Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Fiction Bitch says I don't have to do it if I don't want to but I love reading about how other writers do it and, of course, blabbering on myself.

Copy the questions into your blog and answer them. Then tag five other writers to do the same!

1. Do you outline? Increasingly so, but not until I've written a few chapters on the hoof using lots of dialogue to get my characters up and running first.

2. Do you write straight through a book, or do you sometimes tackle the scenes out of order? Straight through. The latest novel is a departure, though, featuring the coming together of 2 different worlds. I'm writing a completely separate document for the parallel world so that I can work out how, when and where I reveal the depths of this world inside the main text.

3. Do you prefer writing with a pen or using a computer? Computer. Dialogue, especially, comes out at speed. I'm not such a believer in characters taking on a life of their own, though. For me it's always been the story (or the film in film-making) that's done that - one of the most addicting experiences.

4. Do you prefer writing in first person or third? Mostly third person but some first.

5. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do you create a playlist, listen randomly, or pick a single song that fits the book? No. But as we're open plan here I did put headphones on for some rewriting recently, with music relevant to the story, & that was OK.

6. How do you come up with the perfect names for your characters? Various methods. Latest lead character is named after a Californian sea crab I read about in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. She was already called Sally, which was right for her age & character, but her first surname was something boring like O'Sullivan or somesuch until I read about the crab. Now she's got some of the crab's colourings, movements and elusiveness as well. The love interest name I nicked from my friend's parrot. I use surnames from people in my old school classes and look at journalists' surnames in the newspaper.

7. When you're writing, do you ever imagine your book as a television show or movie? All the time. I made films before I wrote novels. Two incredibly hard-won BBC director attachments. I found it impossible to progress in that, I had none of the up-front confidence you need to get backing for your projects. I wrote the first novel like a film, with a roughcut, first assembly, second assembly, answerprint, showprint.

8. Have you ever had a character insist on doing something you really didn't want him/her to do? No, but I've recently had one turning up when I wasn't expecting it, completely changing the storyline.

9. Do you know how a book is going to end when you start it? No.

10. Where do you write? Downstairs in our one open-plan living-room, dining-room, kitchen, everything room.

11. What do you do when you get writer's block? I don't believe in it. I know there's something called writer's stall and there's no mystery to it. It simply what happens when you have to break from the writing routine due to real life stuff, like earning a living and looking after children and things. If you write every day the story gets embedded in your subconscious and you'll find yourself coming up with ideas out of the blue, especially when you wake up in the morning, until it starts trucking along almost under its own steam. This is another addicting part of the process. But if the flow is interrupted you have to spend a few days of tortured bashing out of rubbish until you're back in the flow again. The hardest thing about starting to write is finding this flow. When you do it's like a tap has been turned. It may spout a lot of rubbish as well, but you can't turn it off.

12. What size increments do you write in (either in terms of wordcount, or as a percentage of the book as a whole)? It varies, 1,000 words a day is a good balance. My highest has been 5,000 in a day. Am trying to keep new one down to 500 crafted words a day as I am fed up with reading back such terrible first drafts. However there's a lot to be said for the momentum zapping through the first draft approach, especially for a first novel.

13. How many different drafts did you write for your last project? The first half of the novel, about 15 drafts. The second half of the novel about 4 drafts. It needs more but I'm stopping there for now.

14. Have you ever changed a character's name midway through a draft? Lots of times.

15. Do you let anyone read your book while you're working on it, or do you wait until you've completed a draft before letting someone else see it? Nobody read the first one except my agent, who helped with the construction a lot and read through 4 or 5 drafts before she was happy with it. With the rest I've read extracts at my writing critique group.

16. What do you do to celebrate when you finish a draft? Nothing.

17. One project at a time, or multiple projects at once? One main novel in theory, but at the moment I've got 3 on the go, plus I want to put an entry into a radio drama competition, the deadline's about a week away.

18. Do your books grow or shrink in revision? Line editing shrinks it, but I might add extra chapters. Or delete a chapter and then add it back later, as has just happened.

19. Do you have any writing or critique partners? My writing critique group is very important to me. There are 6 of us and we've been together for quite a few years now. Five of us have been published, several with big deals; one's just won a place at the Royal Holloway studying with Andrew Motion; one's just been shortlisted for an important award & has to buy a frock for the dinner and all; another's breaking into movie scriptwriting. It's all very motivating.

20. Do you prefer drafting or revising? The momentum of adding to the wordcount is very satisfying as is moving on with the story. Revising of first drafts can be very depressing but rewriting's where the most satisfaction lies at the end of the day. Proof reading is hell.

I'm supposed to tag five other novelists now, and they can take it up or not as they wish:

Kate Harrison
Caroline Smailes
Anne Brooke
Granny P
Jasfoup's Tongue

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.


hellojed said...

Hi Amanda, I found your post really helpful. I'm in the middle of my first draft now and I'm thinking about critique groups. How did you find your group?

Amanda Mann said...

Glad it was of help. The critique group grew out of a local adult education writing course. Worth checking out if you haven't already. They are a bit hit or miss & you have to hit lucky. I'd say if a course isn't working duck out and try a different one even if it's not exactly what you wanted to do. Genres don't matter, we have a children's writer, literary authors and commercial. We've now nearly all of us done teaching stints at the college, one of us was a teacher in the first place.