Why Do Words Suddenly Appear

It’s time for a breakdown. Not the nervous “I haven’t had a book published and probably won’t ever” kind, but an analysis. Sometimes my story just happens, and other times I need to work for it. Certain characters come fully-formed, where I have a sense of what they’re like, but overall, there’s no real method that I can tell.

There still might be one though, but perhaps it’s been present for so long, that it isn’t obvious anymore.

On Friday, I thought about this as a topic. I looked at my habit, how I went about throwing things in. It was my daytime habit that I analysed, and maybe I’ll do one another later about what goes on at home. Well, when I’m writing there. My usual habit has been to eat during my lunchbreak (what a revelation!), and then go about the business of sitting down somewhere for the purposes of putting words on the page.

So, first up, I live in Sydney – and work in the city. When it comes to writing, I’ll find somewhere to sit down and lose myself in whatever I’m working on at the time. Depending on the weather, I’ll either go across to Hyde Park, or find a table at the food-court downstairs from work, near my regular coffee dealer. I love going to the former, though the latter is hardly awe-inspiring.

I’ll sit down at a table, pop in my headphones, and then get to business. I almost always have a hit of coffee to accompany me, and as I tend to go out later in the day, things are usually quiet. The headphones aren’t just to block out other noises though – I write with a playlist.

Well, a lot of playlists, split up according to the feeling of the track in question. My categories currently are: Ambient, Betrayal, Discovery, Epic, Frantic, Fun, Lovely, Sadness, and Tension. Those are more or less my playlists from 2010, and there’s a lot of music in each. I also have an extra playlist for Word Wars, which is mostly frantic/tension on repeat, and a separate NewNano playlist that was put together for the mood/setting of last year’s Nano.

Next, I’ll look at what I’d written last. If it was in the notebook, I’d read it there, otherwise I’d either try to remember or jump into google docs on my phone, for a reminder of what happened last. The scene was either finished, or still needed more in it – so I’ll take stock of what I’d done last, and determine what scene I’d be writing now, and what might happen.

It’s usually a mental process. I’ll pick the location, the characters, work out why they’re there, and a general idea of what’s meant to happen. I wrote down the premise for Friday’s scene, for the purposes of reporting it here.

William is on the street, in the rain, and he hears screams.

I already know that William is going to discover the source of the screams, and I know he’s going to see something traumatic. How he reacts, what he does, and the specifics of how it plays out? Those are unknowns. This scene is actually a new one in the rewrite of Trail, and the one I’d mentioned before as being necessitated by the previous scene. A few lines of dialogue about an event required the event to be shown, which allows a deeper look at the city that the scene takes place in, gives an alternate view of the character William, and to allow a proper introduction of the immediate antagonistic force. I’ve also thought about throwing one character into the background of the scene, who originally first showed up in a later chapter.

Doctor's
Right, so this is what… 27 words of undecipherable scribble?

Translation: William looked back along the street toward home, Audrey and safety. He felt his stomach clench, but one more of those screams was too much to ignore.

Friday’s writing was a little slower than the scenes might usually come out, and yes, it was definitely for show. For the record, I’ve been using a combination of the Tension and Frantic playlists for this scene – and the following are the tracks that best capture the various moods of the scene. With this, there’s a definite sense of danger at the beginning of most of these, that escalates into a troublesome, unescapable situation.

Tracks: Mass Effect 2 – Infiltration (Jack Wall), Space Quest 4: Estross Fortress (Mark Seibert), Tristan – Max Intensity (Two Steps From Hell), Made of Stone (The Stone Roses) and In the House, In a Heartbeat (John Murphy).

While I write, instances of editing do happen. If I find that I don’t know where to go in the scene, because the part I’d written last feels like a literary end while the scene needs to continue – I butcher that gorgeous bit of prose. Sometimes I remove it entirely so that the scene can go a slightly different way forward, or perhaps try to postpone it for a later scene. Ordinarily, there’s bits and pieces that happen while I write it out – sort of when in the rhythm of getting things out, so I’ll cross things out as I go. If I do a quick browse over, I might alter a word or phrase to improve things because it feels a better fit.

Many or Much? Moot, as realistically this will probably get changed again in the 3rd draft.
Many or Much? Moot, as realistically this will probably get changed again in the 3rd draft.

And that’s basically it. There’s bits of scribble, false-starts of words where I’ve crossed things out. I started to say his stomach tightened, but didn’t like it, so changed mid-sentence. Something was going to start with “It’s what”, but I can’t remember what it might have been. There was even a So at the start, but I don’t know where that would have gone either.

It’s not the best example, I know. It is what I go through when I write by hand, and the book I write in has probably as many sentences deemed false-starts (subsequently crossed out) as it does things I use. It usually happens as I write, and if I’m lucky, is a snap-decision within 1-2 seconds that has an immediate alternative.

9 thoughts on “Why Do Words Suddenly Appear

  1. I also begin with pen and paper (a notebook), because it’s difficult to get started otherwise, what with the distractions of social media and five seasons of Breaking Bad. Then I transcribe it on a computer.
    Great article.

    1. I think that’s how it started with me – or I just had a lot of free time away from the computer, meaning I couldn’t rely on it. Eventually it just became habit. Had to move my computer to a room without a connected TV though, because trying to use it as the laptop that it is meant that I ended up either watching TV or playing xbox.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  2. So glad it isn’t just me that kills a forest each year while beginning a new project. I use more sticky notes than the post it company can keep up with. My floors around my desk are littered with balls of paper that the dogs have turned into toys.

    1. For me, it’s A5 notebooks. The size is less obtrusive, and it *feels* like I’m making more progress (instead of trying to fill an A4 page).

  3. You see, i have already read this. Therefore you must post something new. I am a demanding audience. 🙂 Hope you are having a great day/night/not sure what time it is there right now so I’m just talking. I’ll stop now.

    1. Oh, I do have something new – it’s just not ready to be explicitly broadcasted yet, even though I’ve added it to the site already. At the top, there’s now a link called “The Plan Plan” – which is kind of new 🙂

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