Now for something a little different than my usual blog post.
My current playlist. The songs that play nonstop or on repeat whether I'm writing, driving or walking to the coffee shop.
Okay so her name isn't Ellie-bellie. Her nickname isn't Ellie-bellie, either. I've never even called her that before now. I just thought it sounded like a fetching title.
Before I boast about her, let me just remind you what a beta reader is and does. The title denotes said person is just that - a reader. This person is strategically placed to read unpublished, typically largely unedited manuscripts prior to submission to the publisher, but this process is definitely influenced by the kind of writer and author working together. I self-edit as I go, so Ellie tends to get manuscripts that are better than they would be if I just had to 'get it all out' and edit later. It also means it takes a long time for a manuscript to be good enough to leave my type-A typing fingers. That being said, she has seen some of my more recent work in shocking condition. I should have been hung upside down by my toenails (and maybe smacked) for sending both Unfailing Love AND Gap Year to her with chunks (chunks, you lot. Chunks.) of unfinished sections. That's just plain naughty. Don't ever do that to your beta reader. Do not.
Hadley is currently overlooking the gardens with that (annoyingly) protective eye Head Boy's have . . .
There are some interactions between my characters that I like more than others and strangely, I don't feel as though I can actually take credit for writing them. Sometimes. Yes, I wrote it, but how do I know what it feels like to be a successful middle-aged man married to a middle-aged woman with a very particular and somewhat moody teenage son? I don't. Does this face look like it has any idea of such things?
Certainly not, I tell you.
In this particular instance I'm referring to an exchange between Peter and Millie Nottoway in the Walden School series. I've written from the dominant male perspective (Brayden James, Bennett Fowler, Damian Fowler, Jonathan Fowler of the Waldorf Manor series, William of The Protagonist, also Hadley Birkett, Phin Lakely, McAllister and Charles Nottoway of the Walden School series) as well as the female perspective (Alice, Elizabeth, Evelyn, Daisy, Coach Wiley and Sam from the above named books), but some of my favourite moments have been where the mature male/female or male/male conversational dynamic is centre stage. They flow out of me and like Daisy in The Protagonist claims, I show up and transcribe what the characters in my head are saying. They do all the work. I'm just there recording it. What prompted me to this post was looking at where I left off with the Nottoways in Walden the Prequel in order to continue their story in Sam's Silence, the third Walden School book. For continuity I regularly refer to previous books and picking up from there, I was amused by a conversation between Peter and Millie. Married for twenty years and revealing subtle signs of disconnect, the scene reveals a lot about who they are as individuals within the togetherness of their marriage.
Okay fine. It's things I do, because I don't know the habits of other authors well enough to comment. I can tell you who in my community is a plotter or a pantser, and whom among us has a few little rituals whilst working, which was the inspiration for this post.
1) I can't work in pyjamas, 'sweats' (don't own any) leggings (don't own any), yoga trousers (don't own any) or my dressing gown (have three of those).
2) Ideally, the entire house is clean and ready for a crew to come in and shoot for the next issue of <insert name of reputable home interiors magazine here>.
2a) If number two is not happening/possible/can't be bothered to make it possible, then the area in which I am working at home (my desk, sometimes outstretched on the sofa with lap desk) ought to look like it's ready for a magazine shoot. That means clean, dusted, polished, styled, candles lit, atmosphere set. Tray of drinks nearby.
3) If I'm working at the coffee shop, I sit in my spot.
3a) If I can't sit in my spot, I sit in my reserve spot.
3b) If I can't give any cleaning time to my home, I go to the coffee shop because I can't work in chaos. I can, however, work with a buzz (coffee, people chatting, etc).
4) Within ten minutes of waking, I will know if it's an at-home day or a coffee shop day.
If it's a coffee-shop day but on a Monday, I have to go to my reserve coffee shop instead of my regular. I'm usually out of the house within twenty minutes because once the decision is made, a dress is chosen and tights are found and I'm gone.
