Tag Archives: insane writer brain

In which things fall apart but come out all right

I’m sitting here surrounded by boxes and the contents of our kitchen, as our kitchen is part-way through renovation. (Kitchen of Doom, as I have dubbed it, although in all seriousness it appears to be going very smoothly and will be lovely when finished.)

It got me thinking about workmanship, and that part of writing which is getting down to it, doing the work, and fixing it if everything goes wrong. Not that the kitchen has gone wrong. But it is currently stripped back as far as it can possibly go. Pipes and wires and holes in the floor stripped back.

Everything went wrong with the WIP. Well, sort of. And not actually everything. It was one of those moments, 25k words in when you go “oooooh, those characters don’t work like that. They’ll work like this.”  But getting them to work like “this” means going right back to the beginning. Yes, from almost a third of the way into the book. As in back to 2k words right at the beginning. It sounds like the end of the world, doesn’t it?

But actually, strangely (and writers’ brains, as you probably know, are very strange places), it turned out to be a MASSIVE relief. When I tell people they look at me as if I’m about to cry and they’ll need to get out a mop and bucket, and maybe find some sedatives. It probably disturbs them more therefore when I laugh, kind of manically, and any “no! It’s brilliant! I couldn’t be happier!”

Because I know what’s up with the main characters now. Their conflict is right there for me. I know its source, I know their emotions, and I finally know where we’re going.

That 23k isn’t lost. I’ll still be able to do something with it, use parts of it etc. Since I made this change I’ve gone from eeking out 500k wordcounts to 1400k the other day. It’s exhilerating.

Which brings me back to workmanship (by a roundabout route). If the basic underlying structure of something isn’t right, you’ve got to strip it right back to the foundations and start again. Even if it hurts. Even if there’s such a long way back to go.

It’s so SO much better in the end.

Wibbley Wobbly Timey Wimey

So as I’ve said in the past couple of weeks I’m stuck into some serious writing. Or at least I would be if it was going the way it’s supposed to.

Ah but things rarely go the way in which they are “supposed to”. Especially when it comes to writing.

I don’t work easily to a plan. My brain doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I get a full story and can write from beginning to end. Sometimes it’s more out of a magical mystery tour.

Stories don’t always do what we want or what we expect. That goes for writers as well as readers. I have always been what’s known as a “pantser”, a writer who writes “by the seat of their pants”. And sometimes the story only comes to me out of sync. I get the interesting scenes, the shiny bits, the things that want and need to be said. Later on, I have to play a game of join the dots.

And this particular WIP is giving me this mystery tour in spades.

It’s not a problem. But it’s a bit of a pain. And I keep looking at the last WIP I completed a draft of, back in early Spring, which jumped pretty much fully formed from my head to the page (ick), and thinking some quite regretful thoughts. I’m sure I had some pointed comments about it at the time though. I can’t remember them now. Now it’s that perfect paragon who did exactly what I wanted.

This one on the other hand…

Every story is different. Every plot and every character. And every writing process. It’s an adventure every time. That’s what makes writing so much fun.

I’ll just keep telling myself that.

(this also serves to further give evidence that I aten’t ded yet).

I Aten’t dead

So I’m writing again. Very very slowly. I’m not sure why (apart from a lot of non-writerly things going on in real life at the moment, which to be honest probably account for both this and the level of exhaustion I’m combatting). But BUT I am writing, there are words going onto the page and they are (mostly) moving forward. Except for that one day when I wrote 600 and deleted about 1000. 🙁 Those days happen too.

At the moment I am aiming for 500 words a day. It isn’t very much but I’m working on the theory that any number of words is a positive thing and if I go over the 500 that’s extra-amazing. I’m also working on getting the feel of the book and the characters right.

I have tried plotting. And I keep my “plot” as an overall guideline but basically I know the beginning and the end, maybe a couple of things I want to include and the characters. Everything else is a grey area. Anything can happen. I think I know what I want to happen next but on the other hand it’s entirely possible the characters will turn around and go “Nah, I’m off to do this instead.” It has happened before and I know without a doubt that it will happen again. This is what writers mean when they talk about the voices in their heads or the characters feeling real to them. The subconscious storyteller often heads off in more interesting directions.

