The mind of a writer

Something popped into my mind the other day and I think I need to expand my idea of the mind of a writer because behind the skill of learning to be a writer I think that there are three aspects that get developed: our creative side, our ability to write and to edit the work.

The creative or imaginative side, of us is incredibly powerful but it is only a small part of writing, we have to write those ideas down and then be able to edit them to produce work that will generate something close to what we imagined in the first place for the minds of our readers. We learn the skill of:

1. Creating the story, from our dreams, from our imagination, usually using one of two ways or a combination of both.

We can write with the inner critic switched off and then figure out what the story is about through an analysis of the chapter and scene intentions (see use of a beat sheet described in ‘Nail your novel’ by Roz Morris)

Or decide on the story we want to write first, what will happen and the backgrounds of characters, write a synopsis or plan, and then write it.

2. Learning the craft of writing, the ability to find and place the right words down to produce the illusion for our readers.

3. Editing the story, analysing the plot and subplots by scenes and chapters, and beginning the re-write by moving into the writer/creator head again. Read and analyse the second draft. Re-write again. Analyse. Re-write. Back and forth.


I think we move between three minds as a writer and each mind can be learnt and developed:

The creative mind: free spirit, creates ideas, keeps the prose flowing, free-writing.

The writing mind: masters the craft of writing, finding the right words to place on the page.

The editing mind: critical thinker, analyser who can understand the overall imagined structure, the overall plot arc, the chapter arcs, the scene intentions, the layout of a scene, its paragraphs, sentences, specific detail, and the words that make the story come alive.


And then when we take our writer’s hat off, we become the person we are to the rest of the world.

First drafts are liberating

First drafts are liberating. They allow you to switch off your inner critic and write, giving freedom to explore a novel idea and, most importantly, get the words onto the page.

A first draft gives you an opportunity to throw your characters into situations you may have envisioned for them. It’s a chance to watch them moving through settings, interacting with other characters, and by the end of this journey you start to know them intimately. For characters that seem one sided or caricatures, you can try different light and shades within their personality to develop them further.

The first draft also gives you an opportunity to introduce new characters or settings or plot ideas which can be cut in the second draft for being too far off on a tangent which you wouldn’t have known about without a trip there in the first place. Or perhaps that tangent could be the unique direction you needed to revive a flagging mid-section.

Do not be scared about cutting work later. I am guilty of this. It breaks my heart to know that I have to delete some beautifully written scenes but if they do not add to my novel, I cannot keep them. The most important thing to remember is that you can produce good writing and now you have the evidence in front of you but you wouldn’t have known it without the first draft.

So let the words flow, let your character take you wherever they want to go, push them into situations and see how they react, push them harder. Keep your end in sight and go to all the places you dreamed about when planning your novel.

Above all, keep going.

A moment of satisfaction

I have printed out a first draft of my second novel which I finished writing last weekend. (My first novel? I completed it to a second draft stage but after working on this novel, I feel a demotion coming on. It’s probably not as bad as I think it is. I wish!)

Anyway, after teasing two hundred and thirty-three pages through a printer that likes jamming every five sheets, I have a stack of paper on my desk that is a first draft of my second novel.


Feeling good…


OK, the moment’s over.

Now, to take a look at the bugger and see if it’s structurally sound. On the first novel, I used a check sheet I called my Plot Structure check, which listed out what was supposed to happen in each chapter against the major and minor plots. I also used a Timeline sheet to plan out events to ensure I was consistent with what day I was on per chapter, what time, sunrise, sunset, twilight info and moon phase info in case it was needed in a scene.

For this novel, I’m going to try the idea of a Beat Sheet which I read about in a book called ‘Nail your novel: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris.

I like the ideas in this book. The Beat Sheet seems to be a combination of my Plot Structure sheet and the Timeline sheet with the aim of keeping the focus on scene intention, plots arcs, scene emotion levels and much more. So I’m going to give it a go and see how it works out.

It’s strange but last weekend when I wrote the last word in the last chapter and knew I’d finished the draft of my second novel, I felt really worried and had thoughts running through my mind like ‘the whole book is bad’ and ‘I’ve messed it up’. Anyway, I slept on it and didn’t feel so deflated the next day. (How bad can it be?!)

I think that if I could just get a novel, any one of my novels to a good publishable standard then I think I might believe in myself, know that I can do it. Even though I’m disappointed that I haven’t got to that stage yet, I’m happy to know that I can write another novel. In fact, the second novel was easier to write than the first one. Not easy, easy but it flowed better on some days, not all days, ok I’d say a lot of the things I learnt about writing came much easier-ish this time.

Right so, onwards with the novel writers quest…

My practice novel

My first novel is a practice novel. Simple as. It is the first novel I have ever written so surely it is a warm up, an attempt to practice the craft of novel writing. And revising. And editing.

Just as the first child is the practice child. So it is with the first novel. And just when you’ve learnt something and it becomes a habit, something else rears its head for you to learn and you scramble frantically to figure that out. Then that becomes habit.

I think that the stumbling I have done over this first novel made it much easier to produce the first draft of the second novel. Now I’m not saying it’s that easy. I still have to come up with the words to create the images and sensation to help my reader see some of what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel or rather what my characters feel. But I do notice that I am more conscious of how to start and end a chapter. How to leave something hanging at the end so that the reader wants to read on.

In short, every time I write my novel I assimilate what I have learnt before from my previous writing, my reading of other fiction and books on how to write novels, books on plot, structure, scenes, characters, points of view, dialogue, viewpoint, descriptions, settings, beginnings, middles, ends, editing and revision, my tutors, my own writing and me.