5) Getting dressed and looking professional helps me work better. So that always happens.
Unless I'm ill, I don't work in what people deem 'comfy clothes' (don't really own any) or work in bed. When I'm unwell I do work in bed because I feel being sick is unproductive. I sit at my desk or in my bergère with a lapdesk fully dressed, hair done, as if I could walk into a meeting. It also means if the post man shows up with presents I'm prepared to answer the door.
6) I'm a pantser.
I don't/can't/have no interest in plotting my books. They just happen. I like it that way.
7) The shower is where a lot of new ideas appear. Scenes, dialogue, revelations. A lot of revelations.
I hear specific narrative in my head a lot of times when I'm in the shower. Very specific chunks of deep point of view and dialogue often manifest whilst washing my hair.
8) When I'm in the zone, do not talk to me.
I'm distracted from writing a lot - phone calls, messages, emails, etc. If you're in the same room as me as I'm writing with a frown, though, best not disturb me. It means I'm in deep and shouldn't be interrupted.
9) There are duplicate copies of every manuscript (okay fine, like, five) where I 'allow' myself to 'go off and play' in the scene, imagining it going a different way. This prevents me from losing the original idea if I decide this tangent doesn't work.
10) I rarely delete anything permanently. On last count, I had up to thirty documents from my eight published books full of manuscript cuts. These are huge chunks of dialogue, narrative, deep POV, or just entertaining lines I want to use in the next book in the series.
11) There is no limit to how much coffee I drink. I don't say that to be amusing. I'm just not sure caffeine affects me at this point. I drink good coffee and espresso no matter where I work. It's more about atmosphere and comfort than anything else. It's like a blankie and a stuffie for the tongue.
12) No one tells me what to write. Being with the publisher I'm with, I never have that problem. They don't tell me what or how to write. However, readers sometimes like to imagine endings, scenarios or even novels for me to write. It will never happen. I have no interest in recycling someone's suggestions. My writing and my books come from somewhere no one else has access to, and it isn't open for additions or extensions.
If you have an idea for a book, go ahead and write it yourself. Suggestions for endings or twists are never considered, either. That's just rude.
13) I like even numbers and tend to incorporate them when having multiples of things in my books. I have to force myself to choose numbers like 3 and 5 so I don't end up looking like the eccentric author I really am. Odd numbers = icky.
14) I'm reclusive for a period of time during the writing of each manuscript.
I will accept invitations for coffee, lunch, writing sprints, days out - during a regular working day - once in a while. Writing time can be made up in the evenings if I go out during the day and so I try to put people (especially those in industry) ahead of my own agenda. Fellowship, friends and time are an investment worthy of my attention. Always. However, with every book I will inevitably disappear for awhile. Some people particularly close to me may not notice, but I will typically be less active on my social media accounts. I shower less. Forget to eat. The record for not going outside is 6 days. Not even to collect the post or packages from the porch. I simply can't step outside my realm and will avoid phone calls and text messages if I'm in my reclusive funk. It's not something I set out to do, it's something that overcomes me. I write a lot, pace a lot, read my work aloud and make loads of edits. It's a partitioned part of writing each book and I don't know why. It just sort of happens.
15) Writing sprints are my secret weapon.
Accountability works wonders on people. Make people announce their word count and magically, the wifi turns off and the FB chat is dead, and people are writing! Ta da! I have found the fellowship and comradery to be priceless. I've done sprints in person with about fifteen authors (and I shall never forget how amazing it was) and virtual ones on social media. Both work in pushing word count forward and everyone walks away encouraged. Win-win.
16) The marketing blurb and synopsis of the book are the bane of my existence.
