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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Creating a Text – Nicola Monaghan

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

There’s an inception phase. This is where the sparks of inspiration happen. I can be struck by an element of a person, say the way they speak, or a place, or just an atmosphere that I want to recreate. Usually several of these elements combine in some way. I make lots of notes and a coherent idea begins to emerge. With The Killing Jar, for example, I was standing at a bus stop and noticed the vibrancy and energy around me, and how much was going on, and that was a starting point. Then there was a writing exercise when I remembered the close I lived on as a little girl, and some teenagers next door who used to collect butterflies and keep them in a cage. Then I started to think about the rave scene, and the differences between different types of drugs and the people who take them. Because my head was in this place, considering these things, everything I observed became part of it. And once I decided I was writing the book in dialect, then everything anyone said became a point for observation.

During this inception phase, I might do little snatches of writing, but mostly I make notes and let the energy build. I think it would be a mistake to write too much at this point. Until your ideas and momentum for a project have built, the writing isn’t going to flow and will stall and stop along the way and this could put you off writing it at all.

Next comes the drafting phase. Here I let rip onto paper and into my laptop. I used to hand write everything but, increasingly, it goes straight into the computer. At this point, if I’ve let the first phase last long enough, then I have lots of energy for writing and just go for it. I do stop to plan along the way, building complex spreadsheets about what I’m going to write. It’s important to me that I don’t allow these plans to become a straightjacket though. They’re there to help and guide me, to give me a skeletal basis for the book, not to restrict me. Once I write each part I let myself go in whatever direction feels right. I try not to read back through the drafting process. This, again, can stall you so I avoid it and tell myself I’ll worry about the quality later.

Finally, there’s the redrafting and polishing phase. This can be more or less time consuming depending on the piece of work and how it all goes. The Killing Jar was pretty easy. I had to add a couple of chapters and generally tighten up some of the writing but not a lot else. With Starfishing it was much harder and the changes were much more radical; it took a lot longer. I imagine it will be different with every book I write.

This is my take on how it works for novels. For shorter pieces, it’s quite different. The inception phase is much shorter. In fact, for some short stories, that phase hasn’t really happened at all. At least, not in any conscious way. Occasionally, I’ve sat down and written and been surprised at what has come out. That’s the joy of short fiction, and the reason I write a fiction blog. Novel writing is such a long haul. It’s nice to be spontaneous and playful sometimes.

Nicola Monaghan is a writer; her novel The Killing Jar, won a Betty Trask Award, the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and the Waverton Good Read. She has two blogs, Shots, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer.

2 Responses to “Creating a Text – Nicola Monaghan”

  1. write says:

    Thats really useful

  2. Arthur Piper says:

    At a recent workshop Nicola Monaghan also spoke of the importance of just writing to get going in the first place – and the role that workshops had played in her work. Looks like the writing shapes the method and not the other way around.

    jb says: Thanks for the comment, Arthur. And also the link to your excellent site.