People often ask me about my writing process, how it is so easy for me; so it seems a good idea to describe how writing works for me.
The process has evolved over time, refining and simplifying, until it is very, very easy, very consistent, with just one or two small provisos about sitting down and getting on with it, no matter how I feel on the day.
Most often it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s not
Perhaps that has been the big key, the big element to my consistency of Flow – ignoring how I feel in any given moment, not waiting for the moments of inspiration, just trusting they will come once I get the keyboard under my hands. Most often it’s exhilarating, exciting, energising. Sometimes it’s not. But we’ll get to that…
I work with clients mostly on non-fiction works, taking their message and getting it out to a wider audience in book form. Most of my own big projects have been novels, however, so let’s look at how those have worked for me.
I started writing when I was six and I’ve always known it was what I wanted to do. Then at around 15 I went off-piste, into the wilderness of science and IT, through the wilds of small business, writing always in my spare time, but generally just distracting myself from what I knew in my heart I needed to do. It was a momentous, but at the time insignificant day, when I promised myself that whatever else I did, I would take at least five minutes a day to follow my passion.
Five minutes a day
So I did just that. Every day (or almost, I wasn’t fanatical about it, just felt a strong tug in my heart at the end of the day if I had missed) I sat down at my computer, document open, and let out whatever came through my fingers. Most days I had no idea what I would write; but I always knew something would come. Sometimes I would hear the words before I started to type; sometimes my fingers would begin to move and the words formed on the screen, coming from a deeper part of myself than conscious mind. But they always came.
I used to plan my novels, but then I’d sit down and write something different; so I gave up planning and trusted the creative process, the single creative arc that happens when you reconnect with a project every day.
And here’s the thing: I had no judgement about how much I wrote on any one day, as long as I reconnected with the story. Some days it was one sentence, and that was enough to reconnect. Most days, however, I would look up and see an hour had gone by, there were 1500 more words on the word count, and the story had significantly progressed. Most days. Some days not. And that was okay.
I also had no judgement on the quality of the writing, just kept going, head down, every day, and this turned out to be the game-changer, the thing that allowed the Flow to really accelerate. More about that later, too…
An interesting thing happens when I write in this way, every day, reconnecting… the story becomes part of me, sitting in the background of my life with the characters continuing off-stage lives. I get drawn in, caught up, and the story builds momentum, to the point that once the final act climax is in sight, it takes me over, and in a two day rush the last 10,000 words appear at speed – that has been my experience for each of my novels so far, and that time is such a buzz, such an expressive, creative joy, it’s almost worth engaging in the process for that alone.
The single creative arc
So what about when the story is complete? Where does the book go from there? There were two things I discovered once I started to write in this consistent way: first, that even though there were days when the writing seemed to flow and it felt great, and other times it was the opposite, when I looked back, there was no difference in the quality of writing at all! This astounded me, and it was immensely freeing. It meant I could keep going, with no judgement, day to day, just trusting the process.
The other thing was that when I reconnected to the story daily, there was very little editing required. The story structure was perfect, I just needed to change a word or sentence here or there to make the writing more elegant; the story as a whole needed no change.
So editing became a simple task, I’d do what I could myself and then hand it over to a professional editor for a last run through, engage my team of selfless proof readers and be ready to publish.
Robert McKee’s Story: Even though I’d been writing my whole life, my craft as a writer took a significant leap when I read Robert McKee’s Story, a comprehensive study of the structure of satisfying, successful stories through history. I also attended his workshop in New York, delivering the same content – an enormously valuable experience.
Painting myself into a corner: If at any time I felt the story was flagging, I would paint myself into a creative corner, have a character do or say something surprising, that I would then have to explain and incorporate into the wider story. This creative pressure produced some of my best moments as a writer.