Friday, 2 May 2014

How do writers write?

I've just started a new novel. It's exciting for me because I've not started a new novel for a while. I love setting off on a voyage of discovery with the characters. I have a vague idea of the theme of the book and a vague idea who the characters are but, for me, the process of writing fiction is very similar to the process of reading it. I write in order to work out what will happen, in the same way that anyone who knows me will confirm that I talk in order to work out what I think. Which doesn't always go down well with some people!

This morning I dropped my six year old at school and the tables were already set out with today's story-writing task. The school employs Pie Corbett's WALT system which, when I read about it, sounds like a really effective way to get children writing, but I couldn't help feeling faintly depressed when I saw the grid of writing prompts. What is your setting? Who are your characters? What will happen? If I saw that, I would immediately have writers' block. I didn't know where the male protagonist of my book lived until I described his garden. I didn't know where the female character worked until she walked through the door of the library that, it turns out, she manages. If I had to know everything about what's going to happen in my story, I wouldn't get off the starting blocks.

Lots of writers I know do plot their novels carefully and maybe it works for them but the joy for me is setting out with an unknown destination. And maybe six year olds need a bit of structure for their writing sometimes. But when I watch my daughter with a pile of cardboard and scissors, glitter and glue, she doesn't have any idea what she's making and she's utterly enthralled by the process of creative discovery. Writing doesn't have to be any different. All you need is the material of words, the glue of grammar and the glitter of imagination. It would be nice to see a bit more of that in schools.


  1. Writing picture stories was always fun at school but a bit more freedom for them would be great.
    Personally I've tried plotting and it never really worked: I like to dive in. The only problem with not having the plot is that it's a lot like swimming with your eyes closed and with your feet groping for the bottom. You know that you'll feel your feet touch a solid surface eventually, but until then you can feel like you're one slip away from downing for a long time. I think Steven King says that he thinks of it as digging up a magnificent fossil, but with that you have to have the assurance that there is actually something underneath! With me and swimming through writing, I'm never quite sure if there's a bottom to the water that I can reach. I guess that's all part of the adventure :)