It’s a grand title, but basically it’s how I write what I write. There’s no mopping of brows dramatically waiting for the muse to land on my shoulder. It’s me, a laptop, some post it notes, pencil and paper, and that’s it.
Anyway, I’ve just finished the first draft of part one of a trilogy. It’s a spin off from Best Friends Perfect, it’s Kev’s story. Best Friends Perfect Book Two is out now from Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk and Wilde City Press if you’d like to meet Kev.
I’m often asked how I write from other authors, friends, family, and now I’ve written a few things I think I’ve got my method refined.
For other authors this isn’t me saying this is how you should write. No one can tell you how to write, all they can do is tell you how they write. Then you can see if any of it works for you.
Another word of caution, this is for a first draft. This is for the bare basics of a story, no agonising over whether I’ve used the same word too many times in a paragraph, none of that. If my story was a house, this is the foundations, walls, roof and windows. No interior fittings, maybe a bathroom and kitchen, but no central heating, carpets, wallpaper nothing. OK? I’ve told the story from start to finish. It will need a few goes over on my own before it gets to beta readers and they’ll have some feedback and plenty of things I’ve missed too, before I revise again and submit it.
Planning – Characters
Assuming I have an idea – that’s a whole separate post – I hand write in pencil a few A4 pieces of plain paper with character biogs. Their name, age, job, what they like, don’t like, any notable speech ticks or accents, where they’re from. This is the characters, not what happens to them, just getting to know the characters. I usually add to these while drafting as I make up / find out more things about the characters
Once I have the cast of the story assembled, I then plan the story itself.
Planning – Story
I use post it notes and write scenes in pencil on post it notes, fitting up to 12 on a piece of A4 paper. Each post it note is a scene. Sometimes they contain lots of detail about what the characters say, where they go, what happens, or I may just write a prompt like this from a post it note18 or so scenes into the story:
Mimed Love’s Unkind by DS – Tony helped w wig + he’d made costume @ college. Bedroom practiced
Thought abt writing K letter – got stuck Dear Sir/Yours faithfully
show him not tell him – if he runs, meh
Went well – K takes me home, wanted to know abt R, but didn’t want 2 spoil grt night
This 55 word post it note ended up as a 450 word part of a scene.
I plot the story right through to the end. A 65k word novel I’ve just finished ended up having more than 72 post it notes.
These first two stages can take about 6-7hrs to complete, depending on how well I know the characters, how long the story is, how long I’ve been thinking about the story before I’ve actually planned it. But roughly, a day.
Then, usually a day after the above processes, I crack open Gummidge, my laptop, put the character biogs to the left of the laptop, the post it notes plan to the right. And then I open my 1.5 spaced, indented paragraphs word doc template and I write.
Based on this approach of the below three points from Rachel Aaron.
- I write with no distractions: no music, no internet, no emails, the door closed,
- Knowing what I’m writing (the plan)
- Being enthusiastic about what I’m writing – I make sure I only plan to write bits I am excited about writing. Any of the linking bits between scenes to show how someone got from x to y, I don’t write. I watch a lot of Gilmore Girls, and each scene has a purpose, usually a punch line. They rarely show them driving between two locations, just to you know, show you they’re driving there. They cut to the next snappy scene and get right into it. That’s how I try to write. (I am not perfect, I know there will be things that’ll have to be cut in edits, but that’s another post altogether)
Short sharp bursts
I write in 30 minute word sprints as above, and usually write 1000 words in this time. Depending on what’s going on in real life I write between 2000 and 6000 words a day while I’m drafting. I’ve started using an old kitchen timer I got from Great Auntie’s house after she passed away.
Staying with it
I like to stay with the story, and don’t leave it for too long or I worry I’ll lose where I was, lose the enthusiasm, or never finish it. Anyone got half finished manuscripts on your hard drive? I did that Belbin Type thingy and I’m a completer finisher. Something unfinished is like a box without a lid to me. Even if you’re not a completer finisher, staying with the story does help minimise the above risks I reckon.
I wrote this last story in 14 days of writing, between 10 August to 28 August. There were some days I wrote 0 words because real life happened. I wrote to the end of what I’d planned, which wasn’t really an ending. I wrote the back story bits as a separate document as I didn’t want to get hung up on where they’d fit with the main story. I just wrote them until I reached the end of their post it notes plan. I planned a proper ending of the main story. I wrote it. Then I worked out how to mix the now story with the back story – mixing the two word docs into one complete – but rough first draft – manuscript.
How did I mix up the two documents?
I’ve tried this a few different ways. It seems I like a bit of back story to show how my characters behave now the way they do. I tried it with a spreadsheet of each different chapter summary. I disappeared into an Excel shaped hole and still was no further along. I tried it with a new word doc bullet pointed each chapter as it was now, and then where I wanted to move them too. I got very mixed up with that too. I then tried moving it about in the main (new copy) of the manuscript. That ended badly too.
What did I do in the end?
Just like the post it notes, I went retro. Charlie Cochrane suggested a big bit of paper, numbers for each chapter as they were now, with a 1 sentence of what it was about, then I moved it about on a table like a deck of cards. Less than an hour with scissors and paper and I had it all planned out.
So that’s me, that’s how I do a first draft.
What about you?
What tips and techniques have you picked up from other authors?
Readers, is this interesting or could you not give a monkeys?
I’d love to hear from you all.
Liam Livings xx