My writing day varies, if I’m on a deadline, I tend to wake early and, if I’m struggling to get back to sleep, I get up. This could be as early as four-thirty. Today I’m writing this at five-twenty-five. On days such as these, I write in my dressing gown, reclaim my office chair (one of my cats thinks it’s his) and start work immediately.
Alternatively, if I wake later, I wait until my husband has got up for work, around six-thirty, then read for thirty to forty-five minutes. I have a pen and pad by the bed and make a note of any particular words that leap off the page. My early morning reading is for self-development and inspiration. I’ll scan through something like Writing Fiction – a Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. My 1992 edition is well-worn and bought second hand. I love it. Or I’ll read a work of fiction (authors such as Maggie O’Farrell, Val McDermid and Jessie Burton to name but a few). These are generally novels I have already read, found to be beautifully written and want to learn from. Most recently, I was captivated by Educated written by American author, Tara Westover; a tremendous book that was an absolute page-turner. Although a memoir – it reads like a psychological thriller. If I’ve received a new copy of Writing Magazine, I read through that. It’s a very useful publication for writers of any level.
Then I get up, make the bed and get ready for the day. I try and get a little housework out of the way before I start. The first thing I do is feed the cats, I have two. Then I feed me. After that I load the dishwasher and washing machine and tidy up. All these are practical tasks that would plague me if I didn’t get them out of the way.
I like to be in the office by nine o’clock. This is a fairly simple commute as I work from home. I make myself a coffee, turn on the computer, have a quick glance at my planner and jot down anything else that comes to mind. This enables me to stay on track and also ensures that tasks progress and deadlines are worked towards. I like the discipline of it.
With my current project, I read through the bullet point list of the plot line to make sure I’m going in the right direction.
Unless there are more urgent priorities, the first hour or hour and half is usually dedicated to the previous day’s writing. In real terms, this means editing and polishing. Flashing things out, shrinking them back, looking for the right words, behaviour and dialogue. Before I adopted this approach, I would get caught up in the opening chapters, reworking them time and time again. Experience has taught me that there will be several drafts and if I keep trying to improve the beginning, it’ll take me a lot longer to get to the end. I’ve recently started using a sixty-minute hour glass that I bought for that very purpose.
I’m dyslexic and often horrified to see how many words I’ve missed out or misused, regardless of the fact that I know which ‘too’ or ‘to’ to use. Then I discovered Microsoft’s text to speech and life got somewhat easier. Regardless of all that, things still slip through.
When the hour and a half is up, I check my emails, Facebook and Twitter. I try and limit this to fifteen minutes. It’s easy to get lost in them.
After that I do new writing, that is the next chapters in the whatever project I’m working on. This involves jotting down a few ideas and then letting my mind go with it. I learnt a great deal from writing Where She Lies Hidden, especially about planning things out (I didn’t) and plotting (I struggled). The first draft is me telling myself the story. After reading through the bullet pointed plot list, I literally close my eyes and write what comes into my head. That early version bears no resemblance to that final draft. Most often, I will write in 3rd person, chapter by chapter and in one document. Then I decide the point of view for each character and edit accordingly again. I am very fortunate to have people I trust to critique my work. They provide me with valuable, honest feedback, and I return the favour. For me, it is perhaps one of the most important parts of the process.
I usually work through until about two-thirty, then take a break. Then I will watch a crime drama – notebook and pen in hand. It’s one of the many ways I gather description. I make notes on dialogue, gestures, facial expression and voice. I examine the way actors interpret the script; my current favourite is Unforgotten – great writing and superb acting. YouTube is also an invaluable resource. For She Lies Hidden, I used it for research into brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, police interview techniques and for the case histories of missing people. I also speak directly to those involved in the areas of work I’m writing about.
Every few weeks, I like to treat myself to coffee and cake. Tea and coffee shops are a goldmine for detail. I usually spend a couple of hours observing how people move, gesture and talk. I take copious notes which I keep for reference purposes. I rarely leave home without a notebook and pen. However, on the 1st January, I gave up anything with processed sugar in it. The cakes are now, quite literally, off the menu!
Every other day I back up my files to the Cloud. Once a week I copy the directory to a detachable hard-drive. That way my work is safe.
I finish work about three-thirty, hopefully after achieving my word target. Currently I’m aiming for 700-1000 words a day. Then I peer into the fridge and wonder what the hell I can whip up for dinner.
Life isn’t all work. We live in a very lovely part of the country and like to get out walking a couple of times a week. Plus, I meet up with friends. There is so much inspiration out there and I don’t want to miss it!