Today in the First draft hotseat is LM Milford.
As of December 24th 2012, she has two completed manuscripts – both as yet unpublished – but she feel that the day of publication is coming closer as finishing one book could have been a fluke, but finishing two shows dedication and (hopefully) some skill!
She has written on and off for most of her life, but it was only about six years ago while working as a reporter on a local newspaper that she finally discovered the inspiration for what became Book One. That germ of an idea bounced around in her head for weeks until she finally bit the bullet and began to get it down on paper.
Book Two took the best part of two-and-a-half years to write, but as she stands on the verge of beginning Book Three, she is planning to improve her writing process and make this one happen a bit quicker.
For Lynne, writing is almost never easy, but it’s always fun. She loves the fact that she can disappear into another world and become another person for however long she keeps writing.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Usually I poke the idea around in my head for a while, looking at it from different angles and thinking about the series of events. Then I’ll start to plan on paper. Once I get to that stage bits of dialogue come to me and openings of scenes. At that point I have to just start writing. It won’t be completely planned out, but I’ll know basically where it’s going.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not really. I tend to plan on paper and keep thinking of angles and ideas until I can’t stop myself from writing. All I need is the first scene, even just the first line of the scene, and that’s enough to start me off. Often what starts out as the opening scene won’t stay as the opening scene because things start getting moved around but at least it gets me started.
Always pen and paper. It helps me to think a bit as I’m going along, but it’s also very portable because I rarely ever write on a fixed surface. I also learned the hard way recently the dangers of not having a back up copy when my laptop died and I lost the first 10,000 words of Book Three – fortunately I have most of the handwritten draft so it’s just a case of re-typing it. Sadly some bits were lost, but it gives me the opportunity to rewrite it better.
How important is research to you?
It depends on what I’m working on. So far I’ve used mostly scenarios I’ve already experienced so by and large it hasn’t needed a huge amount of research. But when I come up against something I don’t know I’ll make a note and come back to it at a natural break in my writing rather than breaking my flow. Research is really important if I’m writing about something I’m not familiar with, but I try not to go overboard and lose my story.
How do you go about researching?
In the past, I’ve used interviews with people, old newspaper articles or books, but often I start by using the Internet although I’m always careful to look at more than one source to check that it’s factually correct. For my latest book I’ve got myself a couple of books on the Krays because one of my characters fancies himself as a bit of an old-style gangster. I know very little about that time period so I’m going to be reading up on it.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I often use Evernote – which is an app I have on my phone. It’s great for capturing ideas that come to me when I’m out and about and can’t grab my notebook and pen. I recently wrote a whole section of dialogue into it and the beauty of Evernote is that it syncs to your computer so you only have to copy and paste it onto your document. Or in my case, print it out and stick it in my notebook!
I also use my mobile to capture pictures and then they’re backed up on my laptop or in the cloud.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Usually I just start writing. I don’t outline by chapters or anything like that, I have a general storyline and a synopsis of what’s going to happen. I’ll already have the main characters drawn up and then start thinking about the scenes I need. Usually by this point the first line is itching to be let out, so I just start writing. If a new tangent suggests itself I’ll often go with it and see where it takes me. In my second book, I wrote myself into a corner and spent days trying to work out how to get out. I couldn’t so I made the phone ring which distracted the characters from what they’re doing. It brought in a new character and took the story off on another line which really helped it.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
No. I tend not to be stuck on rituals. Because I often write when I’m out and about or in transit, I can’t be too picky. I don’t have a particular place I have to be in order to write. I just take advantage of wherever I am. Although if I’m writing at home, I like to have a drink to hand (coffee if it’s morning) and the ‘LM Milford’ pen I got as a leaving present from my last job!
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world tends to disappear while I’m head down and working. If I’m writing at home I usually have classical music playing and my phone set to silent. If I’m writing on the train to work, it takes a lot more effort to block out the noise, but once I start scribbling I hardly even notice when we’re stopping at stations.
What does your work space look like?
As I showed in my recent blog post, it’s usually a corner seat in a packed commuter train to London. Failing that it could be a table in a coffee shop or a bar (if I’m meeting friends and I’m early). At home I have a table in the living room. If I’m going to write the following morning, I’ll tidy the table the night before so I can just sit down and start writing. The fewer distractions the better.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I’m definitely a just-get-the-words-out. Sometimes I’ll flick back and forth to check names or whatever but often I don’t even do that. I’ll put an XX in – or a note of what I need to check – and come back to it later.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I’m a word counter because it gives me a target to aim for and a way of seeing how I’m progressing. I’ve experimented with different methods and I’ve found that a weekly word count works best for me. That way I can be flexible about when I do my writing and it puts me under less pressure.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
So far I’ve not had the smoothest ride when it comes to first drafts. My first book took about 2 years, mostly because I wasn’t entirely taking it seriously. I was just seeing if I could write a book. Book Two took about 18 months of actual writing time during a two-year period where I battled with redundancy and illness. Book One needed a lot of work and so far has been redrafted about 4 times. I’m in the process of re-editing it again before sending it out for professional editing as I’m planning to self-publish.
I haven’t looked back at Book Two yet, but I suspect it’ll need the same amount of work!
In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?
At the moment, I prefer reading it on paper, especially when I’m scribbling all over it in red pen. I only recently got a Kindle so I’m sure at some point I’ll have a bash at using that for re-reading my work. Although I’m not too sure how you mark up your edits on that.
What happens now that first draft is done?
It usually gets put to one side for a while and I get on with something else. That gives my brain a chance to take a step back and get some distance from the story and the characters. Once I’ve got that space, I pick up my red pen and start reading. Sometimes it’s a difficult process, but it’s always nice to find a bit that really works and to find that you still love your story!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.