Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Writing Tips #4: Thinking is Writing Too

Welcome to the fourth post in our series of writing tips. Today, Elizabeth Bailey offers us her top tips.

Writing is not always about sitting at the keyboard and bashing out words. You have to let ideas pop up. When they do, they need to germinate before they will start frothing enough for you to churn out a story.

A writer called Burton Rascoe once said, “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” How true!

Beginning writers generally operate on the basis that “work” is done when they’re actually sitting down and doing it. With writing, this is asking for a miracle and a horribly blank mind. No writer begins a story without having some idea of what it’s about.

Stories on the go have a tendency to jump around in the writer’s head when they least expect it: in the bath, in a car or train, on a walk, even while watching TV or a movie. Also, annoyingly, in bed when you're trying to sleep - ideas can start leaping about and going places. If this happens, let it run - it's all good stuff.

This is what thinking time is, and it’s all part of the writing process. It’s thinking without having to sit and decide to think. It’s that imaginative spark that is set free so it can run without effort. And it won’t happen if it’s forced at the keyboard.

So it’s worthwhile letting your imagination have free rein at any time it starts to generate ideas. In the bath, when I am relaxed, is one of my favourite times for developing stories. I can sometimes be heard talking out loud, as the characters, working out some tricky plot point.

Other people may also spark ideas, but I’d suggest sticking with a fellow writer if you want to bounce ideas off someone. They understand. Non-writers are liable to suggest outrageous plot points that don’t fit your story, or try to persuade you to incorporate elements from their lives that they feel would make a fantastic bestseller. The key thing here is that any offers of plot points need to spark the ideas in your own head, otherwise the story won’t buzz for you.

Here’s the thing, though. Memory is a wayward customer, so I would encourage you to jot down the general points, or make a digital note somewhere as soon as you can once the thinking time starts paying off. I've lost more plot points by not writing them down than I care to remember – because I can’t remember them.

I have filled several small notebooks with ideas, and occasionally I browse through them. Anything used is crossed out, so I can’t use it again. But I’ll jot names, plot points, characters, germs of an idea – anything, just so I’ve got it there when I need it. Because when I haven’t done this, I’ve always come to regret it.

Usually when the plot starts rolling like this, it hasn't got much to do with the bit of the story that’s currently being written (or even another story altogether). That doesn't matter. The important thing is to get it written down somewhere and let it sit there, because it will be growing in your writer’s head without you realising it.

When you get back to writing the story, you will find the plot points you’ve thought about start to get built into the story without any real effort on your part. You might not even have to look at the notes.

And if they don’t get used, they may well be picked up for another story later on. Ideas are never wasted.

One of my heroines is a writer who has trouble controlling her wayward imagination:

An Angel's Touch
Outspoken Verity Lambourn berates the mentor of two lost children, having no idea that the lame young man with the vibrant black eyes is the widowed Henry, Marquis of Salmesbury. When she knocks him flying in Tunbridge Wells, Verity realises she has not been able to get him out of her mind.

Tumbling towards a promising future, Verity must confront the shadows of Henry’s tragic past. Matters come to a head when the children are kidnapped, but it takes a threat to Henry himself to test the strength of Verity’s love and the truth of a gypsy’s prophecy.

Elizabeth Bailey

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