Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Monday, 19 November 2012

The writer's world

Did anyone else watch Ian Rankin on BBC's Imagine the other night? I thought he was very brave to do a video diary of his book-writing process.

I watched the programme absolutely riveted – because so much of what he was saying and doing resonated with me. I wanted to hug him when he confessed that he still found it hard, after 28 books! I felt better when I realised that my first drafts are marginally more finished than his first drafts. And I wanted to jump up and down and yell, 'Me too!' when he told us that the 'magic' begins to happen on the second and later drafts.

Writers, I believe, are either plotters or pantsters - that is, they either plot every last detail of their work before they start writing, or they do the whole thing by the seat of their pants. Ian is a crime writer, so I was a bit surprised to discover that he is a pantster. There was a strange kind of alchemy that happened once he started, but  I was quite surprised that so much of the detail still needed to be filled in even after he had finished the first draft.

Another thing: when Ian writes, he apparently withdraws from – well, from pretty much everything, including his family. That seems like a luxury. Does it happen to women writers too? Or do they still have to shop, clean, cook, tidy? Sometimes I think it would be fantastic just to be able to sit and write all day, but then I realise that characters and plot points need to be mulled over. They need to mature and ripen in their own time and, actually, doing the cooking might be as good a time as any for this process to happen.

On another topic – briefly – it seems that 'granny lit' may at last be on the way in. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/11/hilary-boyd-thursdays-in-park
Has it had to wait for a generation of tech-savvy mature women to buy e-books before the publishing world has woken up to the fact that 'older women' read books too?

23 comments:

  1. I didn't watch this programme so I am a bit suprised that a crime writer can write the same way as I do - developing as the story goes along without previous plotting.I would agree the enjoyment of writing comes with the second and third drafts so maybe I am doing something right. I find it very difficult to judge my own writing but I assumed famous writers knew exactly when they had written a best seller.

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    1. That's what I found so comforting, Gwen!

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  2. I too watched the programme, riveted. I have downloaded the programme from the iplayer to watch again sometime in the future - possibly when, like Ian, I'm stuck at page 68! It is so reassuring to know that even the great get 'the fear' that the magic muse has left and might never return!

    Great post, Jenny.

    Janice xx

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  3. I'm usually past page 68 when I get the jitters, Janice. Sometimes a long way past, with a lot of words that later need ditching.

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  4. I've just watched the programme and, like you, Jenny, was riveted. It does give the rest of us heart to know someone of Rankin's calibre is also filled with self doubt and the fear the wip is rubbish. Crime writer Catriona McPherson is also a panster - she describes it as letting go of the pram at the top of the hill.
    Interesting article about 'granny lit' and I see tonight the new BBC drama, Last Tango in Halifax, is about two friends falling in love after being reunited after 60 years. Must be something in the air.

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    1. I do hope there's a more enlightened attitude about what readers like and look for about to emerge...

      Isn't Last Tango in Halifax a great title? I wonder whether there's any butter involved...

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  5. I'm a crime writer and also a panster. How can I surprise my readers if I don't surprise myself. One nugget of information I gained from watching the programme is that Ian and I shared an editor. She edited Dead Wood! So, if we shared an editor d'you think he'd mind sharing the success as well!

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    1. Chris, you have plenty of success! Ian waited a long time to hit the real big time, as did Alexander McCall Smith.

      I'm amazed at you pantsters though - I plan like crazy, though I constantly change my plans as I go along. But then, I always was contrary.

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  6. It was a fascinating watch and the great thing about Ian is that he never plays the star (even though he obviously is one). And I agree that it was comforting to see how he works (and doubts) and realise that I'm in the same business, albeit somewhat down the scale.

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  7. Aw, Brill, it's just about luck, you have the talent. You're right, Ian is fantastic at being dead nice to ordinary people - and in my mind, that makes him a true star.

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  8. It's kind of scary that someone like Ian Rankin can still have doubts. I thought if I ever got to his stage (which I won't) I would be home and dry. Interesting, too, thanks for the prompting to go and look this out.

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    1. Never say never, Gill! Keep on writing!

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  9. Unfortunately I do not get access to BBC programmes but it sounds as if it was interesting. I have also been following the granny lit movement with interest. :)

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    1. You missed a treat, Lindy Lou. I guess it offered a lot of insights to non-writers, but it was just as interesting to writers. Although he had been thinking about the book and its themes for a while, he didn't start writing until the day after a funeral he'd gone to – which then became the opening scene of his novel!

      Yes, let's see where 'granny lit' goes! I've thought for ages that marketeers have been silly to ignore the huge silver market - and not just in the book market. After all, these are people with a bit of spare cash and a lot of taste and discernment! (IMHO)!

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  10. Excellent post, Jenny. I loved the programme and was completely struck by how down to earth and humble Ian Rankin is, which makes him even more of a star in my opinion! Also encouraged by the fact he's a panster and it took him until he was nearly giving up to become famous. Every writer should watch that programme.

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  11. He certainly came across as very approachable, didn't he? I've met him on a few occasions and he really is modest about his achievements.

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  12. Interesting post,Jenny -lots to think about!

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  13. Which bit, Myra - the writer's journey or granny lit? Glad you enjoyed my post.

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  14. I only saw a short clip of Ian Rankin's talk on the news and I so agree with you. It so resonated with me too.
    As for the 'granny-lit', you made me laugh. Perhaps Merketeers are catching up - or returning to the truth that there are a lot of silver surfers out there, and some of them can no longer enjoy going out to shop.
    I think I'll search round and see if I can find IR's video online.

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    1. I don't think the 'grannies' are THAT old!

      You'll get IR's video on iPlayer. Here's the link
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nw51c/imagine..._Winter_2012_Ian_Rankin_and_the_Case_of_the_Disappearing_Detective/

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    2. Galm grans, Sherry.......especially we baby boomers....:)

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  15. I missed Mr. Rankin, alas, and so many people have made me sad I didn't by being so glowing about it.
    Rather like the idea of granny lit.....I have a few in the drawer - books, that is, not grannies.

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    1. See the link above, Linda, in response to Sherry. Worth watching!

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