Today is the day that I start my new book. I’ve worked up to it for the last few weeks like a marathon runner limbering up for a big race. I know some writers (like Tolkien) take years and years to write a book but as I suffer from ADHD (true story) my concentration and focus won’t allow me to do that. I would lose my train of thought and all direction and end up with a patchwork quilt of thirty books that just go round and round in circles with strange squirrels appearing out of no-where in tutus singing opera because I’d get so bored and need to entertain myself and then I’d probably decide that the squirrel thread would make a good feature film and I’d embark on a screenplay, possibly scribbled in the back of my most recent journal and then I’d lose that journal and start another one and find a poetry competition and decide quite foolhardily to become a poet. You get my drift. I get distracted and bored very easily and THIS is not necessarily a good trait for a writer to have, particularly a novelist, because a book requires you to sit still, in solitude and write about eighty freaking thousand words….in order….that make sense and work to keep a reader glued to the page without getting distracted and running off to chase burlesque squirrels until the very LAST page after those magical words THE END get written.
I can bang out a short story in an hour. That’s like a cracker and cheese to me. A blog…that’s more like popping a grape into my mouth BUT A BOOK….a book is a banquet of words that requires a hunger, a gnawing aching hunger, for THAT particular meal and it will require menu planning for the entree, the main and the delicious dessert. One will need to make a list, check it twice and then go hunting for all the ingredients and for a really good feast you’ll need to seek out some impossibly exotic tit-bits that make your meal unique and so you may have to seek out unpronounceable spices from hidden alleyways. Then you’ll have to prep and cook and make sure you get it all right, so that the damn thing rises when it should, marinates all the way through to the marrow and has just the right, heady blend of flavours when it hits the plate, so that it will entice people to gorge themselves on your story. Not just nibble but gorge! At about two dollars a book…writers need readers who are ravenous and bring all their mates to the table!
For someone who finds boiling an egg unthinkably tedious, this culinary/literary ordeal is a challenge for me and so I have evolved and adapted my process around my diagnosis so that we’re all happy. Books get written and I stay pepped up and focused and don’t run off with the squirrels (except for Saturday night which is designated squirrel night). And I do this how, you might ask? I do this at break-neck speed and all else evaporates from my life. I tumble down the rabbit hole of my book…..
I am a very lucky writer. I have the luxury and leisure of being able to write full-time. I have no other day job (other than being a wife and mother which is not to say that that doesn’t pose all sorts of challenges as well!) The advice most commonly given to budding writers is ‘to marry well’. That doesn’t mean you have to marry someone rich as much as it means you NEED to marry A SAINT! Writers, by and large, are an intolerable breed. We are emotionally needy and insecure and tortured with story-lines and characters that leak out from our heads into our lives and this can sometimes be disconcerting to those around us who can’t see KATHERINE AT THE END OF THE BED GIVING ME INFORMATION ABOUT HER CHILDHOOD IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY SCOTLAND AT THREE IN THE MORNING …CAN’T YOU SEE HER…SHE’S RIGHT THERE!!!!! That one freaked my husband out for days. But I am lucky, as I said, because I did marry a Saint. He’s not perfect, mind, he is a bit gassy and dances like an emu and inserts the words gloopy schmook schmook into the lyrics of every song and he plays WAY too much Forza but….he’s a keeper. He lets me write… and that means he puts up with the screaming lunacy, the complete gulf between me and reality and the fact that I make NO money. Writing is a thankless job. It is even less thankless (or should that be more thankless?) than parenting or wife-ing. Oh, sometimes you’ll hear something nice from a reader, get a nice review or an email, but the neurotic writer’s voice inside your head will tell you that they are just being polite and actually didn’t even finish your book and just feel sorry for you. Being a writer is a bit like sitting day in day out looking at a mirror, finding flaws while singing NOBODY LOVES ME EVERYBODY HATES ME I THINK I’LL GO AND EAT SOME WORMS. I think that’s what being a writer is like….or perhaps that’s just me….eeek….
Back to my process…I did tell you I get distracted and go off on tangents….
I write fast. I have to. I open a file …type the title (I always have the title first and work my way out from there)….and then it’s a race between my typing fingers and my ADHD. Who will win? It’s very exciting early on because I never know how it’s going to go. The thee hundred and eighty-seven unfinished manuscripts clogging up my Documents Folder in my laptop are testament to that. They are the ones that got outrun. They sit waiting for me to accidentally chase a squirrel past them one day and stop and go AHA I REMEMBER YOU. And then I’ll forget the squirrel and start up from where I left off and see how the replay race plays out.
When I say I write fast, I do not lie. I wrote my last completed manuscript in ten days. I do little else in those days other than write and I type at a speed of about a hundred and twenty words a minute and I tend to sleep in brief bursts, waking up to hammer at the keyboard again. I start with a seed. A simple seed. I don’t necessarily know what sort of seed it is. It will be an idea and a title. That’s all. I’m like Mr Squiggle. He was a television puppet in the seventies for those of you who are under a hundred years old. His nose was a giant marker pen ( I know right…the seventies was like a festival of acid) and he would go to work in front of a piece of paper that someone had drawn a squiggle on and he would have to turn the squiggle into a drawing, upside down, and then ‘voila’ the pretty t.v presenter/hostess would turn it over and there would be a great drawing for the kids in the audience, most often a spaceship or a tree-house. So, yes, I start with a title and a premise. Little more than a squiggle.
So today I have my title and my premise. It’s not much to go on but I feel the swell of a wave under me and know that it’s a big one and I’m ready to ride it. That’s one analogy for the process of writing. Waves. Ocean. Swell. As for the story-line….that’s more like a regular seed. I bury it in the soil of my mind and the keyboard and coffee are the sunshine and water and we’ll wait to see what grows. Might be an oak tree or a fern or a patch of parsley or a weed. I don’t know. It’s a mystery. But I’m excited. That’s all I’m saying. Exuberant, squirrel-chasing loony writer over and out….stay tuned for the progress reports.