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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Creating a Text – Andrew Taylor

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

It’s a fascinating question (well to me, anyway, and any other writer). Most of my books begin with the gradual accumulation of ideas, like a build-up of sediment. It can take years. I mean ideas in the broadest sense, of course – anything from an atmosphere to a real event or person or a bit of music or something that angers or interests me. Or something on the news about Iraq, or the village fete. Often there’s a problem of some sort in my mind, and a book is way of exploring it (rarely resolving it – that’s something else). You know. It’s an oddly passive process – things just accumulate until they reach the point when, for whatever reason, you have to do something about them & start off the long, hard bloody slog of turning it into a book.

The next phase is more active – doing a little of what I laughably call research, scribbling endless notes about the way the book might go, feeling alternately very excited and gloomy (because it always seems impossible that the book can ever be actually written), and trying to map out at least the first chapter or two. I rarely see further than this, apart from Lydmouth books because they are part of a series and hence I know a lot about setting, recurring characters before starting.

Phase 3 consists of blundering through a first draft, usually in fits and starts. You know Doctorow’s analogy of a night journey, and you can’t see further than the car headlights but you have a vague idea where you are heading? That’s me, for much of the time. The thing has a strange rhythm of its own. I used to think writing novels would get easier with practice but of course it doesn’t. The more I write the more I think that much of the work is done on a level below consciousness, and that writing fiction is a murky business. I revise lightly as I go through a first draft, mainly as the plot develops in my mind, which often means I have to change what’s gone before to fit it.

The fourth phase, rewriting and revising and plugging gaps and trying to spot problems, is a much more rational, analytical process that takes place mainly on the surface. Then it’s as ready as it ever will be to go out in the world – though it can be hard to let go sometimes, which is where deadlines come in handy.

These four phases make it seem much simpler and more rational than it really is. It’s a messy business, eh?

Andrew Taylor is an award-winning British author of crime novels.

3 Responses to “Creating a Text – Andrew Taylor”

  1. Paul says:

    Andrew – “The more I write the more I think that much of the work is done on a level below consciousness,”

    I can relate to that, and would love to know how it (at least sometimes) happens, .

    It’s something I’ve even begun consciously using now – plant a few ideas in your mind, that feel good, but don’t really “stack up” or inter-relate, and occasionally out pops an idea that actually works.

    It’s just a shame that it won’t do the writing for you.

    There it is again – I’m thinking of it as something seperate.

  2. maura says:

    I wonder about the writing process. Is it akin to creativity per se? If a baby is born blessed with a genetic predisposition to creativity, might he or she become an artist, as opposed to a writer, much depending on everything else that happens subsequently?

    Some people seem much more imaginative than others, and some do have a greater degree of insight into their preconscious functioning than would be regarded as usual or average.

    If one has such finely honed insight, and has a way with words, it might be feasible to think such an individual could be a writer.

    Maybe writers are dreamers, and have perfected the art of inventing characters, dialogue and various plots over many years.

    Possibly, the more a person reads, and writes, and thinks and talks, the better the end product will be.

    Who knows what the unconscious will throw up, if all of this is churning about in the creative intelligent brain? We do not have access to the unconscious mind, except when we are dreaming, or are engaged in psychoanalytical psychotherapy. And yet.. .. writing is a bit like this.

    Even today, some intelligent professionals believe in the collective unconscious. Maybe the writer is occasionally picking up signals from this as he or she delves into their art of writing about, for instance, things of which they can personally know nothing, such as the mind of the truly deviant.

    Maybe the writer needs to have the right and left side of the brain working in synchrony, because they do need to be analytical, logical and on time too.

  3. The trouble with the unconscious is that’s exactly what it is. So it’s hard to analyse what actually is going on. When I talk to artists and musicians about this, the common ground between us is very clear. Presumably that old idosyncratic blend of nature and nurture determines for each individual both whether you are going to do something creative and the form (or forms) it will take for you. There are all sorts of creators out there, of course, and in all sorts of areas.

    Is it wise for creators to think too much about the unconscious, about the source of ideas? I don’t know. But I can’t help remembering that I meet dozens of people who think a great deal about writing but somehow don’t do much of it.