit Of A Witch. I began that book with a much looser overview than ever before, some chapters just a sentence or two, giving myself a bit of creative freedom. After writing the first few chapters, I changed my writing method: instead of endlessly editing chapters as before, I decided I’d just go ahead and write a quick first draft of the whole book before going back to flesh it all out.

When December 2012 rolled around, I had time off work, 5 weeks. With so much free time I began rattling through a first draft, at one point writing a chapter per day. After Christmas I changed my method again, finally settled on a method that worked for me: I used the morning time to edit what I’d written the previous afternoon/evening, and then wrote fresh text after lunch and into the evening. I ended up finishing the novel in 4 weeks.

Thus began the process of revision, notably more on the speedily written chapters; they ended up being the worst to edit, and one in particular took me 2-3 weeks to get sorted. In conclusion, for me at least, rattling through a first draft didn’t help.

So now with one book published, I’ve gone back to finish editing my first book. I have learned a lot writing The Spirit Of A Witch, so much so I’ve completely re-written a few of the scenes of my first book, a much darker adult-orientated fantasy novel.

Today I am writing the sequel to The Spirit Of A Witch. This time I have written a more detailed overview, each scene complete with details such as the date/time as well as other important factors such as weather etc. My current plan is to write each chapter without stopping to edit, then go back and edit until I am semi-happy with it. Once the whole book is done, I’ll go back and check for obvious mistakes before letting my close friends proof-read it. I’m confident I’ll get it finished before Christmas this year. Wish me luck!

Sarah is the author of 'The Spirit of a Witch', which I have just started reading and I have to say that it's off to a cracking start - expect a review soon.

Briley Forester is a shy recluse, a gifted programmer troubled at work, a young woman surrounded at home by a wealthy life of gadgets, her only companion her black cat Smokey.

When a force from beyond the depths of meditation tears her out of reality and dumps her into the village of Maepole, she finds herself trapped within a harsh world without technology, governed by the sword, a grim place where witches, mages and talking cats exist.

Tricked into working as a lowly delivery girl and denied any privacy, her only chance to return home is to overcome her shyness and seek help from the villagers, to foster lasting friendships and rediscover herself. And to learn the art of witchcraft.

But the way home is fraught with heartache and danger, love and despair. The powerful Whitehead family will stop at nothing to be rid of her. And lurking within the forest, the dark spirit lies in wait, ready to strike...

Buy The Spirit of a Witch now from Amazon 
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