Last week, Yanicke revealed that she was a plotter. Well – I’m a pantser… Read on to find out about my (Gabbie’s) writing process…
In her book Reading Magic, Mem Fox teaches us that we should read to our children with ‘wild abandon’. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Reading like nobody’s watching (or listening) – putting on voices, trying on accents, whispering, shouting, pulling faces and really breathing life into the book.
I write with wild abandon. I get a sparkle of an idea and let it germinate until a voice sprouts. Yes – a voice. (I’m one of ‘those’ writers!) And the voice becomes louder until I am compelled to write down everything it says.
Once the voice arrives I spend a lot of time day dreaming. I let the character wander and be themselves. I consider how they move, their habits, their dreams, their food preferences and their mannerisms. I let their opinions collide with my life. I keenly observe strangers and catalogue them into my character’s life: that’s his best friend, his Nan, a bloke he’d never talk to, a girl he’d have a crush on… I’m interested in writing about the human condition, so that development and understanding of my character is a crucial part of my process.
Once the character becomes part of my waking life, scenarios play out in my mind. I’m still dreaming, but I start making random notes like:
house empty goes to Nan’s
realises he’s been crying while he slept
hates greasy smell of wool
These are prompts for bigger ideas which I try to weave into a sequence that makes a story. I transcribe the notes to coloured card because they’re no good to me on serviettes, old envelopes, within notebooks and on my phone.
By this time, the voice in my head feels ‘natural’ and I have a good wad of scrawled notes. There is nothing and I mean NO THING to stop me from writing, but there is something I have to do before I can begin.
For a long time.
I take on extra work. I watch movies. I read. I organise cupboards. I make lists. I send emails. I volunteer. I begin new projects. I fill up every moment with other things – things that are NOT writing. Meanwhile, the character is festering in my imagination and threatens to stop speaking to me.
Side note: Why oh why do I do this? I should take some time to gaze at my navel and contemplate this phase of my process. I’ll do that next time I’m procrastinating.
So – I put off the writing until I am disgusted with myself (and angry and frustrated and full of self-loathing).
And then, I write.
I write and write. Wildly and with abandon. I let the story fall out of me. The character tells me stuff and I put it onto the page. There’s no direction and I try to stay out of the way, letting my character guide the story. I don’t let anything stop the flow of my writing. If I come to a section, a sentence or a word that requires research or a peculiar detail, I type XYZ into the text as a reminder that to come back and fill in those blanks. During that first draft it’s all passion. Sometimes if I give my writing wholly to the voice I can create passages that aren’t written by me – shreds of text that came through me but were not of me.
After a few months, wild abandon becomes more like domestic deference. I plod, and procrastination grabs me by the throat. Those periods of procrastination (once I’ve started writing) serve as imagination pit-stops where my sub-conscious works on the next bit. When I return to the manuscript, I resume with wild abandon again and the cycle resumes.
Sometimes I wish I was a plotter. I’ve tried to plan. The trouble is the voice doesn’t always want to go where I want to take them. I’ve pretty much given up trying to force characters into corners; it leaves me feeling frustrated, like I’ve had a fight with myself. I’ve accepted my writing process. It is what it is. But wild and crazy “voice-driven” writing is awkward. I’ve had endings sneak up on me, which is disconcerting. I’ve slaughtered passages that were clever and well-written but also pointless. I’ve written things that made me uncomfortable, made me blush and made me cry.
Once I have my first draft, my “drafty draft”, I procrastinate again. I might sign up for the gym, buy books, do an online course, have a garage sale… The feelings of self-loathing, guilt and disgust rankle and I return to the manuscript. I research and find the value of XYZ. I cut and paste, shifting scenes and changing dynamics. I read and re-write, read and re-write, read and re-write.
When I can’t look at it anymore, when I am sick of it and know it by heart, I’ll ask a trusted friend to read for me.
After their comments, I make changes. I delete. I write. I delete. I listen to the voice in my head saying “Nah, leave that in, that’s funny” or “That bit never sounded good – you’re trying too hard. Ya try hard!”
Then I wake up one day and realise the voice has gone.