I’ve had a few people ask me lately about my average working day. Only, I don’t really have an “average” working day, but I have phases of productivity which form a pattern. An overall working-month, more than a ‘working day’. I do work ‘full time’ as a writer, and yet it doesn’t resemble any other full-time job I’ve ever held, that’s for sure! I have a lot of flexibility in how I structure my diary, and I think it’s a very unique process. Every writer will have a different approach to their output. This is how it is, for me.
Phase 1. Plotting. This is a term I use pretty loosely. I’m not a keen plotter, in terms of detailed storyline development. I approach a story knowing my characters inside out, and their central conflict as well. I usually have an idea of how their conflict will come to a head, and how it will resolve. I also like to have a “Hollywood moment” in mind- that is, the scene that everyone would go, “ahhhh, awwwww!” at in the movie cinema. I’m often plotting up to five stories at a time (maybe more), in the same notebook and in my head. It starts as a kernel of an idea and drives itself around and around in my mind until it’s fleshed out enough as a concept for me to start writing. I’m plotting all the time. Even when I’m writing, an idea can come to me for another story and I add it to my notebook. Sometimes, it’s just a sentence, other times, the story is almost fully formed when it comes to me.
The plotting phase looks a lot like: vagueness. Distraction. Conversations that fade into the air, as my mind ticks over new ideas, distracting me from the real world completely.
Phase 2. Writing. this is, by far, my favourite phase. When I’m in a book, it is pretty much all I’m capable of focussing on creatively. I can’t read other books or edit books of my own. Apart from an errant idea for another book I’m plotting, it’s all about the Current MS. So, in this phase, I write obsessively. The only way to describe the intensity of this is ‘claustrophobic.’ I suffocate under the weight of my story until I have written it.
I want to put everything on hold except for my book, and to this end, when I’m gearing up for a ‘writing phase’, I do try to clear as much of my schedule as I can, but obviously, that’s not always possible! So I have to squeeze my writing into the gaps of life, around school drop off and pick up, grocery shopping, extra-curricular commitments, social obligations. Nonetheless, in the weeks I’m writing, I write diligently, usually getting a significant amount of words down per day. This means waking early, and writing late. And I love it! This is, without doubt, my favourite part.
I never feel like I don’t want to write. I resent it greatly if I’m not able to get into my story for any reason, and if I go too long without being in a writing phase, I get antsy and irritable. Writing isn’t just my job, it’s my passion and my hobby.
I often ruminate on the fact that I don’t consider myself a writer, so much as a storyteller. Don’t mistake me, I love playing with words, running them around the page until they find the right order, but what I really love is my people, and their world. I love their conflict, their tension and angst, and manoeuvring the pieces of their lives into place to find their genuine, authentic ‘happily-ever-after’. Once I have the idea for the story, I desperately need to commit it to paper. It overtakes me until it’s done, pushing all else to the extremities.
I write books that are between 50,000 to 55,000 words, with the exception of three single titles I’ve written that hover around 80,000 – 90,000 words in length (and are still being tweaked). I usually add a few extra thousand words during the editorial phase. A Mills & Boon is between 50,000 and 55,000 words.
The writing phase looks a lot like: endless cups of tea, a cramped neck, and a computer tan. I will dip into my story at every opportunity, meaning my MacBook often has toast crumbs spread across it from where I’ve been typing out a scene while getting brekkie organised for the kids…I’m also riddled with doubt for big patches of this phase. I doubt my story, my characters’ motivations and my ability to do them justice, but I know that doubt will disappear the closer I get to the end and so I keep my head down and push on.
Phase 3. Editing and promotion. Though I wish I could just write stories all day every day, there are other parts of the job that need my attention. When I’m not writing, I’m usually catching up on edits. I’m generally editing two projects at a time, one in structural and one in copy edits. On a day when I’m editing, I like to choose a time when I have a proper block to work at it. If it’s a day when my little girl is home, that’s during her midday nap. If it’s a day when both kids are at kindy/school, then I set myself up at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and have at it, not shifting until I’m happy I’ve done a solid chunk of the book. It’s important to see the book for what it is, putting aside all the visions that fill out your head when you’re writing it, and read it with as fresh eyes as possible.
To this end, once I finish a book, I usually put it away for as long as possible before I begin my first round of edits – sometimes that’s three weeks, other times, it’s several months. It means I can read it as a reader would, and I also find I pick up way more typos and mistakes this way, too.
I both love and loathe editing. Once I’m finished writing a book, I consider their story told, and I want to move onto the next adventure. I find the idea of revisiting it tedious. BUT, no book is perfect on its first draft. The editing process, once you can bring yourself to do it, is an opportunity to hone your words to make them really special. To cut out the waffle and tighten the prose, and to expand on ideas that you didn’t completely capture on the first pass.
I’m lucky in that I have always worked with fantastic editors, who hold up the PERFECT mirror to my words (a mirror that is both honest and kind!!) so that I can see what needs improving without doubting the quality of the book.
The editing phase looks like: I’m human, more or less, once again on top of the minutiae of daily life, able to function, grocery shop and finish an actual conversation.
If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your approach. Do you write every day? Or just on weekends? What keeps you glued to the screen until you’re finished?