Posted by: stelladuffy | January 3, 2009

starting. writing as gardening.

Nicely kicked off by Gemma’s response to yesterday’s blog (when I wasn’t going to blog at all today, having a wedding to get to and everything – not mine!)
But anyway, starting.
I start by … starting really. Like, right now, waiting as I am on notes for latest book draft, to really feel ready to start this next one, I’m spending the time reading up and making notes on this book. Sometimes writing little bits, 50 words here, 300 there. My white board (love that white board) has gone from a mess of notes all over the place, in loads of different colours (it always starts out that the colours mean something and then I end up just using the pen I first pick up so that order goes out the window too!) to something much more ordered. (This happened yesterday, AFTER I’d blogged about waiting.) There are now four different lists – Places, People, Events and Ideas. I’ve never done this before, but am trying to find new ways to use the white board, as it seems such a good tool, and this looks useful – for this book. Not sure it would be for all books.
I think, for me, it all starts in chaos, then slowly – like gardening! – becomes more ordered. But it needs to go back to chaos again in the re-write, the edit, the mash-up before getting it ordered again with cutting and pruning – it’s a lengthy analogy but it does work!
So, years ago now (2 and a half or 3 years maybe?) I started off with the idea for this historical book. Which has become two historical books. And I read loads and made lots of notes, and those notes went from messy to ordered, then they became chaotic again as I thought about them in a book-pattern (not really in plotting terms, more in terms of the KIND of story I was starting to realise I wanted to tell), then that gets ordered, then in the writing itself, some things stand out and become threads that seem more important, other things get entirely left by the wayside and are either picked up in a 2nd or 3rd draft or left behind when it becomes clear they aren’t needed. For me it’s a continual process of making order from chaos and then letting it go back to chaos again to order again.
Requiring two things to let that happen :
1. that I know the ending. Not necessarily clearly or perfectly planned or even that I don’t mind letting the ending change as I go along – but that I am aiming for something. (Not to kill this gardening analogy, but it is useful, in planting, to know if you’re aiming for flowers or vegetables when summer and autumn finally arrive!!)
2. that I know when this process is done. That I’m prepared to make the leap and say yes, this is over now, there is no more order to be made from this chaos, there is not another draft I will allow to become chaos in order to find a better book. Making the leap that this is the finished article.
So, in answer to the question, I guess I start because I know (something of) the ending – ideally a bit of the middle too – and I keep going because, as a gardener, as a cook, I love the process of making order out of chaos – and also, as always with gardening and cooking, finding the surprises on the way, the magic mistakes that make it so much better – if not this time then the next!


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