I've just started drafting my next book and there is one thing that I can't get away from - the coronavirus pandemic.
I have a book out in December which, as it is the fourth book in a series, is date sensitive and set in 2020.
I wrote Good Girl last year - and boy, have things changed since then. There were a few dated flashbacks to April 2020, June 2020 etc but I managed to amend those to 'five months ago', 'three months ago' etc so as not to change the story.
For my plot to work, everyone had to be out and about in 2020 and while I don't like changing history, it was the only thing I could do.
It's been a topic of conversation for writers and readers alike about addressing the pandemic in books moving forward. Some readers don't want to read about it at all. Some writers don't want to write about it. Some readers feel that a sentence or two about it 'in passing' would be fine. Some authors have skipped setting a book in 2020 altogether and have dated it 2019 or 2021.
Yet even now, as my next book will be set and published in 2021 there is no way of knowing what the world will look like. It's a very strange situation to be in. I'm not sure how I will address it yet - perhaps (hopefully) I'll be able to say we are coming out of the current situation, with a mention of how terrible it was.
Anyway... I thought I'd give you an insight of how I used to write back in 2012 and how I do things now. I've been clearing out lots of old blog posts and came across one written in 2012. I’ve added my thoughts to what is different in 2020:
How do I write? (2012)
I am a plotter. I start with an idea, a beginning, a middle and an end. I write biographies to get to know the main characters. I write a beginning, middle and end for all their stories. I put them all together into roughly twenty chapters.
Then, once I have my draft plan in place, I write straight onto my laptop. Those twenty chapters usually turn into between forty and fifty over the course of the first draft as I add in more plots and twists when they present themselves to me. There is nothing better than a new twist that develops just through writing that first draft.
How do I write? (2020)
I am still a plotter and I still start with an idea, a beginning, a middle and an end. However, I don’t write character biographies now. Instead, I tend to trust my intuition and let the characters reveal themselves while I’m writing about them. It can make for some great twists and turns.
If I’m writing women’s fiction, it will be two or three scenes a chapter, so that length above is indeed around forty chapters overall. But I tend to have at least forty rough chapter ideas for my novels now and I end up with double that number by the time I’ve finished – around eighty.
This I feel works better with my kind of novels. I’m still yet to find anything better than a new twist that develops through writing that first draft. I also tend to have numerous twists appear as I do three drafts now, rather than one long one.
"Why do I write? (2012)
I just have to. I’ve been writing in some form or other since I was a teenager. I’ve read every how-to book imaginable over the years – and in every kind of genre and discipline to try to find my voice. It wasn’t until 2004 that I started to take it seriously and, even now, I still learn something new with every draft I complete. I hope to never stop learning.
Why do I write? (2020)
Nothing has changed with this one!"
Where do I write? (2012)
Early mornings, I type on a laptop, usually sitting on the settee – I find it’s my most productive time so I enjoy a coffee or two while I’m at it. Later, I use my office. When I’m coming near to the end of a draft or a rewrite and I need it finishing or out of my head, in the evenings, I’m back to the laptop on the settee again, although sometimes it’s in the kitchen as I drive my husband mad by tippy-tapping next to him when I go into the zone.
Where do I write? (2020)
I’m still an early morning writer but I’ve moved mostly to my office now. I tend to either go through work from the day before while I have a cup of tea, refreshing my memory with what is next to do, or else I’ll be reading a business book, or watching a YouTube video for something I need to learn. Then I get on my spinning bike for 40 mins to save myself from writer's bum and back ache...
After breakfast, that’s when I sit down, switch everything off and hone in for a few hours of writing or editing. Nowadays, I tend to work on my writing during the days only. I try to switch off in the evenings, just like I did when I worked full-time for someone else. It gives me a breather and is much better for my sanity – although I do still find myself on the kitchen table every now and then.
Writing now and then - what's changed from 2012 to 2012?
When do I write? (2012)
Unless I am in ‘finish first draft or re-write mode’ where I have been known to write 46k words in 18 days when I have a full day to write (the other 46k took me a lot longer!), I find I do everything but write. It seems it’s the same for most writers – we all talk about procrastination.
So I write for long periods and quickly. It works for me but it might not work for everyone. When I start a book, it’s like pulling teeth but the more I write, the longer the writing sessions become.
When I was working full-time, I’d start off with a target of 3,500 words a week, 500 words per day (often I didn’t do any writing at first so that weekly target would build up and up and UP).
Then as I grew more confident, I’d move to 1000 words per day, then 1500 and so on. I mark my completed word total on a wall calendar for encouragement. Once the draft takes off, I find it hard to stop. But the first 100 pages for me are the killer. Can I really do it again?
When do I write? (2020)
I have a totally different way of writing the first draft now, so my aim is to get 50,000 words down in one month, writing the whole story quickly and then going back to fill in the gaps on the second draft. But there is a lot of planning done before this moment now.
I usually aim for 2000 words a day. I can write those words in a morning, so I catch up on other things in the afternoons. It’s no longer like pulling teeth all the time because I am more disciplined and set myself targets that I mostly adhere to.
When I start the second and consecutive drafts, or if I'm working on structural edits, that’s when I go to ground as I find I can only concentrate on one project at a time when I have my head full of the story. I also tend to look at drafts over a smaller timescale and layer with each consecutive draft – plot, description, emotion etc.
I still mark my completed word total on a wall calendar for encouragement. And that ‘can I really do it again’ question from 2012 is often ‘do I really have to do it all again?’ once I’ve finished and know I have another book to start.