The Process of Writing.

The Process of Writing.

I am certain that this process is different with all writers. We all have our ways of working. It is also clear that it is not always the same with me. Sometimes I have carefully plotted out a novel while at other times, I work with a vague idea and allowed it to unfurl as I progress.

I used the Butch Cassidy principle: there are no rules.

But always, as a novel progresses, as a character develops, a novel takes on a life of its own. It is a coalescence of ideas. I will wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and have to get out of bed to write it down or it is likely to go.

All my novels start with an idea. That might be sparked by a news story, a book I am reading, a programme I am watching or a train of thought. One idea is never enough though. It has to be married to others.

Often the end of the novel is what emerges first. I will often write the end first.

Always there comes that time when you sit at a computer (or a typewriter) and begin. You have a blank page in front of you and a head full of ideas. With me, there is excitement and anticipation.

The ideas have to have a setting and characters. With Sci-Fi, there are infinite possibilities.

I often write a beginning that is later superseded by another beginning. Once I get that first sentence down the rest seems to flow. The characters develop, the scenes change, the ideas flow. I struggle to keep up. It becomes like a line of dominoes. One knocks over another which sets two more falling over. I write quickly, trying to keep up with the ideas, following the characters and inventing settings. I work on the principle that with the first rewrite I can expand and fill everything out. It is as if the first draft is a rough sketch that gives the outline of the book. The rewrite starts to fill in the colour.

It is usual for me to increase the word by a good fifty per cent.

The second rewrite will again add a lot more.

The third rewrite is more of an editing process – changing words, altering sentence structure, correcting grammar.

The most important part for me in writing a novel is to get that first sentence down. After that, it is like an egg-timer. The sand grains are the ideas, characters and settings; I just allow them to trickle through until my head is empty.

2 thoughts on “The Process of Writing.

  1. Mmmm… yes, I share some of your writing idiosyncracies, Opher. Particularly the one about waking up in the middle of the night with an idea, and needing to write it down. That’s why I keep an A6 book with me at almost all times – in the pocket on my walks and in the pub, on the bedtable at night. Even beside me when I’m browsing the Internet!

    I find that I write the “serious” philosophical stuff and the literary stuff (short stories and my one and only novel) quite differently. The literary stuff just goes where it goes; I usually plot one or two pages or at most a couple of chapters ahead, but that’s all. And often, it comes to a halt, and progress just stops – sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Add to that that I’m a compulsive reviewer, and you’ll see why I write very slowly indeed. What became the first chapter of my novel, I wrote in 2006; I conceived the idea of expanding it to novel length at the beginning of 2008. I finished the first draft in January 2010, and went through 27 drafts to get to the version I finally published in April 2012. I wasn’t helped by a small publishing house accepting it in 2010, but then going bust before they could publish it.

    The “serious” stuff, and the scientific stuff like the COVID essays, are quite different. I have taken to preparing a “crib sheet” for each essay, giving headings of things I want to write about, in order. (I always change it at the last moment, of course). On finishing the first draft, which always takes a lot of brain-sweat, I usually find I’m about three-quarters of the way there. The rest is polishing, which I usually find goes in three phases. In the first, the word count and the reading ease both go down, as I cut out everything I can find that seems to be unnecessary. In the second, these reverse, as I discover more and more things I should have written about, but failed to. The last phase is the final polish, in which the word count tends to go down, and the reading ease up. When I see this happening, I know my essay is almost cooked!

    1. That is fascinating Neil. I couldn’t work that way. I’d never get anything done. But then I think that a happy medium between our two styles would probably be ideal.

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