I can easily write a 90k word book, but don't ask me to write you a few sentences of marketing material. Or a synopsis. Just read the book and look at the pretty cover. I have no idea how to sum all that up in a few paragraphs. Another secret - none of the authors in my little community enjoy it. We all either drown our sorrows in chocolate (me), ice cream or wine (the middle-aged ones) and moan on Facebook about how much we hate writing those bits. And of course, we sympathise with one another when someone has to do it. Very dramatic. Also, very true.
17) After hitting the submit button on a manuscript, there is an overwhelming need to celebrate. Immediately.
For the first five books, I somehow managed to hit the submit button before or just around dinner time on those particular days. So, we got into the habit of going out for dinner at the Tobacco Company in Richmond because we are frequent diners and there are always table late into the evening. "Celebrating anything special tonight?" Me: Yes. Finally bloody finished my book. Waiter usually says congratulations or asks if it's my first. Me: Oh no. We popped Champagne the first time. Now we just come here and eat bread rolls.
18) I don't read my books after I hit submit. I make necessary changes when in contact with my editor, and then avoid the book until about three weeks after release. Then I read it. Whilst biting my nails.
19) I forget what I write.
I went back to Unfailing Love last week and found myself snorting, laughing and tearing up over a number of things, sitting there reading the book as if I wasn't the author! Why? Because I sincerely can't recall writing most of it. No, I do not drink. I'm sort of in another place psychologically when writing and rarely recall much of it.
20) Travel is another secret weapon to my writing.
21) Music is almost always playing
My music tastes evolve now and again, although two albums have stayed with me these seventeen years of writing. Affirmation by Savage Garden - the songs Love After Me, Crash and Burn (intermittently) and I Don't Know You Anymore. The other album is SR-71 (Now You See Inside) and is the one most prominently played. Specifically, the songs, What A Mess, Last Man On The Moon, Empty Spaces, Another Night Alone, Alive and Non-Toxic tend to be on repeat. This is my favourite album of all time.
22) Partial manuscripts and printed and I do hard-copy edits. I do another print and red pen edit before sending to my beta reader.
There are typically four print-outs of each manuscript and I don't always get through the edits before throwing them out and simply returning to the digital copy, having memorised all the changes I want to make. It's a bit of a paper waste but it always happens like this.
23) Scenes come to me cinematically.
As if the film has already been produced and I'm seeing it on a big screen in my mind, many scenes come to me in full colour, with actors perfectly cast, having conversation or doing things. I can see the scene perfectly and from there I describe every detail on the page. Some are stronger than others, and some scenes never appear that way. Only certain ones have.
24) I change my clothes at least twice, if not three times per day.
Upon getting dressed in the morning and ready to write, I will be comfortable for a period of time. I often change my dress/skirt/pinafore to suit my mood, and then I will change again toward the evening. It has a lot to do with how productive I feel I am in hitting word count or where the story is going. Not entirely sure how clothes and my mood and writing are related, but they are.
25) If I don't know how to help my characters deal with distress, I'm done for awhile.
There have been many a 'duvet day' by ten o'clock in the morning. I get dressed, have my coffee, sit down to write and nope. Alice is having a tantrum. Sam doesn't want to talk. The authority figures only want to scold. Like, Bennett and Brayden just want to moan at me about people not listening. Okay. Fine. I'll watch Amazon Prime and chill. Ready to talk? Nope? Fine. Cinema day. By four in the afternoon I may have some dialogue or narrative in my head and need to get it out. Those parts will be cut and pasted somewhere in the manuscript when the right scenario has been crafted and can host it. Writing cannot be forced and sometimes characters need the timeouts.
26) Yes, I cry after typing The End.
The journey is over. The ring is safe. The battle is won. The cupboard doors are closed and the thrones are occupied. Knee socks straightened. Hair ribbons (unfortunately) replaced. It's over. All done. Cue the tears. And celebrations - see 17. No one would know it, but I totally have a little break down because I have to say goodbye to the world and my babies (yes, Bennett is totally my baby in a strange way, even though it ought to be the other way around). It hurts and I don't like saying goodbye.
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