Another thing about this story is that it is the second in a series, the first being “A Crack in Everything” which is coming out next year, so part of the process is to reread that first. It has been a while and it’s becoming something of a voyage of discovery, reintroducing myself to these characters who I adore. While at the same time they frustrate me, defy me, talk back to me and generally sass each other.

For example I wrote about 500 words yesterday of a brother winding up a sister while eating a steak sandwich with extra mustard. Will it stay in the book? Probably not. But it was important for me, as the writer, because I was right in the minds of those two characters, could see what made them tick, how they felt about each other and most of all his sense of humour. I’m not even sure it will be important in the long run – they aren’t major characters – but it was fun.

Writing is about exploration of character as much as storytelling. It’s about getting yourself right inside the mind of another being and having a look around. But you arent’ some kind of puppet-master. If I try to make my characters do something they don’t want to, they come out dull and flat. If I let them show me what they want to do, if I go along for the ride, then I learn a whole lot more.

So that’s where I am at the moment. Still here.

To quote Granny Weatherwax….


Writing Process: Beginning

Once upon a time a twitter friend asked me to blog  about my process. And I went… err… okay…

Because, seriously, I don’t really think much about process. I have these crazy ideas and I write them down. Sometimes they aren’t ready to be turned into full stories, sometimes they are part of other stories and sometimes they just torment me until I do something with them.

It goes something like this. I have an idea (a plot bunny) of something cool, interesting, exciting or a particular character, or even a voice in my head. (Yes, I know how that sounds). The first thing is, while cool, the idea has to be persistent. Really persistent. I have a brain like a sieve at the best of time, and tend to keep notebooks around to jot things down, but still, if I’m too sleepy, in the shower, or driving the car on a motorway (true story), unless the idea is a really powerful one, I will forget it. Sometimes in the moments it takes me to find pen and paper.

I do tend to work on the ideas stage on paper with a pen. And yes, I am very fussy about which paper and which pen. It’s the way I learned to tease out ideas, to work out puzzles and if I’m stuck, no matter how far through a book I might be, I turn back to pen and paper, for that tactile, slow experience of creating words. Ideas fill the notebook. I start following up on some of these ideas, which leads me into research.

Oh how I love my research. Because once you get into the research phase, other ideas start to crop up, like links in a chain. Connections in other stories, history, mythology. So many things that start to interconnect (especially when writing The Treachery of Beautiful Things), and from those connections the story starts to grow.

The other thing that is vital is character, and the voice of the character (s). This is something that for me just has to come. I can’t force their voices and until I have it in my head, the story isn’t going to work. Different point of view characters will have different voices so I can end up with a hero and no idea about his heroine. Or a heroine with a silent hero. Sometimes its the first thing to arrive. The other night I found a teenage girl in my head, giving out about her mother giving her a stupid name. I wrote a page of A4 before it paused. I’ve no idea what she’s doing, why, or where she is, but she is jotted down now, so hopefully her story will turn up soon. Then other characters will turn up. Quite often they want different things from the first voice, which is great, because that’s a conflict. And Conflict drives stories.

Jack’s voice in The Treachery of Beautiful Things was a difficult one to capture until I was well into the book. Jenny on the other hand… like my teenage future-heroine of the other night, Jenny was a voice, a character and a scene all in one flash. But I know what Jack wanted the moment he met Jenny–he wanted to get her to leave the Realm. There were other temptations, but honestly, all he could think of was getting her home to safety. The complete opposite of what Jenny wanted.

Perhaps the main thing I find about beginning stories is to just go with it, to tease out the ideas, to follow the voice, to make the connections where they appear and leave the others for a later date. It’s a very fluid time in my writing process, the time when anything is possible and the story is all potential, waiting to be unveiled.

I don’t write into the mist, as it were. I tend to know where I want to go eventually but not how I will get there. Once I know the voice, the character and maybe a few scenes I try to think about where the resolution lies. It is a journey, not just going walkabout, so it needs an ultimate destination. What would be the strangest place for this/these characters to end up? What would challenge and change them the most? What would be the most amazing showdown I can think of?

