1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?
When I first started writing seriously in about 2010, I was a complete ‘pantser.’ I’d have a hazy idea of perhaps the beginning and end of a story, with no real idea how I was going to get from one to the other, but I’d sit down and start writing into the wind. I used to write myself into a lot of corners! Or else, run out of story about 40,000 – 50,000 words in, which is nowhere near a full length novel. It used to take a lot of effort and energy to untangle what I’d done and put it right.
Nowadays, I spend a lot of time thinking about the themes, setting and main characters of a book before I get anything down on the page. I’m a complete plannerand usually have a storyboard set up on a long strip of poster paper hung on the office wall. On that, I use post-it notes to set out the plot in chapters or scenes, as well as to make notes about main characters, songs for the playlist, ideas etc. I do a lot of thinking about my story when I’m out walking the dog, doing housework, or driving the car. Pieces of dialogue or an insight about a character will pop into my head, and (I’ll pull over where necessary) to use the voice memo app on my iPhone andmake a quick note before I forget it!
2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?
I’ve followed the same process for the current work in progress (my second novel as Ella Allbright) as I did for the first Ella Allbright book, The Charm Bracelet, which is coming out in August. I’ve found it really effective. AsI’ve already done my thinking, I really get the most out of my writing time because it’s a free flow of typing and I don’t have to pause very often to think anything through. Right now, I can’t imagine changing that process, but never say never!
3) What is your research process, if you have one?
Around three-quarters of my research is done before I start the book. That can be a mixture of research around themes, places, occupations, music, films, history etc. The rest of the research will be done as I go along. It’s important not to get so sucked into research that it takes you ages to actually start writing the book. It’s also really important not to use all of the research you gather (unless you’re writing non-fiction). Research should be sprinkled in like gold dust in order to make the book authentic, and believable. Readers don’t want great big chunks of facts or description, they want the story.
I’m in the very fortunate position of having an unpaid research assistant in the form of my dad, who’s retired. I email him lists of research questions, usually a few days apart. Usually, within a week, he’s emailed me back a Word document with the questions listed and answered. It’s amazing how much one piece of research can spark an idea for a bit of dialogue or some tension between characters. For example, in my current work in progress, the two main characters Will and Izzy are biking up the length of Italy, and there are some great conversations between them that have grown out of research about motorbikes, and riding.
4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?
Almost straight away! The story’s had so much time percolating in my brain by the time I create my storyboard, that as soon as it’s up I’m raring to get going. I’m very lucky that I write very quickly and the scenes tend to come out more or less fully formed. I need to get the story down while it’s fresh in my head. One of my biggest frustrations is getting interrupted when I’m in full flow; I tend to shut the office door and tell my family I’m being anti-social and only to disturb me if dinner is on the table or the house is on fire…
5) How does the draft form on the screen?
I am a ‘dirty drafter’ in that I write a whole first draft from start to finish without stopping along the way to go over anything or edit. It doesn’t matter if there are typos or spelling mistakes, or bits that are highlighted yellow to go back and fill in later, so long as I get the whole story down. If anyone looked at one of my first drafts, they’d probably be horrified at the state of it. But that first draft is for me, no-one else. I need to be able to write freely and worry about perfecting it later.
I’m lucky enough to love editing as much as I love the initial creativity of writing, so once the first draft is finished, I’ll put it away for a few weeks before going back to it and starting a whole rewrite, which I find really exciting. In that round, I sort out any structure, plotting or characters issues, and fill any gaps, correct spellings etc. Then I will probably re-draft – doing finer edits – about two or three times before sending it to my agent and editor.
6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?
I used to write long hand, but nowadays I type my first draft straight into my iPad (it has a Bluetooth keyboard attached) using writing software called Scrivener. I really like the way you can set up a project file and store all your research in there, but mostly I like being able tomove scenes or characters around on the board, rather than copying and pasting as you’d have to in Word. It has back–up to Dropbox, but I also email files to myself as an extra precaution. For the second draft onwards, I send the file to Word and work on it as one document, and when I’m doing the copy or line edits from my publisher I’ll often work on a laptop rather than the iPad, as formatting is better on a laptop.
Thanks for visiting my blog Ella! Finding out all about your first draft process has been fascinating!