Writing

Whether handwritten or typed, the key is to produce the words.

On most occasions, I write my first draft quickly with little idea of where it’s going. In my opinion, the important thing is to get the words hitting the page (or screen). Procrastination is for the hesitant!

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My method

* I write the first chapter without hesitation to get the story underway.
* I aim to have a ‘hook’ to capture reader interest within the first three paragraphs.
* By the end of the first chapter I have inserted another hook, in the form of a mystery.
* Each individual or minor mystery will not be resolved for at least two chapters.
* I have a friend and fellow writer who has been invaluable to me since the earliest stages of my first novel. I go no further than the first chapter until she has read and given me a critique of the story idea and the first chapter.
* As each chapter is completed in the first draft, it is sent off for dissection by my distant friend.

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* At one time, I used a separate file for each chapter but in more recent years I’ve amended my method to maintain the entire manuscript in one file. I also have ‘Word Count’ active on my Mac as I write.

* In my early work, I used dates/locations throughout my manuscripts as a personal guide to keep my story faithful to the timeline. I liked the idea when reading and I had positive feedback in reviews so it’s become part of my style.

* In each succeeding chapter I aim to insert a fresh hook or mystery, and in each case, I keep that particular mystery unresolved for at least a couple of chapters.

* Some of the minor mysteries will be maintained and possible resolutions will be dangled in the storyline, but the true revelation might not come too close to the end of the story.

* I try not to introduce too many characters too soon.

* I drip feed information about characters, including their description. I don’t give everything at once because an ‘info-dump’ stands out and reads badly.

* Once the story has been completely written, I leave it aside for at least a week, but usually a month. This depends on what my other Work in Progress might be.

* If an idea comes to mind, I make notes in my current notebook but don’t go near the story.

* I may come up with a new character, or a fresh twist for the plot, or a scene. I note it in my notebook – hence, the reason they are called ‘note’ books.

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I only worry about punctuation and grammar detail when I’ve reached the stage where the manuscript sounds good to me. I’ve used punctuation throughout as I write, but there may be a few too many commas or perhaps too many exclamation marks.
My primary tool for dealing with punctuation and grammar is a programme called Grammarly. It is good, but having said that, it has some minor issues which I’ll mention shortly.

Due to the time it takes to scan a document and report what it believes to be issues, I  submit the individual chapters for checking with Grammarly – I don’t attempt to do too much in one check. Apart from anything else, the programme would not accept a full manuscript.

How do I avoid issues?

Before using Grammarly to check a manuscript (chapter by chapter), I make a ‘safe copy’ of my manuscript and add on ‘safe copy’ to the file name. In this way, if I should accidentally delete a whole chapter at some stage, I have a back-up.

I don’t always use the automatic amendment option. I physically delete the offending text or punctuation and replace it with the suggestion, but only on occasion.

There are times when I could end up with the same word being used four times in a short passage, so my original word choice is made with variety in mind.
I save the document after each individual chapter is checked and replaced back in the document.

When I’ve used Grammarly throughout the manuscript I save the file, make a ‘safe copy’ and delete the previous safe copy. I have a coffee and set the next date when I’ll have a full day to spend with a printed version to read aloud – with the dreaded red pen in hand.

– If a word choice is questioned and an alternative is suggested, the Grammarly programme might occasionally leave the original word and add the alternative.
– If a punctuation symbol is questioned, the programme may do as above and add the suggestion, but not remove the original.
– The programme will on occasion suggest that certain word order is not correct for non-fiction. I tend to ignore those items because I don’t write non-fiction. Grammarly has been updated and you can choose fiction/non-fiction document checking. You must also remember to check you have the correct language in the settings … English: British, English: US/Canada, etc.

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* When the time has arrived, according to my diary/planner, I ensure I have no distractions and set about checking/reading my full manuscript.

Editing and cross-checking dates and personal details in - Amsterdam Calling
Editing and cross-checking dates and personal details in – Amsterdam Calling

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* I’ve come to realise that the opening paragraph in Chapter 1 is generally the first casualty of the first full edit. It will either be amended or exchanged with a different scene.
* Only when my amendments are made throughout (with a red pen), will I read through and see where things can be amended further, like dialogue changes, scene changes, character changes and so on.
* I may add a little detail to some scenes at this stage as ideas come to mind.
* The manuscript is put aside again for at least a month, or longer if possible.

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* It’s only after I’ve read the entire story a couple of times that I think seriously about a graphic portrayal – for the front cover.

* I list several scenes that sound good to me and then I write an email to my only professional support – my book cover designer.

