Today we are taking a look at crime writer Sinead Crowley’s first draft process and not only are we talking about her process, but there is a bonus at the end, so make sure you keep reading!
Sinéad is Arts and Media Correspondent with RTE News in Ireland, working for TV, radio and the web. She wrote her first novel, ‘Can Anybody Help Me’ while she was on maternity leave with her first child. The book, a psychological thriller set on an internet parenting forum was a bestseller in Ireland and shortlisted for the Crime Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2014. A second novel, ‘Are You Watching Me’, which will also feature Sgt Claire Boyle is due out in late 2015.
Sinéad lives in Dublin with her husband and two young sons.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Open a document on my lap top and call it something meaningful, like Rebecca Q and A or (gulp) Book 3
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Well, I’ve just started (gulp) Book 3 so I suppose I do have a routine now! Basically the story has to be running around in my head for months, if not years, beforehand. I do a lot of thinking in the car and in bed at night. I tend to scribble every idea in a notebook or, increasingly in the ‘notes’ section of my iPhone and afterwards I transfer them all to a Microsoft Word file.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Both. Early notes are written on paper but I transfer straight to keyboard afterwards and all of the actual writing is done on my laptop.
How important is research to you?
My first book required very little research as it was set in a world I already knew – internet parenting forums. But I still had some technical and procedural questions, mostly relating to the police investigation. Luckily as a journalist I have a good contacts book so I was able to find the right people to answer those questions! My second book is fairly similar, but my third, which I’m in the very early stages of writing has some sections set in the 70s and 80s so I’m doing historical research for the first time and enjoying it hugely.
How do you go about researching?
I love research – well I’m a journalist by day so it’s a central part of my life. I use everything, libraries, internet, personal contacts. For my next book I’m reading some biographies which are fascinating.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I don’t tend to use images when I’m writing so everything is in the trusty notebook or written straight to screen. Note to self – must save more frequently
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I actually don’t do a first draft as such. I tend to write chapter by chapter and then rework and rework. That takes a long time but it means that by the time I’ve written ‘The End’ I have a fairly workable draft, rather than a ‘bare bones’ type first draft.
My method of writing is to ‘throw’ ideas down onto a page in a very rough way, for example if the chapter involves a meeting in a coffee shop I’ll type around 700 words in one quick burst. Some of this will be dialogue, or actual text, more of it will be ideas, for example a note to myself saying ‘she needs to talk about x here’. And then when the bones of it is down I’ll go back and rewrite and rewrite. Every day I like to do some ‘new writing’ and some ‘rewriting’ to keep the story fresh. And I always end with a burst of ‘new writing’ so I have something to edit the next day and I’m not coming cold to a blank page.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Not really. I have a full time job and two children – two more full time jobs! – so I don’t have the luxury of a set time or even a set place for writing. So I can write anywhere, in my car, in a cafe, at the kitchen table after the lads are in bed. So no real ritual, although I do like a large skinny vanilla latte to be at my side if writing during the day time, and a cup of herbal tea at night.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Probably because of the way I work, it does exist, yes. For example if I’m writing after the kids are in bed I might be keeping an ear out for them. But I write in furious 10 minute bursts and then stop and take short breaks. So I guess I’m lost for that ten minutes and then back again. It is a fractured way of working that developed through necessity and now I can’t seem to do anything else!
What does your workspace look like?
Have laptop will travel! I write anywhere although my favourite places are coffee shops, my local library and the kitchen table.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
Edit as I go. In a session I like to spend 50% of my time writing new material and 50% reworking yesterdays’ work.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or another method of keeping track of progression?
Bog standard Microsoft word count. And yes, I do keep a close eye!
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
The first book took more than 5 years from initial idea to finished product. The second, which is currently with my editor, took a year, but some of it existed in a previous unpublished version so that brought around 30k words to the table. The third one I’ve just started from scratch and it’s due in summer 2016. So that would be the deadline, then!
In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?
What happens now that first draft is done?
Because of the way I work there isn’t really a first draft – by the time I write ‘The End’ I’ve already done several rewrites.
I like Stephen King’s advice to put the book away and not to look at it for a while, but that can be hard when you are working to a deadline. But ideally I’d let it lie completely fallow for a month and then take another look. But it’s always in my head and I’ll often get an idea for a change while working on something else entirely. So out comes the notebook again!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Can Anybody Help Me?
Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.
When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?
But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?
So who wants to get their hands on a copy of this in paperback along with a limited edition bookmark? Just leave a comment below or share the post on Twitter or Facebook and you will be in a draw to win both!
You can find all previous First Draft authors HERE.
Contact me if you wish to do the Q&A.