The beauty of notes


I just love notebooks. I have drawers-full. But none of them are about plot lines. They’re mostly about personal growth (which I think is vital for writers, like everyone else!) But there are also ideas notebooks. These are recognisable by their utter randomness and lack of order. In fact many of them are not notebooks but receipts from restaurants, with scribbled words like

Smoke machine!

Jokes aside, I do keep a notepad next to my computer, and I try to keep a small one in my handbag. And a pen. Am I the only writer who never has a pen?! My child, who can’t write, has claimed all forty of my working ones.

The notepad is good for ideas that come to you when you are tapping away, and for doodling of course. I believe there is a relationship between words and images in your head, and it’s good to keep those linked. When I first started trying to write (the Agony Days, more about that later I promise) I actually put a set of paints and a small canvas next to my laptop, because I knew the painting mindset was important somehow. I didn’t get much of either done!

Nowadays I know that it’s the freedom that writing and painting share.

I also jot ideas down on computer at the end of the manuscript, a section of text that can become up to twenty pages long and play havoc with my word count!

If there is any advice I can give authors, it’s to honour the uniqueness and weirdness of your own creative process. Never try to hone it or make it more like someone else’s (and other people will suggest you do.) Do it your way. Receipts and all.

By the way, in my latest manuscript (being finalised now) the heroine gets into a bit of trouble surrounding her own notebook … hopefully be bringing you this one by Feb next year! You can check out all the exciting research I’ve been doing on Kenya for it lately on Twitter.

Thanks for tuning in.

Holding uncertainty


I write quite quickly. I can do about 3 pages in 45 minutes, if in that section I don’t have to keep checking things on the internet as I go (research!) I did a calculation once – maths is not my strong point, but I figured out I could probably write a whole manuscript in 24 hours if I didn’t eat, sleep (etcetera) or stop!

Some of you who are writers will know what I’m talking about. Writing a book is like driving a freight train that picks up speed. Your family and others better get out of the way. Especially when the hero and heroine are about to you-know-what. There’s an urgency, right?

What makes it worse (or better) is that I don’t feel in control of what I’m doing. I get a general feel for the book, I sort of know what must happen, but I can’t tell you chapter-for-chapter what it’s going to look like before I start. I’ve tried, believe me. But it always does its own thing anyway. So I have notes that go, “Is he her half-brother?!” and so on. More about the importance of notes later.

It’s hard, not knowing exactly how everything will pan out, but it’s also wonderful. I am always delighted by the little unplanned links and twists. In fact, I write to be surprised. Otherwise I think it would be a very boring exercise.

The flip side is that you may go around in your daily life with the gnawing thought that you’ve just finished Chapter 7, and you know you will write 8 tomorrow, but right now you have no idea what that will look like. And to trust that it will come.

Because it does.

Take breaks. Don’t write the book in 24 hours, just so you can nail it down and release yourself from the clutches of anxiety. So much good comes when you’ve rested, eaten well, and played in other areas of your life too.

That’s Elektra, by the way (Marvel Comics). She doesn’t look afraid of much.

Getting out of the way


Before I had a child, I spent many hours thinking about how to write. Where would be the best place to write. And when. I even messed about with an overly long, fraught manuscript loosely based on my own life.

In this time I also did lots of creativity-enhancing exercises, which I’ll share with you in a later post.

When my son was born, I panicked. My writing career was clearly over before it had started. When he was three, and started attending a local play school, I ran home to write. I sat in the mess (toys, unwashed laundry, dust) and opened my laptop.

I realised all you have to do is open the document. Open it when you have no idea what you are going to do. Start writing when you have no idea what will happen in the scene (or, very little).

Writing a single sentence made me feel calmer. Writing a page was a meditation. Writing a book was paradise. You can read about that particular process here!

Nowadays, before I write, I plug in. I hand it over. The deal is, I show up (and open the document) and the universe does the rest.

I am the hollow reed, an instrument for the story to come through as it wants to, but I am not The Author. At most, I am a co-creator.

The picture above is of a little dedication space I hold next to my desk – its objects represent my fears, wishes and difficulties. Here they are transformed in a process of surrender, and returned to me all sorted out.

If you really want to know how to write a book, that’s it.

It’s easy. The difficult part is only ever in our own heads. Give it up.