Thursday, April 11, 2019

Confessions of a laid-back control-freak

"Has your approach to writing changed during the time you’ve been published? What was the change in response to? Or, if not, have you considered other approaches and rejected them? What were they, and why?"

By Catriona. 

Not Jim. 

Because I'm blogging my buns off for publication week:

available now at IndieboundB&N, Amazon or Avid Reader
(where I can sign it for you at the party on Friday night)
Scot and Soda is my twenty-fourth published novel (twenty-five to twenty-seven are written and are currently at various bends in the publishing pipeline). But the answer to the first bit of this question is almost no. The answer to the second bit is ohhhhhhhhh yes indeedy.

When I first started, in 2001, I sat down in my brand-new writing room, at my brand-new computer - one of those mushroom-coloured ones with a monitor the size of a washing machine - and typed "Chapter 1". Then I kept typing for 100K words, finding out what happened. On the last page, I changed my mind about whodunit. When I was finished I researched all the stuff I'd made up and went over the draft changing the things I'd got wrong - trains, dates, fashions, etc. But I didn't have to change any clues to account for the new perp. They were all in there already. It felt like magic.

I did the same for the second book. I've got a clear memory of writing a detailed description of a castle interior, thinking "I'll have to ditch all this; it's completely extraneous". Then, while I writing the last chapter, chasing the characters through a woodland, trying to keep up, the baddie swerved into the castle and all the stuff I'd written - arrow-slits, oubliette, murder hole - dove-tailed into the chase perfectly. It felt like magic and magic, it turned out, felt like fun.

When I was halfway through the third book, though, I went to a workshop. It was organised by the Society of Authors (i.e. it was legit) and at it I met two women who're still pals - Aline Templeton (a crime fiction writer) and Jane Hill (now a stand-up comic). For that reason, I'll never be sorry. BUT I also met a bossy writer who informed me that I was doing it all wrong. (I can't remember her name and I've never seen her face staring out at me from huge posters in bookshops. Just sayin'.) 

Apparently, according to Miss Bossy Knickers, I had to write character bibles, chapter outlines, scene skeletons and beat maps. (I might have made some of that up.) And I certainly had to do a wet ton of research well in advance of any actual writing.

I tried it. Because I'm an idiot.  Because I'm the youngest of four sisters and big girls telling me what to do has a strong hold over me. Well. The first four chapters of my third book were pure stodge. It was like trying to shovel concrete while it sets. After a month, I ripped up all the notes, added a witch and an undercover artist and went back to seeing what happened. 

And here's the thing: when I looked over that draft, the only bits I had to change were in those first four "properly-written" chapters. Pah!

At this stage, my plan was to keep my grubby little secret to myself, nod and smile when other writers talked about outlines and go my own sweet way. But it was at that moment that I was fortunate enough to read Stephen King's On Writing. In it, King talks about his research method, and guess what - he does it afterwards, same as me.

It was quite the confidence booster, to discover that a way of working you dreamed up for yourself is shared by one of your favourite writers (who also happens to be a global best-seller and prolific with it). It spurred me on to stick to my other way of working - following characters through woodlands and into castles etc.

It still feels like magic, but turns out it's not always fun. I only worked out what my last book was about on page 280 of the first draft. It's 287 pages long. That was a bit of a squeaker. But when I go back to read it over, I bet the sense I couldn't see is in there already. If not . . . well, I've had a good run, eh?


Liz Milliron said...

Catriona, your way sounds a lot like my way. And yes, it's very fun!

RJ Harlick said...

It sounds so familiar. Bit nerve wracking this approach, but I love how everything does come together at the end with absolutely no planning. Magic.

Susan C Shea said...

Yes. And yes again. It's not that no one has any good advice to offer, but not all good advice fits organically into our individual best ways of getting our work done.

Cathy Ace said...

It's true that we need to find what works for us. And good luck with this book...loved the first one, which deservedly won the Lefty!

Frank Zafiro said...

What works for you is what works for you. That's what I've always said, and I believe it, because what works for me is what works for me.

It's the same thing with market trends. "Oh, everyone is writing zombies, ya gotta write zombies."

Okay, go ahead. But I'd rather write what is interesting to me in the hopes that other people will eventually find it interesting. Be the trend instead of chasing it.

Of course, my way hasn't put me on the bestseller list, so maybe I'm full of crap. But at least I'm doing it my way, and at least I can cheer for you when you do it yours....