All writers have a process. Some write at set times of day. Some write only with a ergonomic 2H pencil on yellow legal pads. Some need industrial quantities of coffee and a packet of jelly babies within arms reach. Over the last three years or so, since embarking on my initial OU course in Creative writing, my own process has evolved along with my writing. Where once I wrote with a fountain pen in a variety of notebooks and A4 pads, the slow pace of writing with a nib promoting a thoughtful approach that suited my early attempts at short fiction, now my writing tools and process differ greatly depending on what I am writing. I have an A4-ish Conceptum notebook and a pencil for writing first drafts of flash fiction or individual scenes of short fiction, the main benefit of which is portability. I always have this to hand wherever I am, ready to throw down my latest scribblings when time in the day allows. For more sustained sessions of fiction writing I turn to OmmWriter or Scrivener depending on the story, or Pages on Lion with its brilliant version saving feature that has all my drafts of a single story at my fingertips. Along with changes in the physical/virtual tools I use to write, my writing schedule has, by necessity, varied as my daily life has transformed around the kids going to school and our latest baby arriving.
As well as the tools used, in recent months I have found my process itself changing. In the last six months I have written six short stories of varied styles and lengths, each one distinct (I hope) in tone. What strikes me, looking back at over the first half of this year, is that each story was written using a different process. One I wrote scene be scene in chronological order on Pages, another in Scrivener, skipping from scene to scene playing with structure, switching the order of events as the software easily allows, while yet another I wrote from the middle out to either end, centering the whole story on a key central scene. These stories are all in various stages of drafting and, like the writing process, I am finding my redrafting/editing process is changing. Some pieces I read aloud to redraft. Others I record to listen back to. The story I am redrafting presently is being edited scene by scene, making sure each section is as close to perfect as I can make it (which is admittedly pretty far) before moving to the next where usually I read and edit through the whole thing and repeat until throughly cheesed off.
There’s a piece of writing advice (though I have struggled to find a quote of the many such comments I have read in the last few years) that says you never learn how to write stories, instead, each time you begin a story, you learn how to write that particularly short story/novel. Each story makes its own demands. More and more I am finding this applies to my short fiction work, not least in the story I am currently drafting. Back in June of this year, The View From Here published my short story Connecting. The story deals with two neighbours who, over the course of one helping the other set up a laptop, discover they have more in common than they realised in the years they have lived next to each other. The story ends with one character (possibly) sending an important email to someone he hasn’t been in contact with for years. I had always intended to revisit the character of Maggie from this story, yet recently, I have found myself thinking about Brian (the sender of the email), particularly about what might might happen should he have hit send after the end of Connecting. These thought’s soon led me to the idea of writing a sequel to Connecting told through emails and other digital media that builds on the set-up in the original story, though reader’s will not have to have read Connecting to make sense of this new tale.
With this in mind I fired up Scrivener and typed up the email from the end of Connecting into the first scene document. As the email was only ever going to returned undelivered I also drafted the ‘undeliverable notice email’ in the next document. Brian already stated in Connecting that his next step would be to blanket email to all variations of the name at all the main email providers in the hope of hitting his intended recipient. I opened another scene document ready to start writing the next email of the story when something struck me. Brian would wait. He would work out exactly how to approach what will be, for the large part, complete strangers. That’s who Brian is, deliberate, careful, organised. So I decided to wait to. Do what Brian would do. From there it was a short cognitive leap to the decision to write the story in real time. That’s right, I’m going all Jack Bauer on this one, if Jack Bauer were a middle aged, cardigan wearing, divorcee. The emails that will make up the main body of the story will be written over the period of time in which the story takes place. Once one is sent I will consider how long it would take the recipient to respond, if indeed they do, and will only write the response once the time has elapsed and I have thought about the response as the character would. Not quite as Method as David’s writing process in the title story of Tom Vowler’s excellent debut collection, but Method all the same. At least with this being a short story I shouldn’t have any large time shifts to deal with that might delay my finishing the story for years.
So, I am finding more and more that my process and the rules I write by are becoming more dynamic the more I write. This makes me even more enthusiastic about embarking on my Novel writing MA and how my work will develop over the three year course. In the meantime I’ll be working for the next few weeks in real time on the first draft of Brian’s story, while redrafting the other handful of shorts sitting in the document box on the right of my desk. Which feels exciting and a little weird. Anyone else out there found that a story demanded to be written in a peculiar manner? Anyone have a story to share about the weirdness of their writing process?