The Creative Process: Part Six – Novelist
We’re now moving on from the stage to your bookshelves. Our look at the creative process across different creative industries has so far explored five completely different industries and today is no exception.
Many of us have uttered the words ‘I quite fancy writing a book one day’ but not many of us have. Our next guest in this series is a best selling author. Her books have been critically acclaimed and loved by readers.
Tracy Buchanan is the author of My Sister’s Secret which was a Kindle number one bestseller and appeared in the UK’s top 10 ebooks of 2015. Her latest novel No Turning Back hits US bookshelves in June this year, and UK readers will get treated to her brand new novel, Her Last Breath, in the same month.
Q1. With a blank page in front of you and with zero words yet to be written, please explain to us the very first stage of writing a novel. Does a moment in time trigger an idea or a moment of inspiration out of nowhere cause ideas to flow? Or is there a more formulated approach to developing an idea or story?
It’s usually a moment in time which triggers an idea. A glimpse of a farmer with his dogs while walking in Exmoor (my first novel The Atlas of Us). Catching a stranger’s eye as I walk past with my newborn daughter (my latest novel, No Turning Back). A documentary about landslides. Suddenly an idea will take hold of me and a story unfolds (the novel coming out in June, Her Last Breath). When the story unfolds in my mind from that moment, it feels eerily natural and instant. But I have a feeling the story and those characters have probably been formulating in my mind for months, maybe even years. I just didn’t know it until then.
Q2. Once you have established some form of a story line or plot, how do you go about developing the characters and story beyond the initial ideas stage? Can you explain the creative process behind this stage?
Now I’m under contract with HarperCollins, they ask me to send short synopses of each novel. So I’ll write out the story over 3-4 pages, as though I’m sat in the pub explaining the main plot elements to a friend, spoilers included. I then use Excel spreadsheets to go deeper into the plot. That doesn’t sound very creative, does it?! But I find it helps me organise my jumbled thoughts. So I’ll plot the novel out row by row, and list the main elements of each main character. The rest then unravels when I’m writing the novel.
Q3. Creativity isn’t a light switch that can be switched on and off. It will light up at the most random of times. How do you approach creative blocks especially when you’re on a deadline?
I go for a walk. Or watch a film. Or read a book. It’s best to step away and stop banging your head against a wall. I then find I come back refreshed and the writing continues. If that doesn’t work, I just write, usually only the scenes that really fascinate me. I don’t often get writer’s block though as I can often take a business approach to it now I’m under contract: I have a book to write and if I don’t, I won’t get paid. And if I don’t get paid, I won’t be able to continue writing and being creative as a day job.
Q4. At what stage of your creative process do you decide whether to shelve an idea for later or if this is something to pursue further? In addition to this, have you ever completely quit an idea after several weeks of writing?
When you’re under contract with a publisher, there’s not much time to shelve ideas. You pitch an idea and they then pay you an advance to deliver it! It can be as clinical as that. I find that the biggest issue aspiring authors have is jumping from idea to idea and never actually writing a darn book! You have to have faith in your creative instincts. If an idea comes to you, give it a chance. Most writers will then find 20k words in is a sore point, the time they tend to give up on a novel. But I persevere. You just need to get the first draft down as that’s the biggest hurdle. But having said all that, yes, I have given up on idea before I got published. There are a few beginnings of various novels lying on my computer!
Q5. When you’re writing, do you set about surrounding yourself in the right environment? For example, are there specific soundtracks that you pick out to listen to when you know that there is a specific scene or moment in a story that you need to write? If so, can you elaborate on this for us?
Music plays a bit role. I have playlists on Spotify for each novel, and also mood lists as well. It really helps get me into the vibe. I also have a gorgeous study where I write. It was the first room we decorated when we moved house! It has a forest scene on one wall and makes me feel I’m in the middle of the forest with my laptop, peacefully writing.
Q6. What’s your favourite part of the creative process and why?
The beginning, as it is with everyone I think! It’s the freest time, when you’re exploring an idea and getting deliciously excited about it. I think for an author, the business mind then sets in when you start revising a novel. I think Stephen King once said you write your first draft for yourself then subsequent drafts for your readers. So that initial stage is self-indulgent and fun!
Q7. What inspires you and which other creative forms inspire you?
I’m inspired by films and TV, and also my travels, just being out in the open.
Q8. What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to write a book. Be it a fiction or non-fiction?
Just get a draft down! Stop obsessing and changing your mind. The first idea you have is usually the right idea and you can spend a lifetime toying with different ideas and never actually write a damn thing. Most of all, enjoy it! If you don’t, then what’s the point?