In the end it’s all practice. I’m still just practicing.

Write. Learn. Repeat.

I was on the phone recently with a new writer who was stuck at 3,500 words of their novel and was hesitating to write further because they felt that they didn’t know if they could.

It reminded me of how I used to be at seven years ago, at six years ago, and then I didn’t write for about three years, still doubted myself.

Three years ago I did a weekend course on starting a novel and started to write what I called my first novel. I think of it as writing an idea now. Still doubted I could write though.

Then I joined a writing group. Some of us wanted to think that we would be published writers and some of us were there for the fun of writing. The group blossomed into a joy of writing group.

Then two years ago, I got another idea and merged it with the first and what is officially my first novel began. Eight weeks into the New Year, 2011, I was writing the full first draft of my first novel. It took me six weeks to write it working off chapter and scene ideas I had drafted beforehand.

I wanted to know more because I couldn’t begin to figure out how to move the novel towards publication.

In September 2011 I started the most amazing course on Creative Writing for Publication. The tutors were excellent and pulled from our rough drafts incredible final pieces for our homework submissions through their feedback on editing and critique at workshops in class.

By May 2012 the course was over and I took a two month break. With the course behind me, I began work on the second draft of the novel. Over the previous year, I’d tinkered with many ideas and after doing the course I realised how bad my first draft was but still the idea was there, the characters were there and I knew this novel was the start of possibly another one or two books. (I’ve decided that there’s room for one more, but it’s not a trilogy. What I mean is I still have loads of things I want to throw at my characters. Poor sods!)

So I started a second draft of this first novel. I also began putting the ideas together for the second novel. After all, the two followed each other so it was important to make sure there were no loop holes between them.

After two months I was floundering in ideas and problems with the plot. I struggled on for another two weeks and then stopped.

National Novel Writing Month 2012 was on the horizon. I’d noted it in my diary after meeting someone I met at an art exhibition at the start of the summer told me about it. I thought it would be a fabulous opportunity to start writing scenes in the second novel. I planned out the story structure and put together rough ideas for scenes for the major and minor plots. I was set.

Five days into November and 7000 words down, I was seriously stuck and stressed senseless. I couldn’t bear to spend another day worrying about these characters. I needed a break from them.

Over the last month or two I’d been fantasising about another idea. I knew the characters; I knew roughly what their backgrounds were and what was going to happen to them. I even knew how it would all end.

On one page I jotted down a few chapters worth of notes and began to write. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to know what was going to happen to my characters. Before I knew it, I was hooked on the idea and the plot poured out of me. (Except come Thursday and Friday I would get some lag, writers block, stuck.) My motivation now was that I wanted to know what was going to happen next, exactly as if I was reading a book for the first time, except I only knew as fast as I could write it.

This is what I told the beginning writer and I know I’ve read this somewhere before but probably didn’t believe it. Until now…

‘Write. Learn. Repeat.’

P.S. I would also add ‘Read loads’ to that list. And repeat.

Music and sleepiness make me write faster

This is the weirdest thing I discovered while trying (I have to use that word) to write a first draft for a second and third novel idea (I started the second novel got bored and started the third idea – me like this one).

I would turn up at the pc in the morning and, flipping heck, would I do everything except write.

Let’s see: Yahoo, Yahoo world news, read a few of those articles to keep up with what happened last night in the world, email, Facebook (could be a while – have 78 postings by friends to read and there might be something important there), check the Irish Writers Centre (no, the weekend course offerings have not changed in the last few days), RTE Breaking news stories, Oooo RTE Player, watch something on that for a while, 4OD, watch something on that, make lunch, back to the PC, check email again, more emails from Writers Digest (I am going to be a real writer someday so I need to keep abreast of important writer issues), breakthrough inspiration, write down a scene that just came to me as quickly as I can on a notepad strategically set next to the laptop for moments such as this, check Yahoo World news again something could have happened during the day in the world, now I’m ready to write, open Word, load up the last document, save it with today’s date, minimise Word document, go to Start, Programs, Games, Majong Titans (really I can’t write, my brain is wired to the hilt thinking about what I could possibly write next, I can’t think, I can’t think…), play Majong Titans until I have calmed down which is not happening because I am not winning any of my games…

So while doing my writing for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I discovered that when the evening comes and I’m really tired around 7pm (it’s been a long hard day, writing really tires you out, emotionally, physically, mentally) and I play my writing music list (all set up on Media Player), I get into the flow and the words and story pour out of me onto the page. It is truly a thing of beauty when this happens.

In conclusion, I have found that playing music while being reasonably tired (that sort of tired you have when you’ve been busy all day) can make you write fast and the story really flows. It does.

The alternative conclusion, of course, is that I have found that I work better with deadlines. Like the deadline of bedtime.


Book an hour for yourself

In your diary, right now, book an hour where you will write. It’s a date. It’s your hour.


I book my time and try to turn up. I notice that I sometimes get there late but I say to myself – stay and write. Even if I’m scared of writing. The first few times can be hard. But it’s my time.

If I don’t want to write any prose or poetry, I take out my ‘Free writing’ notebook and write my thoughts down. That’s writing.

Or put some notes together that could form a story.

Or brainstorm a bit, jotting down ideas or snippets of dialogue, my description for a story.

Or, in the words of Anne Lamott in ‘bird by bird’, write a shitty first draft.


Every time I turn up it gets easier to be there. Some days I can’t wait to start.