A way with words Deborah Challinor
Deborah Challinor brings a degree of forward thinking to her writing day.
When I begin a new book, I do an XL spreadsheet and factor in start and delivery dates, holidays, other things I know are coming up, and a bit of non-writing contingency time. Then I know how many words I have to write per day or week to get the book done.
Usually, I’m at my desk by about 9am most weekdays. I check my emails, deal with the ones I can’t ignore, then start writing. I always leave myself a few prompts the day before so I don’t have to start cold. Also, I have a detailed outline from which to work. This can take a couple of months to develop if it’s for a three- or four-book series. I don’t edit as I go when I’m writing or I’d never get past the first page. I don’t even spellcheck until the end.
If someone knocks on the door, I ignore them. I also usually ignore my phone (depending on who’s calling). I find disruptions, well, disruptive. A good day of writing flies past, a bad day grinds on interminably but I’ll usually persevere, my posture deteriorating as I put my feet up on my desk and give myself occupational overuse syndrome by swivelling to look at my screens (one for Word, the other for the internet) and typing on an angle. Those days end with bad headaches. On a really hopeless day, I’ll give up, lie on the couch and watch trash on Sky.
I seldom have completely new ideas about action or dialogue when I’m writing. They turn up while I’m doing other things, such as having a shower, driving, shopping or trying to get to sleep. So I keep notebooks in my bag, in the car, at my bedside. But not in the shower. I’ve got a lot of full notebooks now. It’s as though the storymaking part of my brain needs to be slightly disconnected to allow it to be at its most productive. When I’m at my computer, I’m just fleshing out those new ideas. Still, I think about my current work in progress constantly. What are my characters really feeling? Are their motivations realistic? Is their dialogue crap? How will a scene play out? Will there be sounds? Smells? Would I want to read that scene in a novel? When the thinking stops, the writing stops, unfortunately. I also think about the next book a lot, and the one after that. I know what I’ll be writing for roughly the next 10 years. A snippet from a documentary, or a street name or even just two words from a reality TV programme can be spun into a whole novel. Here’s an example: funeral biscuits from The Great British Bake Off.
Of course, sometimes life gets in the way. Family and friends get sick, or they get into trouble, or they die. It can be difficult to write if I don’t have the mental or emotional energy, or the actual time. On the other hand, immersing myself in the lives of my characters is sometimes the most comforting place to be.
From the Ashes, by Deborah Challinor, is on sale from October 29 (HarperCollins, $36.99). Challinor’s previous works include the “Children of War”, “Smuggler’s Wife” and “Convict Girl” series, the period novels Fire and Union Belle and non-fiction works on New Zealand veterans of the Vietnam War.
I seldom have completely new ideas when writing. They turn up while I’m doing other things, such as having a shower.
Full notebooks: Deborah Challinor.