Thanks to the wonderful Victorian Writers’ Centre, I received a fellowship which allows me three months in a studio in Glenfern, St Kilda – a gorgeous heritage house. Seventy percent of my Doctor of Creative Arts will be fiction, and so - I have begun the novel.
As this is the first time since I was fourteen years old that I haven’t had a go-to job (I’m still doing some freelance writing, presenting and teaching) it’s the first time I’ve been able to structure my days – and find out what works for fiction writing. I’ve always been curious about writers and their processes – how they can vary so greatly – and I’ve been just as fascinated to learn what seems to work for me. I’ve been writing seriously since I was about eighteen, but the lengthy things I’ve worked on I’ve always had to work around everything else – eg. writing 1000 words a day after work and before dinner, or rising at 6am to write (and almost having a nervous breakdown). The thing is, I’ve always found a way, but now I think I’m starting to find my way.
I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning, in case they interest you as readers, or as writers yourselves. Please do share your own in the comments!
* I am at my creative peak between about 11am and 2pm. Thus, I’ve learnt to bring lunch or at least snacks to the studio so I can nibble between scenes or sections.
* I write best when I write in great bursts, and when I take a break between fiction writing days. This gives my imagination time to brew the next few scenes, and for bigger arcs and themes to develop and draw related elements together in my head.
* When I finish a big burst of fiction writing, I feel mentally drained but physically energised. I just want to leave the studio and walk and walk and walk and walk (or perhaps that’s all the food I’m eating while I’m writing).
* Food I like to eat during these writing bursts includes nibbly bitsy things like grapes, rice crackers or (unfortunately) pieces of chocolate.
* I need to have a coffee prior to writing.
* It’s a real gift to have a room where you can stick things on the walls. I have a vague plotline, as a series of scenes on separate pieces of paper, strewn across the wall. There are two threads for the two main characters. I can add to the plotline to tie things up later that I’m beginning to write now. I can also move things around. I can chart where the conflict and resolution should ideally be (though I don’t know exactly what the events are yet) and I can look at them and know the general arc of the characters – why he/she needs to go from there to there and why each scene makes sense to be where it is.
* It’s very dangerous that there are so many bottle shops on the way home. (I walk to and from the studio.)
* Unlike the two previous manuscripts, I don’t have to write in a strictly linear fashion. So far, however, I have remained around the beginning of the story. I am still getting to know my characters and I’m getting to know them through their actions and decisions. I’m aware that later on I may have to cut or move certain things which relate to this.
* It is compulsory for me to start a large work only when I really know the world of the story. The world I’m working in here is very clear to me. So much so that I’m aware I’ve hardly described it for the reader yet. I’m mainly writing action and dialogue. But the momentum feels right and I think I can insert the odd image here and there on the second draft which will give the reader enough of a picture to embellish with their own imagination.
* I have no idea if anything I’m writing is any good. I hope it is. I hope it’s really good (or at least will be after all the rewriting). I hope it’s original, too. And I hope it’s both enjoyable and moving, even meaningful. I’d like the book jacket to say something like ‘1984 meets Revolutionary Road‘. But for our generation. But you know what, I’m enjoying the hell out of writing it anyway (as draining and often hard as it is) so that’s all that matters.
* I don’t want to tell people too much about it – what it’s about, the story, the characters – until I’m finished a complete draft (or three). I can tell you, though, that it came out of a short story I wrote, which is being published in August. More on that in coming months. Why don’t I like to talk about it? Because it seems to interrupt the brewing process. And I do want you to anticipate it, dear readers, in case it is the one that becomes a book. There’s only one person who’s getting to hear all about it, dear thing (and having to deal with my post-writing space-brain).
* On that note, I’m learning how nice it is to be with someone who truly cares about what you’re doing.
* Unlike some writer friends I’ve spoken to, it seems I can still read other books, even books in similar genres, while I’m writing something large. But then I haven’t learnt yet whether those books are influencing my style. I think any ‘inspiration’ from them always comes down to character. I know I already ‘borrowed’ one thing, from Nabokov – just the way a certain character felt when he looked at another. But then I also ‘borrowed’ a memory from someone the other day. I think a writer doesn’t know what is going to take hold until it does (and often doesn’t know it has until it’s written).
Perhaps I’ll share some more when I’m further into the manuscript. What have you learnt about your process? Or, your favourite writer’s process? What do you think of the things I’ve learnt?