Notes on Writing

Unless you are one of those lucky (or unlucky?) souls who has family money, a fortune or a rich benefactor, all writers these days need A Plan.

This is not just a writing plan, although those are rather helpful too, you will need a business plan, an overarching idea, stretching from where you are now to where you want to ultimately be.

My plan, I realised recently, loosely covers fifteen years, perhaps as many as twenty if I bump into a sticking block or life gets in the way, as it is wont to do. Much of this is taken up with the two series I am working on: The Greater Good, and The Lesser Evil, as well as the shadowy and mysterious series I am crafting under a pseudonym.

The Greater Good was originally planned as a trilogy of trilogies, a beginning, middle and end, as it were. However, I am now wondering if the story will be better told in fewer novels. I actually started writing this story with what is now the third novel, tentatively titles A Time of Trees, before moving to the second, The Town at the End of the World, before I realised that I needed a better beginning, with what is still currently known as The Care Industry. This novel has been at the ‘nearly finished’ stage for some years now and, I suspect, will require considerable rewriting when I return to edit it in 2019. I am a better writer now than I was when I left that story for others.

At this point in time, November 2018, The Lesser Evil has four novellas to its name, each serving as an introduction to characters who will reappear in the novels. They also introduce places, ideas, history and cultures that will be appearing in the longer works. The novels themselves are currently projected to be either a very long trilogy, or maybe five books. I know less about this series than I do The Greater Good, having crafted substantially more of the latter, but my notes and world building are extensive and growing. An idea is taking shape and I like it. Recently, I even got to use a scientific calculator for the first time in decades, to try and iron out some tricky physics problems. Who says research isn’t sexy?

The thing about a Plan is that you (or I) need to stick to it. I have, over the years, suffered from various issues connected with my writing, from fear of success through to excessive procrastination. I have spent some time looking at who I am, working out why this happens and addressing these issues head-on and progress has definitely been made. I will talk more about psychology and, specifically, my own psychology but, for now, I shall share the fact I am an introvert — someone who expends energy in social situations and needs quiet alone-time to recharge — always testing in the Myers-Briggs classification INFJ, The Advocate (how much stock I put in this, I shall discuss in the future).

One reason I set off on adventures around the globe is that I don’t want to have to deal with too much of the classic promotional stuff writers seem to spend all their time ensnared within. It’s not that I don’t like meeting people, or that I would not appreciate praise and fans (I really would, and do!), but that the amount of energy I would need to spend to do a single reading, or panel, or talk, or signing, is simply not feasible with the actual business of writing. I would need far too long to recover. I know myself and I know my weaknesses (which can then be spun around into strengths). Less time in social situations like those listed means less time recovering which then means a double saving of time — time in which I can write more.

Some statistics and facts about my practical writing processes:

  • When I write a draft I average 800 – 900 words in a half-hour session.
  • Graham Greene famously set himself two hours a day in which to draft, stopping as soon as that time was up. He would write around 500 words in this period.
  • Like Greene, I stop writing as soon as my timer beeps. Mid-sentence, sometimes mid-word. This way I can easily start again. Never leave your writing at the end of a paragraph or scene.
  • Also similar to Greene, I set myself a 500 new words per day target. I usually exceed this, often doubling it within my alloted 30 minutes.
  • Unlike Greene, I am willing to do more than my alloted time — if only I could find it.
  • 500 words is pretty easy for me, 500 words, once edited, amounts to a large novel a year, or two smaller ones.
  • I also have a 3500 weekly target (500 x7, somewhat obviously). This gives me the option of having a day off, if and when needed. I try to write every day, but it is not always possible.
  • I write in blocks of 30 minutes for a reason. After this my productivity spirals downwards and I procrastinate.
  • 30 minutes is the right about of time before I take a 10 minute break, cleaning the toilet or hanging the laundry, for example…
  • I know 30 minutes works for everything I do — yet I often push it, don’t bother, and subsequently fail to keep as focussed/productive as I can be. Then I have a stern word with myself and reapply this.
  • I write using Scrivener, which I adore.
  • I also utilise the Android app, iA Writer, syncing with Scrivener via Onedrive so I can also work on my phone if needed.
  • I use a laptop stand, bluetooth mouse and mechanical keyboard when at home. When travelling, I take the stand and mouse and use a smaller bluetooth keyboard.
  • I try to spend the majority of my time standing to work, as I find it is better for my body. Sometimes I sit but take extra care with my posture. When standing I can do various stretches whilst still writing, this is harder when seated.
  • I try and face a wall when writing, much as I love to stare out of the window at every single little thing. This is more productive, but I miss seeing the birds, lizards and insects.

For now, I believe this will suffice. I have other pages to write and a website to publish. Not to mention all the words in the world to juggle. I shall, however, return to this subject. Just remember though, what works for me might not work for you.