The second author to grace us with his writing tips this year is Glenn Quigley.
Glenn is a graphic designer originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He creates bear designs for www.themoodybear.com.
He has been interested in writing since he was a child, as essay writing was the one and only thing he was ever any good at in school. When not writing or designing, he enjoys photography and has recently taken up watercolour painting.
Kevin very kindly invited me to do a little post with some writing tips. I thought I’d explain a bit about how I organise my writing. I’m going to tell you about the four files essential to my process, and the one app I can’t live without. (No, you’re being dramatic.)
This is just the way I do things; everyone will develop their own methods. These may work for you, they may not. Everyone’s path is different, though we often pass the same landmarks along the way.
Some writers never go anywhere without a notepad and pen. I never go anywhere without my phone and an app called ColorNote (I find my handwriting gets far too sloppy when I’m scribbling ideas as they come to me. The app keeps things legible!)
Any thoughts I have about a story I’m working on, any line of dialogue, any interesting characteristic or image, all of it gets noted in the app, along with the date. At the end of each day, I email the note to myself and then copy it into one of two places – either the Master Notes file for the story I’m working on or a document called General Ideas.
FILE NUMBER ONE:
I’ve been keeping a file called General Ideas for years. It’s been on every computer I’ve owned for at least fifteen years, and it’s filled with single lines of dialogue, character names, interesting scenes, places, images, and things that came to me in dreams. It’s where I got the name The Moth and the Moon from, as I thought of it years and years ago, knowing that one day it would come in useful. I didn’t know at the time that it would end up being the name of my first novel.
FILE NUMBER TWO:
Now, that Master Notes file I mentioned? That’s the key to my whole writing process. Every thought (and I mean every thought) I have about the story I’m working on goes in there. Dated and organised. Every idea, good or bad, every possible avenue of exploration, every subplot, every exchange of dialogue, it all gets noted down, because if you’re anything like me you will forget things. I also put any research notes in there, along with links and images. This saves a lot of hair pulling when, six months after I research something, I realise I need to change it and am sitting at an empty Google search box wondering what the hell I typed in to find the info in the first place. This is also the place where I work out character arcs and plots.
FILE NUMBER THREE:
The actual story gets its own document, of course. Using the character arc I worked out in the previous file, I start writing, just letting it all flow out. Your first draft isn’t meant to be perfect; it’s just a way of getting everything out and onto the page. Every time I make a major story change, I save it as a new version. Sometimes storylines don’t work out and you need to go back, or sometimes you can cannibalise old versions.
To give you some idea of how many versions I go through, my last novel, The Lion Lies Waiting, has ninety versions, not including the various chapters that I cut out and put into their own documents and reworked or discarded entirely. This might seem excessive, but when working on the story I found it tremendously comforting to know that everything I wrote was still there, still accessible, should I need it. You might think that having character arcs and plot outlines means you know how a story will go, but as any explorer will tell you – the map is not the territory.
FILE NUMBER FOUR:
The last document is called Working Stuff Out. Rather than changing the main manuscript, I find it easier (mentally) to copy a passage out and paste it into another document twice. The first is for me to refer to or revert to, and the second is the one I change and work on. When I’m happy with it, I paste the new version back into the manuscript, replacing the original. Again, knowing the original version still exists is very comforting to me and sometimes I have actually reverted back to what I’d originally written and was glad to still have it.
Something I’ve found handy over the years is to imagine being interviewed about the story. Imagine the kinds of questions you’d be asked and how you’d answer them. Sometimes, just sometimes, having to condense a work down to a snappy reply helps you focus on the parts that are really important and can help you to see the story and characters in a new light.
If a scene isn’t clicking, trying writing it from the point of view of another character. This can make you see it in a different light and change your perspective of it.
QUICKEST YET MOST IMPORTANT TIP:
Make backups. In at least two different places. Don’t ask, just do it. When it happens, you’ll know why.
You can find out more about Glenn through his site – http://glennquigley.com/
Or you can check out his socials –
The next in the series can be found HERE