Marianne at Coffs Harbour Jetty

Marianne at Coffs Harbour Jetty

The Process – like other authors, I’m often asked about my writing process, what my writing day consists of and where I get my ideas. This is how it works for me. I am a morning person, so I get up between 6 and 7 am, and I’m at my computer by 8 am. 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 small breaks, like a walk to take some fresh air into my brain and stretch my limbs.

The Plan – I always work from a plan. For me, it is essential. Taking the time to write an outline of your story with character studies and chapter breakdowns will keep you on track and eliminate those problems of not knowing where to go next.

I start with character studies, or profiles, as they are also known, on each of the mains, with slightly briefer profiles on sub-characters. These include physical characteristics, personalities, likes, dislikes, family members, backgrounds, past relationships, hopes and dreams.

Then I will flesh out the plot, take the story I am visualising in my head and summarise it in a page or two. The outline will establish the setting and set me on the path of researching whatever I can now see is necessary. It’s at this time I ask the very important ‘why’ questions – why this setting? Why at this time or place? Why is my female lead doing this, or not doing that? What happened in my male lead’s childhood to make him react the way he does in my book? Why does this or that event happen, what is the main conflict, and why is it important to the story?

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 if possible, 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. Preparing a timeline at this stage is also a good idea.

Good Planning – 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 writing your story. 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 interests, 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.

First Draft – 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.

When writing the first 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 6,000 on a rare but excellent 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.

Ideas – 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. Keeping a notebook handy is an essential tool for a writer. I find listening to music stimulates the free flow of thoughts and images inside my head and is almost an essential for brainstorming or imagining my next scene. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by family members who also love to read and write. Both my daughters are writers too, and our conversations are often about motivating each other.

The Writing Part – 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 entire first draft is out of my head and in a backed-up file.

No one gets to read my 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, what drives them, what the conflicts are they must surmount, and most importantly, where the story should actually begin, and end.

Further Research – 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 authentic. The small details are important to get right. Then I’ll go back to the draft and rework it over and over, deleting any text that takes the story backwards, slowing the pace, 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.

My writing process from the beginning planning stage to the day I send it to my agents takes about 12 months.

My daughter, Amanda Canham, with two of her published romances

My daughter, Amanda Canham, with two of her published romances.

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, Facebook, twittering, 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 of your ‘cave’ occasionally, 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.

And that’s about it for me. 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, or on any of my books, or if you just want to let me know your thoughts and how your writing project is going. Good luck.