OK, let’s start with what my absolute dream day would look like.
7am: Awake refreshed after a long sleep, get up, do yoga and have breakfast.
8.30am – 11.30am: sit at desk and write. 2,500 words.
11.30 – 12.30pm: go for a 4k run around the park.
12.30 –1.30pm: have lunch / maybe meet with friends.
1.30pm – 3.00pm: Back at desk to write 1,500 words.
3.00pm – 5.30pm: Read.
5.30pm: greet husband and chat about day. Dinner and bed.
Just look at it. How perfect would that be? How perfect would I be? If every working day were like that one, I would glow with smugness like the vegan in Scott Pilgrim.
But I’ll be honest, days like that don’t happen often. If ever. I haven’t done yoga in six months. Or gone for a run in three. So before I get too annoyed with myself, let’s quickly move on to what an actual day in my life looks like, shall we?
I have two typical working days. Or let’s call them ideal days. Because things don’t always go to plan.
The first is when I’m freelancing as a copywriter – my ‘real’ job. That means for eight+ hours of the day I belong to my clients and all my creative energy goes into their projects. Even then, I try and I squeeze some ‘me’ writing in. If I have to work on site, I use my commuting time to scribble away. In fact, most of the first draft of SHIFT was written on the number 243 bus between Waterloo and Shoreditch, where my old agency is based. I find something soothing about the distraction of the noise of the bus and the freedom of writing by hand. It switches off the voice in my head that has a tendency to mutter everything I write is rubbish. When the words are scrawled in spidery ink on a page, of course it’s rubbish. It’s just a first draft and the knowledge that I can fix it all later is immensely freeing for me. So much so that sometimes, even when I don’t have to commute, I hop on a bus to nowhere, just for a change of scene.
If I’m working for my clients from home, I aim to split my day up into chunks. I start work at 8.30am, work till 11.30am, then I do about two hours personal writing, before getting back to work and finishing whatever it is I’m being paid to write.
My other typical day, and these are the days I love the most, is when I’m writing just for me.
I still approach writing as a job. I get up at the same time, grab a coffee and head to my desk, which is in the back room of my flat, and I start writing. OK, so I do a bit of email checking, twittering and what have you, but mostly, when it’s all going well, I write.
I aim for at least 2,000 words a day. And when things are really going my way, I can crank that up to about 4,000.
I write very, very rough and loose drafts, focusing on the key scenes I have planned out, jumping forward in the story if something isn’t flowing easily. I don’t edit as I go, as that would be death to me. I’d only look at what I’d written, see how bad it is, and want to give up. So instead, my first ‘vomit’ draft, if you will, is like a sprint to the end. It’s mostly made up of dialogue between characters, with the odd action sequence thrown in here or there, as I love to write them. And I go back and fill in the important details later.
These drafts are filled with lines that look like this:
XXXX Describe building and his emotional turmoil here. XXXX
XXXX Add in scene where he finds out what the bad guys are up to XXXX
I’ve been told it’s a weird way to operate, but it seems to work for me.
My first draft will usually be about 20,000 if not 30,000 words short of its eventual word count. I view them as building the skeleton that I can later go over and add meat and muscle to: deepening characters and highlighting themes. It helps me to have a sense of the whole story before I start to try mould it into shape.
When re-drafting, I start by identifying the gaps in the story, by hunting out all those XXXs in the WIP. I sometimes bring the book from Word into Scrivener, which makes seeing the holes easier. And then I go over it layer by layer, till I have something I think might just be approaching a genuine first draft.
Then I send the file to my Kindle and read the whole thing through, making notes as I go. Another pass of the book and then it’s out to my beta readers.
Then re-write. And re-write some more.
I work best in the mornings, and find the afternoons are better used for plotting or researching or writing blog posts. I seriously can’t work past 7pm. My brain just shuts down and won’t give anymore no matter how much coffee I feed it.
I try not to work on the weekends, to give both my husband and myself a break. But I might grab a notebook and scribble a thought as it comes to me.
The one bit of the process I need to get better at making time for is the staring into space time. This is an absolutely essential part of the process. I have a tendency to dive in and start typing, as though if I’m not racking up that word count somehow I’m not really working. And frankly, as anyone who writes or creates anything knows, that’s just stupid. The really important bit happens while you’re lying in the bath, or going for long walks, or watching something on TV you don’t really care about. And that’s hard to schedule.
I’m still trying to work out my process, and I think it will change as I get more used to this writing malarkey. Maybe even one day I’ll start to have more and more of those dream days. And wouldn’t that be grand?