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.