Writing Lessons 9

Today I have been working on a new story, and I’ve got to the magical stage of about 90,000 words, which means that I’m on the easier, downhill slopes and almost at the end of the first draft. Perhaps this is a good time to think about how things are going.

I’ve already spoken about the fact that I tend to be a ‘plan less, write more’ kind of author. Most of my friends are – even the ones you may expect to be detailed planners, like Ian Rankin. 

However, I have a multitude of notebooks and always carry at least two fountain pens with me, no matter where I am. Why? Because you can never tell where or when an idea will suddenly hit you. For example, in my Midori Traveller’s Notebook, which is a brilliant little notepad, I have eight pages which are composed purely of the ideas which came to me late at night, while walking the dogs, or at other unexpected moments. Almost all are ideas connected to the ending of this story.

But that ain’t all of it. I also have a Rhodia notebook that I carry when it’s wet out and I don’t want to risk getting my Midori soaked. There’s also a Leuchtturm A5 notebook on my desk, which is where the main drive of the story and characters is held. That has had another seven pages filled over the last two weeks. And my A3 sketching pad has another five.

The way I tend to work is, as I am writing, I am concentrating only on the one scene, that one person’s point of view. As soon as I finish that scene, I move on to the next. But when I take a few moments off, or when I’m walking the dogs, I tend to be thinking of the overall flow of the story, the way the characters are reacting to the stimuli I’m throwing at them, the additional, small characters who happen to have impinged on the story, the potential for this or that ending to the book. 

When I’m in my office, I will use the A3 blank sketch book to outline possible directions for the story, list red herrings and how they affect the outcomes, and make connections between people and their motives. I find blank paper much easier for this kind of work. I’ll also use my A4 and A5 Atoma notebooks. These are superb because you can jot down ideas, and then move them from one notepad to another – the pages are removable and can be reinserted anywhere you like. 

The Midori I always used to use with blank and lined paper. Just now I tend to use blank paper in it for my story planning, so I can be a little more unstructured in the way I put things down. I will be experimenting with dotted paper for this in a little while, but not with this book. The Leuchtturm is lined, and in this I can blank off pages for characterisation, and then more pages for outlined options for the story’s flow. I really like the fact that the pages are numbered, that there is a ‘Contents’ page, and that there are is a cloth bookmark. Oh, and that fountain pens don’t make the paper look like blotting paper. All my notebooks have to be fountain-pen-safe! 

Now that I’m getting closer to the end, these notebooks are invaluable, because they remind me what I was thinking about at specific stages in the story. I can flick through the pages to see what I was putting into the mind of my investigator at different stages, and that helps keep me informed about the red herrings I have thrown in, so that I can either resolve them as red herrings, blow them up into mainstream motives for my characters, decide to leave them as conversational pieces, or remove them completely. The options are all there for me. 

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, I find it invaluable to have a series of notebooks with me or near to hand at all times. And now that I am close to the end of the book, these notebooks are always on the desk, with the thesaurus and dictionary. The basic elements of writing.

If you don’t have a notebook already, go and buy one. I can recommend Leuchtturm 1917, Midori, Citridori (which I’m using as pads in my Midori), the wonderful Atoma, and a large, A3 or larger sketching pad (I haven’t used this specific one, but I’m sure it would do the job).

And no, I’m not paid to say this, but I regularly deal with Cult Pens, Citrus Book Bindery, and use Leuchtturm and Atoma all the time and can happily vouch for them. However, it’s not the suppliers that matter, it’s what you do with their products.

Happy writing!

One Response to “Writing Lessons 9”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael on the subject of planning. Or, keeping a notebook on you when you are away from your keyboard. ;)


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