Writing, Editing, Publishing Q&A

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Over on Instagram (@writerclairefuller) I recently asked if anyone had any questions about writing, editing or getting published. And there were lots! I’ve answered them all in brief in an Instagram post, but it’s hard to be concise with so many questions. So here are my longer answers. Do let me know if you have any other questions in the comments below and I’ll save them up for a future post.

My writing day

How I organise my writing time (@raluca1503 @tftmotherland)

I worked for so many years in a marketing company following normal office hours that now I write full time, I can’t rid myself of the old 9 – 5. Well, actually 9 – 6pm. But I’m doing much more than working on my novel in progress in that time, and it does depend on where I am in the publishing cycle. I have been known to be promoting one book, Continue reading

My Writing Process

 

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A sense of place

Vicki Goldman, a writer and book blogger recently asked me to write a piece about my writing process, which she posted on her website. She’s read and reviewed hundreds of books, if you’re looking for your next read, you should take a look. Vicki has kindly let me post the article below. 

I’m just beginning to write my third novel, and it’s taken until now to work out if my writing process is different for each book, or what similarities there are.

What I’m only just realising is how important it is for me to have an idea of place before I start. Where do my characters live – country, area, type of house, room – I need to be able to see the space they inhabit before I can really get to grips with the story.

And it seems after two and a bit novels, I’m a big follower of the process that E.L. Doctorow talked about in his famous quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I’m not a planner. I have a vague shifting idea of an end point; perhaps who will live and who will die, but no idea how that life or death will happen. I start with one or two characters, drop them into a location, and see what they do. If it’s going well, by about a quarter or a third of the way through the characters take over and will sometimes refuse to do things. This isn’t anything spooky, it’s just that I know in detail the type of people they are, their habits, their likes and dislikes, and this in depth knowledge begins to help the story along. In my second novel, Swimming Lessons, I had two characters who I wanted to get together quickly, but they took chapters and chapters to do it. I’d put them in a room together and they would barely look each other in the eye. In the end I had to let them do it in their own time.

I don’t like writing. Perhaps it would be easier if I were a planner, but because sometimes I really don’t know what is going to happen next, it can be difficult. I treat it like a job; it is how I make my living, so I sit down at my desk at 9am and stop at 6pm. I do lots of other things during those hours, of course – I’m easily distracted – but that is my working day. What I do like however, is editing. Oh, to write The End on a first draft! Once I have 70,000 words or whatever, then I can have fun – cutting, moving sections, working on the structure – and then playing with the words, making sure each one is right, that sentences flow, that it all has a rhythm when I read it aloud.

However, I do edit a bit as I go along. It’s impossible for me to write without going back a short way each day and reworking. My new words are so abysmal that if I didn’t go back and edit a little bit then the writer’s doubt that we all suffer from would be too inhibiting. But I set myself some rules: Whenever I sit down to write I must also add new words to my manuscript. I’m never allowed to just edit until I’ve finished. Even if I only have ten minutes writing time, just three or so of those can be spent editing. If I have a full day available then I aim for 1,000 words (but I’m secretly happy if I get 800 down). At the end of each day I keep a tally of what my new word count is and a line of two of what I did and how it went. Very often I write something like, ‘I can’t do this, why am I doing this?’. And to keep the internal critic at bay while I’m writing I allow it a few words of its own now and again. So, in the middle of a paragraph I might write in square brackets [this is rubbish], and then carry on writing. It’s also reassuring to know that if I’m run over by a bus before the manuscript is finished no one will think that I believed it was any good.

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Our Endless Numbered Days has recently been published in paperback in the UK, and is both a Richard & Judy, and Waterstones Book Club Pick. Read Vicki’s review of Our Endless Numbered Days.

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

1003228_10152200138349129_807618916_nI’ve been invited by my friend and fellow writer, Judith Heneghan to join in with the ‘Writing Process’ blog tour. Judith wrote about her own writing process here last week. She has written children’s fiction, including the wonderful Stonecipher and is now squeezing in time to write adult fiction in between being the Director of the University of Winchester Writers’ Festival and leading the University of Winchester’s Writing for Children MA.

So, onto my own answers.

What am I working on?

I’ve just finished working with my UK copy editor on my debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, which Fig Tree (an imprint of Penguin) will publish in March 2015. Even though I can only just say ‘my book will be published in less than a year’, it does seem a long wait. I’ll be working with my US editor from Tin House in the coming weeks on any changes they want to make to the text.

The novel is about Peggy Hillcoat who, aged 17 has arrived back in her mother’s house in London after nine years’ absence. In 1976 Peggy is taken by her father, James to a cabin in a remote German forest, where they survive on the shared love of piano music, as well as the odd squirrel and rabbit. It’s a story about the personal resources Peggy uses to survive and make it home.

If you’re interested in reading Our Endless Numbered Days when it comes out, and you’re on Goodreads, you can add it to your ‘To Read’ list here.

Of course, I’m trying to make good use of my waiting time by writing my second book. However, I’m probably spending 75% of my available writing time thinking, rather than writing, and another 20% worrying about how little I’m writing. I only started keeping a writing diary around the time I first submitted to agents, and now I can’t remember how I felt about this early creative stage. Hopefully it was just as unplanned and chaotic the first time around.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think Our Endless Numbered Days will be marketed as commercial literary fiction, if such a genre exists. I’m not sure how to answer this question; except perhaps to turn it on its head and list some books that have influenced the writing of my book. In top position would be We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Certainly the protagonist, Merricat, was a big influence on the development of Peggy. Next would be This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman – a moving account of a family’s self-sufficiency in 1970s America. And Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner for the descriptions of landscape.

Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy question. I write about things that interest me. Whether that’s big themes like the parts of life that are never explained, through to location, books, music and right down to being able to give characters the close second-choice names I had for my children.

How does my writing process work?

I just start writing without a plan of what will happen, and then after a while the lack of a plan starts to worry and hinder me, and I might sketch out the ending, without knowing the middle. Then I write a bit more, going back to lightly edit what I wrote the day before, and sketch out the plan a little further.

This time, with my second book, it feels more muddled because there are more characters, more alternative points of view; more to worry about.

Next week I’m passing the blog tour baton to Sophia Tobin, whose debut novel, The Silversmith’s Wife has just been released by Simon & Schuster. This intricate historical thriller, about the murder of a silversmith and his wife’s secrets, is at the very top of my ‘to be read’ list.