I was following Elizabeth Little’s #AuthorChat on twitter tonight and it got me thinking about the way that I write my novels. Elizabeth, like any sane person, types her first drafts and then edits in hardcopy. Totally logical. I’m therefore slightly concerned that I have completely the opposite approach, which bizarrely, until I read her posts, had never even struck me as being slightly crazy.
I tend to handwrite my first drafts, more or less in full, in a notepad. Well I say a notepad, however even with my tiniest writing, I can’t actually cram a full length novel into a single notepad. Because I also have a habit of thinking of extra dialogue or inserting new chapters into sections that I have already written, I end up inserting pages with lots of asterisks and highlighting to help me decipher it all later. This means that my notepad is usually full of loose pages, inserted in seemingly random places, all held together by a large elastic band.
Despite its rather dishevelled appearance, my notepad however is actually amazingly well organised. To everyone else it may look completely illegible and worn, but to me it makes complete sense. Well, apart from the odd word here or there that I can’t read when I come to type it up, I guess that’s the price I pay for scribbling in my notepad at 2am in torch light.
I have a rough chapter guide at the front of the book, in pencil so it can be amended. Frequently. Each new chapter is tagged and numbered with a sticky tab, which can be renumbered later when I change the order of the novel again. I have a list of character names, ages and relationships at the back of the book. To be honest that one’s a necessity, given I struggle to even remember the names of real people.
When I get chance, I periodically have a session at my computer and start typing it up, expanding it with new ideas or leaving out the parts that seemed to make sense at the time but are actually just bad. Then when the whole thing has been typed, I go back to the beginning and start reading, editing as I go.
As Elizabeth pointed out, surely this must make my hand ache. She’s right, it does, if I stick at it too long, although the length of time I can write for has increased since I started. The other thing to bear in mind is that I write whenever I have the opportunity, be it at my desk before work, sitting in the café, on the bus, in a waiting room, or even sitting on a bench outside a shopping centre before it opens. Some of these places aren’t so great for pulling out my heavy old laptop and typing, by the time it’s started up it would be time to pack up, so a little notebook and pen is just easier and quicker. So I guess my hand will simply have to muddle through, for now at least.