I like to look over fences. Real ones, imagined ones and metaphorical ones. In my day job, I’m all about turning chaos into order, into designing processes that are slick and fast, efficient and error-proof. When it comes to my writing I’m almost the opposite. I go with the flow, I don’t impose rules – unless I’m editing and have a deadline and a whip-wielding editor behind me. And yes, I let the Muse drag me by the ear quite frequently, which means I always have a large stack of WiP teetering on one corner of my desk.
As fiction writing is becoming more than a cherished hobby that I spend too much time on, I love to listen to other authors talk about how they work, from deciding which project to work on to putting a story together to self-pubbing it.
There have been a lot of such conversations recently, privately and publicly on various platforms. They’re mostly fun, and good for picking up an idea or two. Unfortunately, there will always be one or two spoilsports who wade in to tell the rest of the audience that they can’t be “proper” authors unless they do this or that or the other.
Some people don’t seem to be happy unless they’re laying down the law. Often to someone who is just starting out, or going through a rough patch and isn’t at all sure of their course. Maybe that’s why they’re braving Facebook or tumblr to ask the question in the first place. Because they know what they want to do and are trying to find the best way to make their dream a reality.
Being told it’s this way or the highway isn’t in the least helpful to them.
Comments like this naff me off no end and that’s when I’m glad to have a policy about not starting bun fights on social media. But if we accept that we’re all different, then why does it matter how you write?
- Some writers outline in great detail. I don’t. The couple of times I tried, I couldn’t be bothered to write the story once I finished the outline, since all the exciting stuff had happened already.
- Some authors have first drafts that are as pristine as a piece of Mozart’s original sheet music. Mine are exploded jigsaw puzzles.. They’re about a third of the length of the finished manuscript and a jumble of notes, sign posts, conversations and descriptions.
- Some authors start with chapter one and work in a straight line until they type The End under the manuscript. I don’t even work on one a single story at a time, let alone in a linear fashion.
What do we all have in common? We all tell stories. Stories that may begin at a messy desk, and end between beautifully designed covers. And yes, there’s craft. There are rules. There’s formatting. There’s fact checking and, of course, there’s grammar. For me, most of that happens in edits. When I’m writing, all I’m focussed on is the story, all I’m thinking about is the characters and what mess I can inflict on them next….and there is nothing wrong with this.
There’s nothing wrong with doing it your way either.
Stories are magic.
Magic is something you make.
It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just that you do.