Tuesday, 13 March 2012

How do you write?


I read a rare interview with one of my favourite writers, Anne Tyler in the Culture Section of The Sunday Times on Sunday. She will be appearing at this year's Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on 1st April to accept the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. It will be her first public event in Britain.

This is how Anne Tyler writes her novels:

longhand over and over again

types into a computer

prints out

writes again in longhand

reads into a tape recorder

retypes into a computer

I wonder how long it took Anne Tyler to come up with that method of writing a novel. Although it must take ages, I can understand why she reads the manuscript into a tape recorder. It's amazing what can be picked up when writing is read aloud. I've found this a benefit of reading out work in writing classes to be critiqued.

This is how I go about writing a novel:

I write the first draft of each scene by hand. Then I type it into a computer, rewriting as I go and editing by printing, marking it up and retyping (a few times). When I'm as happy with that scene as I can be at that stage, I move onto the next scene and go back to writing by hand. Somehow writing the first draft in this way means I can plan the scene in my head more easily. I like writing in cafés as it's good to get out of the house for some of the writing process. Sometimes I end up writing more than I would at home because there aren't any distractions. I use exercise books as they're light and can be squeezed into any handbag. I also like disposable fountain pens and have several in different colours, pink being my favourite. Of course after all that there's loads of redrafting and editing to do.

I'd be interested to know if you write by hand at any stage in the novel-writing process or if you have any other comments.

17 comments:

  1. Very interesting post, Anita - don't know if I'd have the patience to do all that A.T. does! I tend to write on to the computer, but I've found I actually write better when using pen and paper - in a cafe or on a train, then I enjoy typing it up and redrafting at the same time.

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    1. Hi Rosemary, thanks for your comment. I read somewhere that the brain works better when writing by hand. I think I subconsciously make an effort to come up with something good if I'm writing by hand-as I know it gets messy if I keep changing it.

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  2. Hmmm ... what an interesting way to write. I must admit, I haven't hand-written creative writing since I was at school - even then my favourite method of writing was on my grandfather's ancient typewriter. I have always liked the click, click, tap of a keyboard and find it helps my creative process moreso than handwriting (how awful is that? I am a child of the technology age). I do keep a notebook with me to write down ideas if they come to mind while I'm going about my day ... but mostly I type.

    I am quite slow when I write. I edit as I go along and will sometimes spend hours on 100 words, re-structuring them until they sound write. I read everything aloud to myself and it does make a MASSIVE difference. It helps create flow to a piece, I feel (which is why my blog posts can be a bit stilted - I'm usually writing them in the office).

    http://unpublishedworksofme.blogspot.com/

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    1. Hi Melissa, thanks for your comment. It's been a while since I've used a typewriter. I learnt how to touch type on electronic typewriters at secretarial college. When I was ten, I typed up some stories I'd written about a pink mouse and sent them to Ladybird. I still have the nicely-phrased rejection letter!

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  3. Like Melissa, I am a purely computer writer. I usually have music on my headphones while writing and choose a piece that suits the scene I'm working on.

    I don't often read aloud but I act out the scene to myself, taking major roles and seeing if the voice "sounds right" for the character, this is a throw-back to my drama training, (fortunatly my OH is used to this)

    I edit as I go and can re-write a chapter several times in one sitting if I don't feel good about it.

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    1. Hi Cameron,
      Thanks for your comment. Acting out scenes must help with the dialogue. I read dialogue out loud when editing as it's the only way to get it right.

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  4. Hi Anita - I really enjoyed reading your post and everyone's comments. It's amazing how many different methods/preferences there are out there.

    Personally, I scribble down lots of notes at the planning stage, and I find that really useful. I hardly look at the notes again but it seems to help things bed down in my mind.

    After that I do lots of work on the computer, planning the story chapter by chapter. Then once I'm ready to start I basically daydream my way through each scene in advance, then when the words come I type them into the computer. For some reason I always find it's easiest to think what I want to write next when I'm somewhere completely impractical (like the swimming baths...)

    I bought a netbook a couple of years back and that's been great for portable writing. If only they did a waterproof version... :0)

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    1. Hi Clare, thanks for your comment. I do a lot of daydreaming my way through scenes too, especially when driving on my own or doing mundane tasks such as ironing!

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  5. I write in a similar manner to Rosemary, tend to use the laptop in the first instance, although I do make mind maps once I have my cast of characters.
    These I do in notebooks. I have many different ones, but I'm a sucker for moleskines.

    I'm a huge fan of writing longhand, I think it makes you more creative writing in a notebook, and I like to do this in cafes. Afterwards, when I type it up, I tidy and edit as I go.

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    1. Hi Maria, I love moleskine stationery too and get the diary every year. Some of the moleskine notebooks I've been given as presents seem too nice to use though!

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  6. I switch between longhand and the computer. If I start a scene with pen and paper and it's evolving fast, I'll type it up on the lap top - editing, altering, expanding as I go - and often will carry on without swapping back to the more traditional method. If I start a scene straight onto the computer, and it isn't working, I'll curl up with pen and paper to see if that helps me move on.

    And I'm a sucker for moleskin too. I have a collection of beautiful notebooks that are too lovely to write in! There's a pick of a pile of them on my blog http://rebeccaleithsblog.blogspot.com/.

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    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comment. I move onto pen and paper when it's not working on the computer too. Will have a look at the pic on your blog now.

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  7. Great post Anita. I have only ever written straight onto my computer, although given that I have a new idea at the moment I have been jotting down some ideas in a notebook which I have been carrying around with me.

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    1. Hi Cathy, thanks for your comment. I took a notebook out with me to a cafe this morning for the first time in ages. Loved the Spring photos I saw on your blog this morning by the way.

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  8. Hi Anita,
    It's really an interesting post.
    I do write my articles on paper
    with an ink pen and then do some
    re-writing then on another paper
    and again to the computer.
    then yet another re-doing :-)
    Nice to read others experience too
    in writing.
    I joined in
    Keep inform
    Best regards
    Philip

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    1. Thanks for your comment Philip. I like writing with ink too.

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    2. ps thanks also for following my blog.

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