Sunday, 12 January 2014

My week in writing

The arrival of 2014 saw me full of eagerness to get on and finish the first draft of my next Jefferson Tayte mystery, having spent several weeks working with Amazon Publishing on the re-release of my books with Thomas & Mercer in March. I'm pleased to say that the content, blurbs and covers have all now been finalised, and the audiobooks have all been recorded, so everything's set. On then to write the 30,000 words remaining from the 100,000 I've been aiming for since I began writing book four in May last year.

As I've said previously, I'm not a great believer in writer's block as some kind of barrier to creative flow that simply abandons us one day to return at the whim of the writer's muse. For me at least, I came to see it as a lack of preparation, plain and simple. If you know what you're going to write before you actually start writing, I think there's a very good chance that you'll write well and progress the story. It's those times when you sit down to write and then find yourself thinking, 'Okay... So where is this going next?' that you're in trouble, and there I was last week, staring at that very question.  Fortunately, I quickly realised that I was having trouble getting going because I didn't have the plot details worked out enough to continue, so I didn't stare at that blank page for very long. 

Last week then was not spent writing as I'd hoped, but with detail plotting. I decided it would be best to work through the details to the end of the book, so that when I sat down to write again, I could keep going without pausing too much to think about what happens next, setting all the locations and the key points of action and dialogue that would see the first draft finished. There's going to be a past narrative again in my next book, much as with To the Grave, so I've worked our all the sections with Jefferson Tayte that fall between the past narrative sections, which are often tricky to get right, because the present-day action must be pertinent to what's happening in the past for the connection between Tayte and the past story he's uncovering to feel natural, and the timing is also crucial. I've been through many 'chicken and egg' scenarios because often something I've wanted to happen in the present couldn't happen at that moment in the story because it would spoil something in the past story. This can be a good thing though, because it forces me to focus on the timing of information, which often leads to the intrigue that keeps the pages turning.

A week on and I'm almost there. I'm at the denouement now, just working out the last bits of detail and bringing all the threads together, which is proving quite a challenge in itself. Yesterday was a tough day as I realised I had a very major plot issue that I just couldn't find a solution to. But as I'm pulling out what little hair I have left, Mrs R gently reminds reminds me that this is nothing new, and I think back over the other books and remind myself that yes, it's always like this towards the end of a book: a sense of panic and then elation as the answer comes to me. Sometimes it feels as if I've been presented with a thousand ladders, knowing that the answer I'm looking for is at the top of just one of them, and I have to climb each to find out, getting so far before falling each time and starting over. And then suddenly I've started on a ladder that allows me to keep going right to the top and I'm there!

It can be very nerve-wracking to get to the end of a story and realise something major just doesn't work, but this is how I write.  When I start a new book, I write a high level plot and then I work through the key elements to make sure that what I'm proposing to do is feasible. Then I detail plot a section - about a quarter of the story at a time - write that and then detail plot the next quarter, and so on. I don't like to detail plot all in one go because stories have a way of changing as you write them and I like to leave some room for that to happen. 

So, I'm going to be climbing a few more ladders today, and then writing up some more plot details ready to start writing again on Monday, confident that when I sit down at my laptop with my mug of tea this time around, I'll be able to write, write and write some more until the first draft is finished.

I'll keep you posted. :o)


  1. Fascinating stuff Steve! It's so great what you have achieved and the re-releases with Amazon are going to signify even more wonderful times ahead for you!

    I was really interested in your views on writer's block etc - it seems we come from entirely different angles! With my current work in progress, I am almost 14,000 words in and all I know about the rest is the final line. I sit down each time to write with really no idea of what is going to happen - yet each time the words begin to flow. There are times where I might stare smiling at my screen for an hour and then write one line. That for me doesn't constitute writer's block, more a case of writing what was required at that particularly time. There are other sessions when I'll write drunkenly for an hour and produce a couple of thousand words. For me, both types of sessions are wonderful and necessary. It's a great game we're in mate, it truly is!

  2. Hi Stu! Yes there are as many ways to write a book as there are books to read! This is just what I've come to realise is the cause of my inability to write at times, and I'm sure it's true for many writers. After all, if we all knew what we were going to write when we sat down to the task, why would should any kind of block exist? I wrote in the Blood much as you describe the way you write, and it was a lot of fun at the time, but perhaps because of the style of my books, often with dual timelines, and the many threads that all have to be brought together at the end, I came to find that I get fewer block days and headaches in general if I plan ahead. It's when I forget to do that that I run into the blank page! Next time around I might try writing the entire book in rough note form, work out all the issues, and then write it, knowing it works and that I have all the notes there ready when for when I need them. I think it would take some discipline though. I'm sure I've read somewhere that that's more or less how Frederick Forsyth produces his books: loves the research and the plotting, but not so much the actual writing part. I'm more the other way around and don't feel productive enough when I'm not actually increasing the word count.

  3. Can't wait for the release of Book 4, who is doing the Reading for your Audio Books and I hope they will be available at Audible. Any hints on what the future holds for dear old Jefferson he's a great Character.
    Cheers from Jacki

  4. Hi Jacki, yes the audiobook editions will be available from Audible. They've been recorded by Simon Vance, an ex-Radio 4 presenter who has won many awards and has recorded books such Bring up the Bodies and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I'm in great company.

    Any hints on what the future holds for JT? Well now, where's the suspense in telling you that. ;o)

    I will of course let you have some information about book four just as soon as I'm able to. Amazon should be showing a pre-order product page for it with a release date on March 18 to coincide with the Thomas & Mercer releases of my existing books.

  5. I am delighted to have found your books. I am pre-ordering book four as soon as I am done posting.

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you're enjoying the series. :o) Pre-order isn't available for book 4 just yet, but I'll be sure to let you know when it is.