Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A question of polish? What part of writing do you like best?

Who likes writing best? Who prefers editing? As writers, we all approach our task differently – after all, we are as individual as the many characters we create.

I like to know what my story is about, the main conflicts and struggles my characters will have to endure, and more or less where they will end up - and I like to know all of this before I start. I make myself write a detailed synopsis and I do a lot of work on the characters and their motivations. But it's not until I actually start writing that I really get to know my characters properly. That's when I discover that they have hobbies, and that these hobbies might affect some element in the story line. For example, Judy's stutter is stress-induced and disappears when she solves her problem. Or Jane likes running as a way of escaping things she should be facing, but one day her running route takes her to a spot at the exact time there is an accident, involving the man she has been avoiding.

I love it when my people come to life like this, and it only happens when I start to make a connection to my page through my fingertips. The moment when some small idea is sparked off and takes life is quite magical. It's why we write - well, why I write, anyway.

However, I spent years editing books, not fiction on the whole (although a commission to edit two short novella by Naomi Mitchison was a real challenge and was well documented!), and the training has never left me. I love the process.

I liken writing a novel to the process of making a piece of silver jewellery. First you do a design, then you plan the engineering of the piece – how it will hang together, what will swing loose, what needs to be solid. Then you cut the main shape from the flat sheet of silver, and start the hard slog of hammering and sawing, annealing in red-hot flames and hammering all over again. Once the whole piece has been fashioned, the hard, patient work of polishing and finishing starts. First sanding with a coarse-grained paper, then increasingly fine paper. This is to get rid of the 'fire-stain', the grey marks made by the heating/annealing process. Then it's time to move on to the final stage – polishing using jeweller's rouge, again in various grades of coarseness.

Finally, buff the whole piece up with a soft cloth until it gleams and sparkles and causes gasps of amazement. Just like a finished novel.

To answer my own question then, I guess I like the buffing and polishing, making it sparkle. But then again, every part of the creative process has its own magic...

How about you?

16 comments:

  1. Well Jenny my brother sometimes made silver jewellery but he couldn't have written a book to save himself. I don't do all the preliminary preparation which you do (might be better if I did) so I need to edit at least once and usually twice but I enjoy that stage. Writing the first draft is the hard work for me.

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    1. I agree, Gwen. I often need to remind myself to 'just keep writing'!

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  2. I like to do a quick first draft and then edit and re-edit. I wish I could write more slowly and have thought about using voice activated software as my 'story'seems to zoom along faster than I can write!

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    1. I've never tried voice activated software, Myra,but I'd love to give it a go - my fingers and arms are getting horribly stiff and sore!

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  3. I don't suppose you've got a piece of soft cloth I could have, have you, Jenny? You know....for the buffing up to give the gleam and sparkle....:)
    Great post.

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    1. I'll give you one next time I see you, Linda!

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  4. I prefer the writing to the polishing, but then I'm a very impatient person and I don't like tinkering too much once I've finished writing the story :) I know the polishing is necessary, but it's definitely not my favourite part of the process!

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    1. You must be terribly clever, to be able to write so well first time round. I'm impatient too, but not when it comes to that buff and sparkle!

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  5. I'm in awe of your jewelery making skills, Jenny, and envious of your meticulous planning. I can't do planning and so I find the first draft really hard. There are great moments when the stuff in my subconcious presents itself and the plot 'arrives' but mostly it is hard work. Writing, for writers, is of course much harder than for normal people - lol!
    So, for me, it's the editing that gives all the pleasure.

    Great post!
    Janice xx

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    1. I'm poor at planning too, Janice, but I make myself do it. Then it all changes when I start writing anyway! But at least I know it's changing for something better (or at least, I hope so...) I loved your comment that writing is harder for writers than other people!! So true.

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  6. What a good post, Jenny, which made me think about my own writing methods and realise how they differ depending on what I'm writing. I've only written one novel - two or three started and abandonned. Maybe I should take a leaf out of your book, Jenny, and spend more time plotting and planning before I start writing. With articles I write a first draft then edit, usually cutting great chunks. Poems, I scribble down as fast as I can then leave them for a while before going back to edit and tweak.
    Janice, I loved your comment about how much harder writing is for writers than normal people. I look forward to using that in conversations!

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  7. Go for it, Mary. But don't stop writing poetry - your poems are truly evocative. I should try them - surely they must be quicker than writing 100,000 words?

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  8. Writing the first draft of a poem is certainly quicker than a 100,000 word novel but it can take a long time to do the polishing. When I said I leave a poem for a while I actually have some I've been working on from time to time for several years!

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  9. Have to admit I love the first thrill of the idea and the writing in the white heat of the moment much more than the editing - which is exactly why I need to do more editing! Love the analogy of the silver work, will try to bear in mind that all stages are essential.

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  10. Just write, Gill. That's the secret! Nothing to edit unless the words are down there first...

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