Fear of Spreadsheets

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Everyone has a different writing style and method. I’ve had a number of conversations over the last few days with some of my writing friends and heard a wide variety of opinions on how one should go about writing a novel. There’s the ‘sit around and wait for the muse to inspire you’ outlook, the ‘plan everything down to the colour of your minor characters’ socks’ method and the ‘start with a good idea and just see what happens’ method, (which, if I’m very honest, has been my system of choice for the last number of years).

When I was writing Malcolm Orange Disappears I started with the image of a young boy who begins to physically disappear after a traumatic event. I didn’t work on developing characters before I began writing, I didn’t do any research and I certainly had no idea of where the plot was going until, somewhat surprisingly, it finally arrived at a conclusion. I found myself saying terribly precocious things like, “I just let my characters steer the plot” and “I really didn’t know what would happen at the end until it happened.” It was a nice enough way to write a novel, if a little unprofessional. I felt minimal pressure to keep within boundaries and stick to an outline. However, as a writer who generally has multiple storylines and characters on the go at once, I sometimes felt like I was juggling spaghetti to get everything on the page in a cohesive format.

I met for coffee with my lovely friend Jude Crozier this morning. Jude’s just graduated from Oxford Brooks with an MA in publishing and was ridiculously helpful in giving me pointers for promoting Malcolm Orange when it is released in May. Being organized and thorough, she suggested will really help me as I juggle a number of commitments and try to get Roundabouts written by the end of the year. (It’s a different barrel of monkeys writing a novel to deadline when you’ve been used to setting your own timeframe). Jude went as far as to suggest a spreadsheet and whilst this would give my brother, Alan “put it in a spreadsheet” Carson unending pleasure, I remain sceptical about the mixing of art and pie charts. I shall refrain for now.

Instead, I came home and spent the afternoon writing a loose, but structured, chapter plan for Roundabouts. It was not as terrifying as I thought. There’s still plenty of room for the muse to turn up with all her cryptic plot twists. However, it’s actually refreshing to know my plot has a shape already, my characters have characteristics and will develop across the novel and most reassuringly I have 8, full but neat, 10,000 word chapters planned, (1 of which is already written). More than 10% of this novel is already written and it’s only January- score- I might plot that in a bar chart tomorrow.

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