*I send her the jacket blurb, my idea for a strap-line, and a list of scenes written in brief to give her a starting point.

* From that point onwards we’ll exchange emails and she’ll send me several choices each time of what would be the main background. When I see the background that touches the parts that the others didn’t touch – I give the go-ahead.

* The next session of emails are how she foresees the title, strap-line and author name set over the background, usually with some neat, but subtle visual effects.

**Update on 28th March 2021.

With effect from January 2021, I have been producing my own cover solutions, but I’ve left the detail above because it would still be a useful guide for the novice, and for those who don’t have two suitable programmes (as I do), to create covers.

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* When the manuscript is brought out each time from the fourth draft onwards, I amend and develop the story and detail.
* I print the manuscript (in double-spacing) with my printer set to ‘draft’ quality, which uses approximately half the quantity of ink used for ‘normal’ quality. I also use dark green or purple for the text. Why? Green is made up of yellow/cyan/black. Purple is made up of magenta/cyan/black. Either way it helps make ink stock go further.
* I ensure there are no distractions: music, TV, other people, etc.
* I have a red pen handy and commence reading through the manuscript again; aloud.
* I make brief notes and amendments directly onto the page where needed in red.
* On a separate sheet of A4 paper I make notes of dates and occurrences as I go through each chapter, to make sure that the dates, times, scenes all correspond.
* When completed, I go to the main manuscript and edit the file on screen from my notes.
* The manuscript is saved and then left alone again for about a month. At this time, I also ‘update’ what I refer to as a ‘safe copy’.

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Each fresh draft is best done with a decent time period since the previous one. If I concentrate too hard on doing one edit after another, I know I’ll get into the story and miss something vital, or an area that could be improved.
Writing a story is easy. Editing and taking out large or small chunks of previous effort is hard.
If I come across a scene I’ve become attached to, but it doesn’t work in the story – I place it in my ‘ideas’ file and use it for some other project, like in a short story perhaps. This has been extremely helpful with my short story ideas.

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However many drafts a story might take, from the fourth draft onwards I follow my system of amending, developing, and checking detail – then I print the manuscript and read aloud with red pen in hand.

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After each draft, if I make a number of amendments in any given chapter I copy and paste that chapter into a fresh document so that I can give Grammarly a look at my work again. I always keep in mind that my amendments may have affected the overall section.
I deal with the section I’ve ‘removed’. I then delete that section from the main document and insert the refreshed and checked version.

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Thick-skinned or open-minded?

Since early 2016, I ask for other authors to beta read for me. We have many in the IASD group on Facebook who are not only willing to read and give a critique – they will offer suggestions on anything they don’t think works.

I perform beta reads whenever I can and, it’s a service that pays dividends to the reader and the author.

When the story has been written, amended many, many times, checked on Grammarly, had sufficient beta reads – it can then be formatted ready for publication.

When the entire manuscript is completed and formatted – I copy it to a separate drive for safe-keeping. I rename the original manuscript ‘My New Story – master’ and I add the date. Why? In this way, I know which one is intended for publication, or later for amendment. The copy which I keep somewhere else is for emergencies. I locate and delete the one I previously made (and dated) called ‘safe copy’ because it’s no longer relevant.

Do I publish next?

No. My final ‘proofread’ is done as it would be seen by a customer. I send my complete, formatted manuscript to my Kindle and download it to read on the screen it was intended for. If I find any issues I bookmark the screen, make a note on paper regarding the word/issue, and I continue reading. When I’ve finished reading, I perform my final edits and the book is ready for publication.

Away back when the whole idea kicked off I set an arbitrary date for publication. So far with my books, I’ve managed to get closer each time. For me, it’s not a race to publish – it’s an aiming mark for producing my best work.

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3 thoughts on “Writing

  1. mandy

    I really enjoy reading about others’ writing process, Tom. Yours is extremely detailed. I know I have a process, but it doesn’t feel organized like yours. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your writing process Tom. I use a similar process with two exceptions: I don’t create separate files for each chapter, and I like to have a cover made before I start writing. That first cover might not end up on the book, but it does motivate and inspire me. Great tip on naming the final version; I think we’ve all had issues finding that ‘last’ version.

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    1. Hi Robert. Yes, the cover last theory has actually turned out hit and miss for me over the past couple of years. I do tend to use the cover for one of the scenes in the book and on one particular occasion, Beyond The Law: Consequences, the cover prompted new passages in at least three or four chapters. 🙂 As I recall, it was you who suggested ‘Consequences’ for the sub-title on that one, so thanks again. 🙂

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