So there we go – the beginning of my writing process. Possibly slightly insane.

What about you guys? Do you have a preferred way of writing if you write? Do you notice things as you read? Do you follow research like a puzzle box? What are your favorite voices?

To plan or not to plan

That is the question, to paraphrase a certain Danish Prince of questionable sanity.

I’m not what you would call a plotter. (Not when it comes to writing anyway). And yet on occassion I will do it. It all depends on the story I am sitting down to write. So yes, this is a writing post. Otherwise known as a Ruth meanders through a blog post hopefully, eventually reaching some sort of conclusion before she gets bored and wanders away.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser(1)  is one of those questions that always seems to come up when writers get into conversations. Most people have an opinion on it, some of them quite vehement. I’ve seen Pantsers turn white at the mention of 3 act structure and Characters sheets. I’ve seen Plotters cross themselves at the thought of setting out to write without doing all of this and more first(2).

So what is the difference? Well, for me (because as always I can only answer for myself) I actually do a bit of both. I think it comes down to whether you are a writer who likes to mull over a story in detail before actually writing, to let it ferment and grown in your mind, let those various plotbunnies join together and do their thing, or the type of writer who likes to work all this out in a more structured way – putting it down on paper (or in pixels(3)) beforehand and mapping it out.

Here is my theory. You can repeat it, copy it, whatever – Both these type of writers are DOING THE SAME THING. But while one of them is doing it on paper, the other is doing it in their head. (my inner 10 year old is smirking).

When a Pantser talks about a character that won’t tell her why he’s doing the dasterdly thing he is no doubt doing, it isn’t actually because the voices in her head are laughing at her(4) but rather because she hasn’t yet made the mental link between the character and his motivation. At the same time, elsewhere in the city, a plotter is staring at a stubborn character sheet trying to work out how to link those two scenes in a way that follows narrative logic.


Once again we’re back to the idea that there are many rules when it comes to writing. Take the ones that work, throw the rest away. If you like to write it all down, do it. If you like to wander around muttering to yourself, get some professional advice that’s fine too.

I plant. Not in the garden. Ok, in the garden as well, but not for writing purposes. I both plot and pants it. The process runs something like this. I am mugged by a plotbunny. I write it down in my notebook. Another one joins it, then a few more and they have a party in my head. I write all this down. Some time later I go back to it and discover it isn’t entirely crazy(5). I start to sketch out ideas. I walk away. I read. I research. I mull things over. I have ideas. Because I have a brain like a sieve, I must write these ideas down or they will be GONE FOREVER. There is nothing worse than that perfect, shining, beautiful idea which occurs at 3am or in the shower, when you cannot write it down. There are notebooks everywhere in my house. I am slightly obsessed with them.

And then, because if I poke an idea for too long without doing anything it loses its lustre, I start writing. I might not get very far. But at this point I need to get to know these people, need to explore their world as they see it. I need to immerse myself in the story. In doing so I will probably (usually) stray far away from the original plan, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not really a plot. It’s more like guidelines.

Then I’ll gradually run out of steam. And return to the notes. I’ll rewrite them. Maybe just a scene or two to come, maybe the whole thing. Every book is different. But once I know where I’m going again, I’ll set off once more. Slowly, we edge towards the end. But we do get there. (6)

So when looking at different ways to write remember that there is no one or the other. You can be both a plotter and a pantser, you can mingle the two if needs be. And just because one story works that way, doesn’t mean the next one will. Let the story guide you. Allow yourself the flexibility to try new things. And always, ALWAYS, have fun with it.

Just to remind everyone this is the last day to enter the 100 day giveaway for an ARC of THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS. I’ll be picking a winner tonight!

And now I’m off to have fun.


1. Pantser – one who writes by the seat of their pants, i.e. makes it up as they go along

2. Not really.

3. Pixels always make me think of pixies. I have an interesting mental image of the inner workings of a computer.

4. Well, probably not…

5. Notice, I qualified that.

6. “We” are the characters and I. We are now best friends. Best friends I torture, drown and chop up. It’s a unique relationship.