Like other authors, I’m often asked about my writing process, what my writing day consists of and where I get my ideas. Well, this is how it works for me.
I usually do my best writing first thing in the morning so I get up between 6 and 7am, and I’m at my computer by 8am. I check my overnight emails, my website, Facebook and a few other things, grab a coffee and sit down at my desk. I write all day but for lunch and several small breaks in between, even if its just to stretch my legs, do a few minutes of housekeeping, pay some bills, or a thousand other little jobs.
When writing the draft I average around 1,000 to 3,000 words a day. Sometimes I’ll struggle to write even one thousand, but have been known to write 6 thousand on a really good day. With my secretarial and office studies teaching experience, I’ve become quite fast on the keyboard and can type in excess of 120 words a minute, which is about as fast as you can talk.
There is no specific place I find my ideas. Mostly, they find me, especially when I’m quiet, imagining how the next chapter is going to go, and not necessarily while sitting in front of the computer. I’ve had to stop while brushing my teeth on occasion to jot down notes. For me, listening to music stimulates the free flow of thoughts and images inside my head. I have a big window in my office and double glass doors beside my desk that look out into a rainforest backyard with native Australian birds like king parrots, rosellas, bower birds and lorikeets, which is very conducive to writing. I’m also fortunate to be surrounded by family members who love to read and write. Both my daughters are writers too, and our conversations are always inspiring.
There is also nothing like a good walk to get the creative juices flowing in the brain. As a writer, I’m fortunate to live on Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterland where the views are beautiful and there are multitude of forest and creek walks. I find walking works brilliantly to generate ideas and visualise the playing out of scenes.
I always work from a plan, starting with Character Studies on each of the mains, with slightly briefer profiles on sub-characters. Then I will flesh out the plot, working on setting details, do some research on where, when and why. The why’s are very important – why this setting? Why at this time or place? Why is she doing this, or not doing that? What happened in her childhood to make her react the way she does in my book? Why does this or that event happen, and why is it important to the story? I then work on the Chapter Breakdowns. These can be as short or as long as you like, depending on how much imagery has come to mind by this stage, and they can and should include dialogue, like the conversations that have occurred in my head between characters. I’ll work on the chapter breakdowns for at least a week, or however long it takes to get the skeleton of my story right. A timeline at this stage is also a good idea.
For me, researching, developing characters and the plot from beginning to end can take a few weeks to a couple of months, but this is time well spent. It’s not a good idea to rush this part no matter how excited you are to begin. In my experience, the more thought I put into the planning stage, the less likely I am to have problems later when I’m writing the first draft. With good planning I know where my book is going, I will have developed the conflicts, the love story, have an idea on the battles ahead and the fears my characters will experience, and most importantly I won’t end up at a dead end in the middle of the book and not know how to keep going.
When I am reasonably sure my planning is complete, it’s time to take the plunge and start the first draft. I usually have a clear idea of what I want in the all-important first chapter. Sometimes it’s a sentence that’s been circling in my thoughts since the beginning, or a scene between my main characters I’ve had a clear image of for weeks. My books are character driven, I need to know who they are and what drives them. It’s the reason I spend a lot of time giving them in-depth profiles.
The writing process of the main first draft works like this: I’ll write every day until it’s finished. That might sound simple and straightforward. It works for me because of the planning I’ve done and will take at least a month. When I finish a chapter, I like to clean it up a bit, but mostly I leave polishing until the first draft is out of my head and in a backed-up file. No one gets to read the first draft, which gives me the freedom to write whatever feels right. I always exceed my final word count by thousands. I could end up deleting two hundred pages, but at least by then I have a thorough understanding of my characters, who they are, why they do what they do, and most importantly, where the story should actually begin and end.
After the first draft is completed I will go through it to select specific areas that need further research to make the settings, themes, plots and the characters themselves sound authentic. The small details are important to get right. Then I’ll go back to the draft and rework it over and over until I’m ready to pass it on to my first readers, generally my daughters, who give me their honest feedback knowing that false praise is useless to me at this stage. (I’ll take it in bucketful’s later, once the book is published!) Their feedback has become invaluable to my writing. The writing process for me from the very beginning to the day I send it to my agents takes about 12 months.
Self-discipline is a huge factor in the writing of any novel because for the most part we writers work alone and naturally crave contact with the outside world, so a few phone calls, a quick visit to the store, or lunch with friends, taking in an afternoon movie, gardening, catching up with friends online, or… the list can be endless and can take up a major part of a writer’s week. It’s healthy to keep in touch with friends, to get out once in a while, but it’s a good idea to keep track of how much time you’re not spending on your novel and decide if you’re serious about your work. My main distractions are social media and phone calls. I need to make sure I’m not spending too much time on pointless chatter (though sometimes that can be nice!) My calls are usually to family members and close friends, and honestly, these are vital to me. I live in a different state to one of my daughters, my sister, my two brothers and all my nieces and nephews and don’t see them regularly. Did I say regularly, or nearly never? So anyway, I wouldn’t be without my phone calls, I just need to watch the length of time I might spend on them. And if you find yourself writing full-time, it’s something to keep in mind.
And there you have it. Well, I’m sure there is a lot more I could say but will save it for another time. How I write may not necessarily work for you, I can only tell you what works for me and wish you all the best. Feel free to write to me if you have a question on writing, on any of my books, or just want to let me know your thoughts and how your writing project is going. And I’ll try to motivate you and help you achieve your dreams of becoming a published writer. For me, there is nothing better.