Tuesday 4 December 2012

Creating, Drafting and Transcribing a Novel. The notebook story.

Too many notebooks. Maybe
People often ask me how I write. What is the process?
After saying very carefully that all writers evolve their own  idiosyncratic method I admit that I write my first draft by hand. These days this is met by a degree of disbelief and a kind of pity that one feels for a bag lady in the road.
'I would have thought computers would have been a Godsend for you! Make things easier.' Then (add in kind tone of voice) 'They're very easy to use you know,'
Well, I do know,. I love my  computer(s).They are brilliant for instant researching, for blogging and Facebooking. I was a pioneer in that field.  I remember the joy of my first wordprocesser, an Amstrad 9512 - such a brilliant improvement from my electric typewriter and my bottles of SnoPake.  I shudder at the thought of the state of my original manuscripts - which were accepted by publishers . Never mind. Daphne du Maurier sent her publishers scribbled hand scripted drafts.
I like to write in ink pen
I now have and use an office computer, a standard laptop and a notebook computer as well as, more recently a tablet, So nowadays my transcribed drafts go out in that immaculate computer written form that I recommend to all my students.
I have experimented with drafting straight onto the screen and have found it very limiting, Staring at a blank screen hinders the creativity, the imagination. As the pages build up on the screen they are too finished too complete, too self referring, insufficiently open. They have too much authority and too little vulnerability.
Maps are the current obsession...
The only way for me to write the first draft of a novel is in a notebook (NOT loose pages) with an ink pen.
I normally (but see below) write in bound hardback A4 notebooks. (Cheap from Rymans...) I only write on the right hand side of the page leaving the left hand space for insertions, scribbled self-instructions and amendments.
I often customise the cover with drawings. paintings and collages to make them particular to these stories. And after so many novels the notebooks give a shape to this and I know that the currency is this: three fully drafted notebooks equal one full length novel of about a hundred thousand words. Give or take.

But with this new novel when I embark on the first lot of transcription, (About 20 thousand words in) I find that I have scenes and scraps, brainstorms and locations in five different notebooks. I can blame that on my habit of writing on trains, in cafes, pubs and parks on whatever is to hand. So the transcribing of this first part of the novel has been something of a  challenge as I spent time hunting down scenes out of sequence.

So I have given myself a good talking to and created a new A5 (ie handbag friendly) notebooks as  a prototype into which ALL the new drafting for this new novel must go. Here it is. I hope it works.

Just a thought. Writing whole books is hard work. But unless you make the process creative, satisfying and fun it becomes just another job instead of just more joy.


  1. A post which I'm sure will fascinate readers and writers alike. Certainly all writers who use notebooks - (are there any who don't, ever?)will be familiar with the multiple notebook problem. Maybe the five notebooks simply reflect the organic way you work and the fact that this has been an embryonic story, still finding its way, and a big one at that. I think when the time comes to work in one notebook, as it has now, then you know the story has taken hold - very exciting.

  2. I used to write my novels long hand too. Still have the folders to prove it. Now I find I'm better at drafting on a computer (only because I'm so new to it, only got my first one 5 years ago) but I have notebooks for my notes and character sketches and short bits of dialogue. My office is a nightmare, but I wouldn't trade my paper notes for anything. Not even Scrivener.

  3. Lovely post! I use notebooks too Wendy - just as chaotically! In fact I have quite a notebook fetish - they have to feel 'right' for whatever I'm writing.

  4. Tnank you Avril. I hope the story is beginning to take hold now. Fingers crossed for this new notebook.
    Hello Anne. I think everyone finds their own system (if you're like me, somewhat chaotic...) How lovely that you still write sketches and make notes by hand even if the machine works better for you for the big push. I have this thing about blood from the heart, down the arm, through the fingers to mix with the ink and spill on the page. But that's pretty mad I know.Good luck with your novel, however you draft it!
    Hello Kathleen. Thank you. Of course it IS a fetish. But in a good way.

  5. Well, what I could not agree more on you Wendy. What works for everyone would definitely be good to you but if you have your own way of doing transcription like using a notebook and a pen and it works much better than a computer then it's the best I think



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