When I started writing ten years ago I was convinced that writers simply started a story, worked it chronologically to the end and then it was done. There was a kind of naïve magic to thinking this, looking back, but that perceived magic made writing incredibly difficult for me more often than not. There were, I am ashamed to say, more than one early story that concluded in a death, purely because I had nowhere else to go; I simply killed the character, binned the story and moved on to the next one.
As I read, learnt and wrote more I realised that there is no ‘one way’ to write and that all I needed to do was find a way that worked for me. I was a ferocious reader of writer’s biographies and one of the most fascinating elements, to me, was how they did it. How did these humans, whose words I found so alluring and mystifying, put their thoughts on paper in such a way that they became imbedded in my own head?
I took advice from everyone. I tried writing first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I tried writing at a desk and tried writing on the sofa. I tried all the ways there are to write, hoping that one of them would be the key to unlocking the stubborn door blocking the path between my brain and my hands.
The key, I finally found, was in the method of Nabokov.
Nabokov wrote entire novels on index cards, in no particular order. His vision was so clear that he could simply start writing wherever and know exactly how it would all fit together at the end. This revelation was both enlightening and terrifying.
Now, I cannot claim to have anything even approaching clarity when it comes to half of my stories, I invariably start something that morphs and shifts with every sentence I add until I end up with something completely opposite to what I thought I had to start with. However, this Nabakovian approach to writing was exactly what I needed to try and tame my fragmented, creative brain.
When I’m working on something, the stories and characters are constantly running around in my head, talking to each other, going about their lives, and every now and again a small fragment comes into a sharp focus and then I have to scramble to write it down before it fades out again. I started carrying a small Rhodia pad with me at all times, a pen on a chord around my neck, so that I was never caught out when these moments of clarity struck. Each page was small enough to capture a scene or some dialogue for later inspection. At the end of each day I would get to my desk and go through any notes I had made and, like a puzzle for which I had no reference, I would start piecing them together and filling in the blanks.
This worked, it really worked. I wasn’t drowning anymore in the whirlpool of thoughts like ‘what comes next?’ or ‘where is this going?’; it was no longer A to B but A to Z, and I had every other stepping stone to keep me on track.
I should say that not every fragment found it’s home in a finished puzzle, some simply didn’t fit, while others became the single seed from which an entire tree sprouted. Recently I have been looking back through my old notebooks and unearthed these fragments so I have decided to start sharing some, as well as the story behind them, or in front of them and sometimes both. So, pop back in a couple of days for random story fragments and pictures of notebooks.