After reading and reviewing In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings earlier in the week, I’m thrilled to introduce her on the blog talking about her first draft process.
Amanda writes psychological fiction. Her first book, Sworn Secret, was a bestseller in the UK, US and Italy, and her second, The Judas Scar, was optioned by a production company shortly after release. She used to work at the BBC, but now writes full-time and looks after her three daughters and menagerie of pets. She writes a blog and is a regular guest presenter on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club. She is a judge for the Henley Youth Festival creative writing competition and is involved with the Womentoring Project, which offers free mentoring by professional literary women to talented up and coming female writers. When not writing or walking the dog, she can usually be found loitering on Twitter or making another cup of tea…
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Walk the dog. There’s something very calming about walking, and I find, when I’m out in the fresh air, pacing, alone (and crucially with my phone switched off to prevent me checking Twitter…), that my subconscious is willing to work with me to develop those first ideas, and allow me to work out if the idea has legs. Hand in hand with this goes notebooks. As soon as I have a new idea I buy a brand new notebook. I write the title boldly on the first page, underline it so I know I mean business, and then jot down anything and everything that comes to mind from key scenes, character profiles and plot ideas.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
My dog walks are fairly routine and happen as soon as I’ve dropped my girls at the school bus. This means that as soon as I get home, have tidied up after breakfast and made a cup of tea, I’m ready to sit down for a few hours. When I’m writing a first draft I am quite focused (during the editing stage I become as distractible as small child, and have to force myself to turn off the internet and work) and I will usually sit down from around ten until about two. And then do another two hours between seven and nine. I’ll work most of the weekend. With three children this isn’t always easy, but my husband is great, and now the children are older they are more able to let me write without needing to talk to me every five minutes!
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
I am very reliant on notebooks. So for a good few months I will use pen and paper. My first draft is then straight to keyboard. Then edits are done on a printed hardcopy with a pen, asterisks, arrows, scribbled notes, doodles, inserts and more. To the casual observer it must resemble the work of a madwoman. But there’s method in the chaos somewhere.
How important is research to you?
During the writing of the first draft not important at all. It is vital to get the first draft down. Without it I have no book to work on. Researching everything at this stage would interrupt the flow of my story and I would find myself procrastinating. Instead, I write *CHECK THIS* or something similar by anything that will need researching. However, having a factually accurate book, and having situations that are believable are very important to me, so as soon as the first draft is written it’s time to research. I rewrite my manuscripts many times, so I don’t worry about having to get something perfect first time round. I often find that working out a solution to a problem offers a new angle on the story, and this is exciting. I actually relish a good plot hole as I enjoy thinking my way out of it. If no solution becomes apparent, the story can always be changed to accommodate the issue.
How do you go about researching?
Newspapers, the opinions of friends, occasionally I’ll put questions out on social media. #AskTwitter is a great hashtag! Experts are brilliant and most people are very happy to help. For my most recent book I spoke to a psychotherapist, a police officer, somebody who works at the British Library, a doctor and a solicitor. And, of course, there’s Google. I think the glory of the modern age is that we have so much at our fingertips. The internet is an invaluable resource for writers and it’s right at our fingertips without having to move.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
Everything goes into notebooks, including exchanges I observe when out and about. They might not relate to the book I’m writing, but I love having a record of them. Vignettes from real life are pure gifts. I also have a Pinterest board for images for each book and if I see something inspiring on the internet, I’ll pin it.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I have a few key scenes, very vivid scenes that act as markers, allowing me to write from one to the next. I have a vague idea of where the story is going, but not a rigid structure. For me, all the careful plotting, the highlighting of themes, the development of characters, this all happens in the rewrites.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
As I mentioned earlier, buying a new notebook is a ritual. I also buy one of those disposable ink pens from Paperchase with a pretty colour ink. I think this is a hangover from my teens when I liked writing rainbow-coloured revision notes! While I write, my dog lies at my feet, my cat sits beside the keyboard and I have about six cup of tea a day. I’m terribly untidy, so the cups collect. I have been known to have approaching twenty on the desk…
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
If I can get to that place then I have had a really good day. There is nothing better than sitting down to write, becoming immersed, then looking up and realising two hours have passed. But it’s just as likely, more so even, for it to feel like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone. But that mad, lost frenzy of writing? That’s the dream. That’s when being a writer is the very best thing in the world.
What does your workspace look like?
If I could see it beneath the papers, tea cups, pets, chocolate wrappers, plates, cereal bowls, notebooks and assorted unrelated paraphernalia, I could tell you…
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
Keep getting words out! Editing as I go would be the kiss of death. I’d never finish a thing.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I set myself a daily target when I’m writing a first draft. 1500 is a pretty achievable one and some days I might write more. I just keep count using the number counter at the bottom of my Pages document. Very un-technological, I’m afraid.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
It took about three months and it has chapter headings, paragraphs, and looks like a book, but this is very much a working draft.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
Paper. I always print out a copy of the book and edit from that. I don’t have an ereader. It’s on my list of things I should try and adopt for 2016. Like a sugar-free diet and a tidy desk…
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Thank you for having me!
In Her Wake