Last week I asked if anyone would be interested in answering some set questions about writing that first draft, for a regular slot I intended to have on the blog. I was amazed by the interest that post generated. If you’re interested in guesting on here with your own first draft answers, let me know!
Today I’m excited to welcome our first, first drafter, Annalisa Crawford. Annalisa lives in Cornwall UK, with her husband, two boys, a dog and a cat, and a good supply of beaches and moorland right on her doorstep. Despite the location she neither surfs nor sails, and has never had any inclination to try. She prefers walking along a deserted beach and listening to the waves crashing over rocks. For this reason, shes really loves the beach in the winter!
Over the course of many years, Annalisa has won several competitions, and had short stories published in small press journals. She has two novels that she feels she will probably never publish, one that she’s currently resting, and many more waiting to be written. She is the author of two ebooks, Cat and The Dreamer and That Sadie Thing.
She writes mostly about relationships: romantic, parent-child, waitress-customer, killer-victim, rebellious teenager and her psyche. And is endlessly fascinated with how people treat each other. Her writing has been described as unique and unusual, and no one has been able to put her into a genre yet.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Firstly, I don’t decide, which is a rubbish way to approach a career, but I wait for the inspiration. Luckily there is always something lurking – a title (as I have at the moment) or a first line. For one story it was a song – every time I heard the song I knew there was a story in my head, but I couldn’t reach it.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I work part-time, so I’m lucky that I can wake up in the morning and just start writing. I go to the gym, come home, read emails and Facebook, make a cup of tea, read some more emails… You get the idea. In the middle of all that, some original words of fiction get jotted down.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Pen and paper. I have a beautiful fountain pen that I received as a present for my 21st birthday. The words that come from that pen are far superior to the words I write with a Bic.
How important is research to you?
I tend not to write anything that needs research, but my current WIP is set against a backdrop of some serious news events from 2010/2011, so I needed to look them up, write a timeline, view some of the original footage on the BBC (YouTube was amazing for that!). However, that’s the most research I think I’ve ever done!
How do you go about researching?
I avoid it for as long as possible, writing around it, leaving gaps in the MS, before realising that I really need to do it. Then I dive in and get caught up looking at things that have no bearing on the research I need to do. It’s not a good method.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I have a folder where all the scraps of first drafts get stored, and notebooks. There’s a lot of notes in my margins that read “see red notebook *3”. For research online, I bookmark in folders that I then forget about.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I write random scenes as they appear to me. I’ll usually wake up with a great line and the rest of the scene flows from there. I always write out of order and then fit the scenes into the storyline afterwards. Then I look at what’s missing and slot the plot in between those scenes.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Just a lot of angst. Apparently I can’t write without leaning on my elbows, covering my face and screaming inwardly every so often… is that what you meant?
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Because of the type of damaged characters I write about, I find myself getting taken over by them, which means the outside world does disappear. After a heavy writing session, I emerge feeling dazed, drained and a bit jet-lagged.
I used to have a study, which I loved, but it became a teenager’s bedroom. I now write on the sofa in my living room. I have many distractions. But I’ve learnt to write with Diagnosis Murder on the telly and people peering in my very large window as they walk past wondering why I’m inside on such a beautiful day. I also realise I don’t actually look like I’m working – I must look so lazy, sitting in the same spot day after day.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I was going to say I don’t edit as I go along, what goes on the page stays on the page until the next draft, but what I do do is consider the words very carefully before I write them down. My thesaurus is always close by – if there’s a perfect word, I need to have it, even on the first draft.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
No. I don’t count words or progress. Some days the words flow so easily I can’t keep up with myself. Other days I spend more time staring into space wondering if I’ve even got a story to tell.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
Anywhere between six weeks and two years. Although at some stage, possibly before I’ve got to a point where other people would consider the first draft finished, I decide to start again. Or to type up the draft I’ve got – so the first, second, third drafts all merge into one. What shape is it in? Hard to tell, because it’s probably in about three different locations – notebook, loose leaf pages, the back of an envelope. It’s certainly not in any kind of order. It’s a mess that I then have to slot together into a meaningful story.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I don’t read through the first draft, it immediately gets typed up, so I read as I type, and at that point the shape of the MS is more clear. At that point I have to print it out. I used to print out at every stage, but I’ve learnt not conserve paper and now I change the view to full screen reading in Word and possibly change the font to give myself some distance.
What happens now that first draft is done?
As I’ve already explained the term first draft is pretty fluid for me, and interchangeable with the term seventh/eighth draft. At some point though, the physical copy will be set aside, but my head will be working through yet another draft!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
It’s been great, Rebecca – you ask some fantastic questions!