(Writing) Each Book Is A Different Story

From Women Writers Women’s Books:

I have written three novels over twelve years: one which got me an agent (as yet unpublished); my debut Paris Mon Amour (2016) and my new novel, Scent.  Each has been a unique experience and part of a learning curve which will never end. I now work with other writers on their manuscripts and in a world where ‘writing tips’ abound (often more anxiety-inducing than constructive), the only thing that matters is what works for you.

For most writers, that’s an ongoing process which develops with each project, just as our real lives do in the background (don’t get me started on that). An open mind and willingness to try new things are traits you’d hope for in a creative writer and they’re as important to process as any other aspect of storytelling.

It’s a weird and wonderful thought that some people are reading Paris Mon Amour and Scent almost back-to-back when they were published five years apart (PMA has just been reissued). Both are set in France and occupy my home territory of midlife and female sexuality but the way the two novels emerged was different.  Some of that was inevitable, some deliberate, as I experimented with new ways to deliver my vision for Scent and (less pretentiously) to make my job easier. 

Long story short: some of my old habits didn’t need changing after all.  Some of my new approaches worked, some didn’t.  These were the biggest revelations:  

First draft – words mount up whether you count them or not

I enjoy every phase of writing novels apart from first drafts. I love having something to work with, develop and improve but generating it in the first place is a real challenge especially as I’m not a fast or wordy writer. With PMA, I set myself a weekly target of 3,500 words to produce a first draft in six months. Many writers do find wordcount goals motivating but for me it made the whole thing feel like a chore. Sure, it’s nice to see the numbers creeping up, but as I discovered when I took a different tack with Scent, that happens anyway if you keep showing up.  Instead of setting myself word count targets, I sat down to write for two hours at a time. Things progressed at the same rate but I enjoyed it so much more.

To edit or not to edit as you go

With my debut I felt I wasted a lot of time re-reading and polishing the text even in the early stages – we all know how much a manuscript changes from first to final draft. But when I stopped doing this, I lost my connection with the characters and the belief that Scent would ever amount to something worth reading. Far from being a pointless waste of time, I realised that editing as I go along is an integral part of my writing process.  Trying new methods and deciding the old ones actually serve you is also a valuable outcome. 

Re-type draft

My most dramatic experiment, both in terms of results and the horror and disbelief it inspired in other people!  I got the idea at a workshop led by Andrew Wille just after receiving constructive and helpful feedback on the first draft of Scent from my agent and closest writing partner. The latter’s observation that the novel wasn’t, as I’d been thinking, about a failing marriage but a love story between two women instantly made me see it in a different light.  Retyping the entire 90K word draft (from scratch not from memory) to capture this new slant was the most exciting and transformative thing I’ve done as a writer. Now I can’t imagine writing a novel without this step – my post about it is one of the most viewed on my Literary Sofa blog.

Link to the rest at Women Writers Women’s Books