Today I’m pleased to welcome another Nottingham author, Megan Taylor, who joins us to discuss her first draft process.
Megan Taylor’s first novel, ‘How We Were Lost’, a dark coming-of-age story, was published by Flame Books in 2007 after placing second in the 2006 Yeovil Prize. She wrote her second, ‘The Dawning’, while studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. ‘The Dawning’, a domestic thriller set over the course of a single night, was published by Weathervane Press in 2010. Megan’s third novel, ‘The Lives of Ghosts'(also Weathervane, 2012), plays with ideas of inheritance and motherhood, and the haunting power of memories that refuse to be suppressed. Her first short story collection, ‘The Woman Under the Ground’, beautifully illustrated by Nikki Pinder, was released in 2014.
Megan currently lives in Nottingham, with her two children and is (of course) working on her next book.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Whatever stage of a manuscript I’m at, I try to write most mornings, the earlier the better. At the start of a story or novel, I’ll do a lot of freewriting, playing with characters and scenes and images. Trying to find the right point of view and tone are essential from the beginning. When I’m thinking things through, a long walk often helps.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Always pen and paper first.
How important is research to you?
It depends on the story, but I think nearly all of them have at the very least some kind of fact-checking involved. Having said that, I don’t like to feel restricted by research – it’s the writing that comes first, particularly climbing inside characters’ heads, so some things I find out as I go along, others I’ll explore when rewriting.
How do you go about researching?
Of course there’s the internet, but it can also include reading old news articles or books related to the subject (sometimes quite tenuously) or personal testimonies. It might involve visiting and revisiting certain places or searching for pictures.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
On my laptop and in real life. By the end of a novel, I’m usually overflowing with pictures and notes. I pretend this is to do with writing being an organic thing for me, but actually I’m not very organised and quite messy.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Page by page… When I’m freewriting, I can do whatever I want, skipping about between heads and scenes, but when I’m typing up I always work chronologically. I have a ‘rolling’ synopsis so I know roughly what will happen a few chapters ahead, but it’s very flexible, changing as often as the characters and events demand. Although I’ll have an end in sight right from the start, I never write it down, not even in note-form. It’s partly because I don’t want to run out of enthusiasm or have the story set in stone, and partly some kind of weirdo superstition.
I must have candlelight and a crystal ball and be completely naked apart from my trilby.
A pen that’s not about to run out and a pretty notebook will do (like a lot of writers, I have a bit of a thing about pretty notebooks). I do like quiet too; I’m not someone who can listen to music while I write.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Mostly, the sense of disappearing comes. That’s what, I think, I write for the most.
What does your work space look like?
My bed, my sofa, my table, sometimes park benches, sometimes trains or buses.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
A bit of both. It’s always a balance with a first draft, some tweaking and revising can’t help but happen along the way, but I don’t want to get caught up in too many details if I can help it, and so there’s also a head-down-and-keep-going element. It’s inevitable that I’ll come back (and back and back and back) and some problems are easier to solve with a little time and distance.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I used to count words obsessively. Now I only do it sneakily, because I don’t think a story’s progress can be judged correctly that way – after all, taking out words is writing too.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
That all depends on what I’m writing. I’ve had short stories that have rushed out in a single night, others that have taken two months for a first draft. With my novels (so far), it’s roughly taken between nine months and a year to complete the first draft, and then about the same time again for rewriting.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
Although I do use my laptop and kindle for editing, a hard copy is essential for that initial read-through.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I put it away. I try not to look at it, or even think about it for as long as I can. At least a month, although longer is probably better. The hope is that when I return I’ll be able to see the writing more clearly. And there’s the pleasure of perhaps writing something totally different in-between.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
The Woman Under The Ground
Powerful and beautifully observed, ‘The Woman Under the Ground’ is novelist Megan Taylor’s first collection of short stories. The writing is brooding and mysterious with finely drawn characters, so often the victims of absence and loss: a child taken to a neglected museum by her forsaken father; a woman revisiting the scene of an ended affair; a couple taking a road trip to try to reconcile the death of their daughter…
From dark adult secrets to night visitors to the dangerous passions of small girls, these stories explore fractured relationships and moments of self revelation with an uncanny honesty and insight.