Many thanks to the NZ Listener for a newish section on an author’s writing process: ‘A Way with Words’ – inspiring and thought-provoking.
Some writers get up early, like horrors, 5 am, others sensibly start with a coffee then go for long walks before sitting down to create, others work late into the night. Some covet a special desk while putting up with a wobbly door frame on trestle table legs or write in a café after the success of J K Rowling. In her memoir Janet Frame said her mother wrote poems on the back of envelopes at the kitchen table.
I met celebrity chef Jo Seager at Garden Marlborough while attending a workshop on how to espalier fruit trees. Jo told us she had just written a book called Elbows off the Table Please containing recipes and all sorts of useful hints on table manners for people bringing up children and teenagers.
Do you know what? In these times of introspection and living in the moment I have just discovered that I often sit at the table, perched there, leaning on my elbows, pen in hand, gazing out the window, noting all the different colours of green in the garden, or the birds pecking at the seed feeder in the apple tree. Chopin Nocturnes play softly in the background – all in the name of creative thinking – and writing.
I like to write between 11am and 1pm and stop when I feel hungry. I write a first draft by hand with a pen or pencil and paper. It’s something about the vibrations going from my brain down to my hand holding the pen. I write getting the thoughts down not worrying about punctuation or repetition. If I can’t think of the word I want I use an ellipsis. The important thing is to keep going.
Then I type it up, run the computer spell check and print it off. Then I go and sit in my favourite chair with a sea view and read it over. I leave this first draft on the dining room table for a day or two and re-read it out loud. By doing this I note when I pause and add a comma to show the reader how to ‘sing the tune’. I might add new thoughts, often change paragraphs around, look for repeated words and replace them with new ones I also check back with my original handwritten version to make sure I’ve included everything.
Finally I go through the piece again with a ruler under each line looking for those words which I’m sure I typed correctly but have missed a letter, or maybe left out a word or the computer has added its own word, mysteriously replacing my intended word. I make the corrections, and print another copy. I save the file to the computer and also to a small portable hard drive. I stamp the word ‘Draft’ in the top right hand corner – very satisfying! Then, most important, I write the name of the folder I have saved it in and the date in case I can’t find it again!
What I never do is make changes while I’m typing. It’s tempting but often the first thought is the most vivid. If I do decide to add or change a sentence I first save the original as a file with the title and a number in brackets so I can compare the versions later. When I get to the fourth draft I add the words ‘near final’ to give myself some encouragement to keep going.
If I do want to play around with a paragraph or a page I ‘Copy’ it and create a new file where I can alter it without losing the original version. I tend to save every ten minutes because words can just disappear at the press of a button and can’t always be recaptured by hitting ‘Paste’. Also being a cautious kind of person I imagine there could be a power cut.
Sometimes I scribble an idea down in the middle of the night by torchlight. I can barely decipher it the next day. Still if I hadn’t captured it in some form it would have gone away by morning. It may relate to what I’m currently working on or it may be a new thought or a line of poetry.
After attending the National Writers’ conference in September last year in Auckland all I can say about writing is: any place, any time that suits, one day a week or 5 days a week, 400 words or 1000 words a day, ignore the ‘ping’ of social media, ‘Just get on with it’.
By Julie Kennedy
Let’s hope George in 800 words on TV One stays fully clothed and doesn’t end up writing for the Weld Times to pay the plumber’s bill.