Thursday, February 8, 2018

Take one vulture . . .

How do you set real life aside and connect with the imaginary worlds you create? And how long do you write each day/week?

by Catriona

I've been scraping round the dusty corners of my brain trying to work this out for the last ten minutes - gazing out the window at a bit of dead wood sticking up, that looks like a perching vulture. Or maybe a small hawk. But I'm a crimewriter, so vulture. Which would be a terrible way to find a corpse in your garden, wouldn't it? You're admiring a bird, wondering why it's sitting there so patiently . . . How many vultures would have to assemble before you went to see what had drawn them to that spot?

In short, that might be the wrong question. The puzzler is "How do you set aside the imaginary worlds you create and connect with real life?" And it's a problem teachers started suggesting I work on when I was five. "Dozy Daisy Dreamboat" what what Miss Shaughnessy called me. Fair comment.

But trying again to address the topic: I think a sharp division with no blurring is key for me. I need my emerging fictional world to be all mine, with no input from anyone in the real world. That way, no one outside my head uses the book title and/or character names, or chats about any of the events. So I can step from my real life to the rooms, streets and clifftops of my work in progress without having to pack anything. And I can step back again without bringing souvenirs. 

I'd hate to have to remember what someone (real) said over coffee about my character's motives, or report on progress in the fictional world when I was done with it for the day. Brrrrr. Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

The weird moment comes when the book's done and I do let other people in. Every time, I get a kind of vertigo when my agent says "What I loved about Gloria-" or "Why did Lowell-" as if she's read my mind. 

By the time the book's out, I'm over it and I'm happy for any reader to have any opinion on anything. I'm no longer the boss of that world. Most readers of The Day She Died disagree pretty fundamentally with me about a certain plot point and it's never bothered me. 

Oh wait, though: a recent reader of Come To Harm asked me for a detail I didn't put in the book and I didn't know. I asked her what she thought and she came up with such a perfect, elegant, lighter-than-air detail that I wished I'd known in time to write it in. 

I don't know if I've just re-invented beta-readers or if that incident supports my furtive control-freakery. I mean, maybe it's only because I protect the world so much while I'm making it that it feels this real once I've made it. It's a complete world, with an answer for every question whether I know the answer or not. 

And how long do you write each day/week?

Much easier question! No gazing at stump-vultures required. Officially* I work from nine-ish till six-ish Monday to Friday, with some Post Office runs and a bit of travel time, if I'm headed for a coffee-shop. Of that probably half is actual writing. "Actual writing" means everything that happens before someone else sees the book. (Blimey, that really is the continental divide for me - I didn't realise before today.) So producing the first draft, researching the stuff I made up to put in it, adding the research, editing it down, re-reading the second draft, adding corrections, producing a third draft . . . Everything that happens after I hit "send" for the first time - structural edits, copy edits, line edits, proofs - is not "actual writing". 

*Unofficially, once a first draft has got some thermals under it and is floating free, I usually end up writing every day and can get my 2K words down in about three hours. I'm not there with this book yet. Here comes five hours of plodding.


Karen in Ohio said...

Packing and unpacking is a brilliant way to put the process, Catriona. It makes so much sense from the standpoint of traveling into the world you're creating.

Those vultures can be so distracting, can't they?

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Nice post, Catriona. I like to keep my real and imaginary worlds apart too, at least until the story's finished.

Ann said...

Interested at the bit about the readers disagreeing with the plot point in The Day She Died. That’s my favorite of all your books and wth has a right to disagree? They should write their own damn bewk! We have a lot of shedding feather pillows. I think of that book every time I pick one up. I flipping LIVE in the imaginary worlds of writers like you. Ta