Over the past week I’ve been busy writing short pieces to introduce myself to readers. What has been good about this period is revisiting one of the most frequent questions asked of writers. How we write. I think it helps writers to examine how we craft even if we can’t come up with a consistent answer. How do we get from vague idea to a completely fabricated world rising out of the blank page? It’s good at this point to mention the only reason a writer succeeds in writing a novel, is that they write the novel. They keep going. They might employ a number of tricks to leap over times when the writing doesn’t come easy but ultimately they put one word after the next until they reach the end.
I find my writing process changes depending on what I’m working on, some stories come out fast, others need a bit more coaxing to get them down. Generally, when I approach a story, I like to keep a loose rein, feel my way into the pace and really try to enjoy the writing at the level of the sentence. When a scene or a piece of writing really takes off, it can feel like I’m not really aware of constructing anything. It’s madness to say I’m channeling the story at this point but that’s what it feels like. When this happens, I can’t look at the process too closely. I worry if I stop to over-analyse, I might kill it dead. It’s a all bit mysterious(without sounding too mysterious). So I don’t look and keep my head down. This is the free-wheeling first draft. Editing, revisions and scenes added later are all tackled at a much slower pace but I think, this first draft, if I can get to this state of mind, really helps the voice of the narrative because it feels like I’m listening to the story rather than interfering too much.
There is a point in the first draft where I begin to revise. This is not what we’re supposed to do. Never go back, they say. But over the last few books I’ve noticed I do this. I get about two thirds through and then I go back. Insert scenes, tighten up the plot. I do this so every scene in the narrative is dialled to the right volume, that every plot strand works for the story and doesn’t smother it. When I feel all the capillaries are feeding into and working for the right vein, I write the final turn of the book, going back quite a few times to make more adjustments to the main body of the novel. So by the time I’ve finished, I’ve been through the text numerous times. Then the revision process can begin in earnest.
THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE
I mostly like to write on my computer. That said, my notebook is never far from the keyboard. Sometimes when I’m typing, my pen or pencil is tucked between my fingers, ready for use. Often in the middle of a scene, I’ll turn to the notebook and draft out a paragraph or maybe an image that comes to me suddenly. And it’s done at speed. I stop typing, write the paragraph, sentence or piece of dialogue. Edit it then add it to the whole on the computer screen. I don’t know why I do this. Why not work it all out on the screen? It might be that for some reason I’m less confident with these sections and something in me doesn’t want to ‘mess up’ the manuscript but I think it’s more to do with craft. These sections tend to be pieces that I have to come in at from the sides, not face directly. They’re usually areas where I’m challenging myself or the plot, or where I’m experimenting with structure and writing devices so the notebook gives me some feeling of freedom. Recently, I’ve forsaken the pen and returned to the humble pencil. Don’t ask why. I have NO idea. But it feels right. I can only say that a pen/pencil and notebook are always good to have at hand and when there are times I’m not sure how to proceed, sometimes writing in a notebook helps re-start the engine. The most predictable but helpful piece of advice for serious writers is: always carry a notebook!
UPDATE ON TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE
Too Close to Breathe is OUT NOW! I’m thrilled that I will be appearing on some panels in the coming months, more about this soon so keep an eye on my twitter feed (@LivKiernan) or here.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to feature in THE IRISH TIMES as part of their new writing for 2018 section. Here’s a piccy and a link to the article.
To order TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE you can do so here. I’m very excited for you all to meet Detective Frankie Sheehan.
On Twitter: @LivKiernan
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