Creating a Text – M.E. Ellis
What phases are involved in the creation of a text?
In my naïve youth, I used to think authors wrote books chapter by chapter. I also thought they wrote the book, sent it to a publisher, and it got printed as is. Having become an author, I soon realised that books are written in snatches, sometimes a sentence or two at a time. Being an editor, I know that books are chopped and changed around several times before they make it to print.
When I began writing, I tended to want to get a book finished once I started it. I wouldn’t rest until I’d finished a chapter. I never left anything mid-sentence. Couldn’t understand how anyone could. However, my writing style and life changed. Though I can write a novel in eight days (my shortest time so far), with children in my life, a doorbell, a telephone, I find I am interrupted quite often. Some days I can bash out 10K. Others, one sentence at a time. It’s amazing how I can pick up from where I left off without any problem.
This got me thinking. I’ll read a book now and wonder at which point the author’s wife asked him if he wanted a cup of tea. Where, if he has children, they asked him an insane question at the crucial plot point, and he had to grit his teeth, turn away from his computer and address his child, losing that wonderful line that had been bursting to come out, and now only lingered as a faint idea. I tend to study books-I spotted last night where Author went into tell mode. I wondered if he, like me at times, just couldn’t be bothered to show such an insignificant part of the plot and yabbered on in tell mode to get it out of the way. This made me smile, for writing is a process, one that hits many highs and lows before a book is completely finished.
Parts of my writing flow out of me. In fact, most of it does. But there are times when I sit before this computer, perhaps not in the right frame of mind, or outside noise is too prevalent, oh, any number of reasons, and it’s a struggle to get even 100 words down. For me, that’s odd. I’m the kind of writer that 2K a day is nothing. 5-6K is my average. 8-10 on a good day, when Lady Muse, no children or interruptions, and peace and quiet lend a hand. At the moment I’m writing a short story, which stands at 5K. This has taken me three days to write so far. I wonder, is it because my mind is on other things? Or perhaps because the voice is one I haven’t tried before? Whatever the reason, though it is coming together nicely, it’s taking too long for me.
What I have noticed, is that I can be writing away and I’ll suddenly have to stop. I know what I want to say, but can’t quite get the words down. I’ll sit, hands poised over keyboard, and look upwards. Thinking. Rolling different word patterns around in my mind. I might sit like that for a while. I might get up from the computer (after pressing save-I’ve lost many words by leaving the computer. The children dash into my seat as soon as my rear end leaves it) and smoke a cigarette in the garden. I tend to look at the trees. For some reason they clear my mind. And a new plot idea, that teasing sentence will pop back into my head. I’ll repeat it in my mind, dash back to the computer, say ‘Get off! Quick!’ and sometimes, I manage to get that line down there and then. Often, the kids say, ‘Aww! Lemme just… I was just…’ and I lose it again. Why I don’t just jot it in a notebook, I’ll never know.
I smile to myself sometimes when a reader mentions a certain part of one of my books. I can recall exactly what was occurring in the room at the time I wrote that part. I’ll think, ‘Oh, that was around the time I picked that massive bogey!’ or ‘I yelled for quiet at that time!’ and my personal favourite was while writing the romantic scene in Charade. Throughout the whole of that, I typed and grumbled out loud at the children. I remember saying, ‘You really do have a problem respecting my writing time. How is it the minute I sit down to write you all play me up or want something? Selfish! Do I come and interrupt you on the Playstation? Do I run to the park and dive into your football game? No, I don’t think I do. But that’s okay, I’m only mum, you can do it to me. Well, thank you very much!’ How I wrote and ranted is beyond me, but I’ll never forget the fact that my mouth said one thing, yet my mind switched off and I was able to type another. Very weird.
Another thing I found out when I became a writer, was the fact that as a reader, I thought the book went from A to B, everything that needed to be written was written during each chapter sitting, and that was that. Umm, right. I now write what I call the ‘bare bones’ of a book. One day I’ll write 5K. The next day I read that 5K and add/delete words. The same on the next 5K or however much I’ve written until the book is complete. Then I do a ‘search and find’ for pet words and write them out. After that, I’ll go through and add atmosphere: sights, smells, sounds. And finally, I go through it once again and add/delete words. So again, when reading, I often wonder what bits Author added afterwards. And what bits editor suggested or changed.
And now I do understand how it can take Author a year or two to write a book. I used to think, ‘What? How can anyone write so slowly?’ but it isn’t just about the writing. Author could have written that book in four months. It’s the poncing around with it afterwards; the two month break to distance yourself from it so you can edit afresh. Another two month break, another edit. And another.
Regardless, writing is a terrific journey, one that can undoubtedly be frustrating, tiring, upsetting, but for me it releases many demons, is my form of therapy, and without it, I think I would be terribly lost.
Michelle Ellis is a writer, the author of Pervalism and Charade, among others; she blogs at: Nutter’s Gang.