I had my children – whom I affectionately call The Ratlings – from Saturday until Wednesday this week. Surprisingly, their presence did not affect my writing and I managed to get a great deal done. (Like most parents, I have developed the ability to tune out the frequencies used by The Ratlings for their endless bickering and arguing. Strange how this only works with one’s own children, though, isn’t it?)
One of the reasons I enjoy writing when my children are around is that their presence really helps me to focus on why I write. Writing is a lonely business at the best of times, especially in the digital age – I write my books on a computer using a word processor programme, and then send them off via email to people whom in many cases I have never even met – and it is very easy to find myself thinking bleak thoughts about whether all the effort is really worth it. This doesn’t happen when The Ratlings are around, as I know exactly what I am doing: I write in order to provide for them and to secure their futures.
Added to this, my children always know how to cheer me up. My eldest, Inés, has started producing little story pamphlets about her favourite animals, hand written in felt tip and with illustrations. I assumed it was school work. ‘No,’ she told me, she did them ‘for fun and to be like Daddy’. That one really made me well up, I can tell you.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I set myself the task last week of organising the main body of the text according to the structure I have worked out for the new draft of Stolen Lives. I finished this over the weekend and, in between games, jigsaws and viewings of Star Wars with The Ratlings, I also managed to doodle – by which I mean writing loose unconnected sentences and snatches of dialogue – close to 4,000 words, which are distributed among a number of the new draft’s major scenes.
I find this process of word-doodling very useful. I try to structure my books so that each chapter has a distinct beginning, middle and end. This often takes a fair bit of juggling and editing to ensure that this occurs, but word-doodling in this way helps me to focus on what is really important in the chapter. The current draft as it stands is about 60,000 words, although I expect I’ll bin quite a bit more now that I am getting down to the process of producing a final draft.
Although it might sound strange, this process of binning large sections of words is when the book really starts to come together, rather like breaking away a mould to reveal the shape within. One of the earliest lessons I learned as an author was the danger of overwriting – a 120,000 word draft of an early novel got only one response, telling me to “get rid of about 25% of the book, you take too long to make anything happen”. I got rid of 40,000 words, and had seven publishers ask to see the new draft. I have been a ruthless self-editor ever since.
Anyway, for the rest of this week I will concentrate on developing the structure of each chapter, filling in the necessary words to help link each section together.