Last week hosted the Writing Blog Tour and was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to host it too. So, today, you have my answers to the four questions on writing, followed by introductions to three lovely authoresses who will be doing the same next week.
1) What am I working on?
I think a better question might be what am I not working on, because my “to write” list seems to have gone a little existential of late. However, in the interests of full disclosure – I really must stop re-watching The Fifth Estate, it’s having a very odd effect on my language – I shall attempt to elucidate.
Firstly the Sherlock fan fiction … Oh my life, there is so much of it! WIP that is part posted, WIP that isn’t posted at all, plus promises I’ve made for stories I haven’t even started planning properly, never mind writing. However, I have a list. Actually I have lists of lists. Plus enthusiasm and a relatively fast typing speed. Good job really, considering:
Backside Rodeo is being finished at the moment – a Sports AU in which Sherlock is a snowboard slopestyle star and John is his personal trainer and husband, although the second point isn’t common knowledge. The fact that they’re a couple is, though. The fic is set around the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics (snowboard slopestyle became an official event for the first time this February) and involves a look at just how Russia’s new anti-gay laws can be used to victimise the innocent. Two chapters are already posted, there are four more being finished. Eventually there will be more stories in this universe because I’ve fallen in love with it and I have half written one-shots of all sorts of back story that is alluded to within this fic. The series will be called Shezza’s Sick Slopestyle, because who doesn’t like alliteration?
Once that is written, I’m moving on to clear two other WIPs that are also part posted.
As Nature Intended (the Omegaverse mpreg I swore I’d never write) will be tackled first. There are two chapters already up, with seven others in various stages of completion, charting the progress of Sherlock’s pregnancy and how he (with John’s help) comes to terms with his omega instincts and why he’s been so determined to repress them for so long. Poor Sherlock is not, currently, having an easy pregnancy and I only seem to be making things worse at the moment. I’m not sure if I should be worried about my need to make Sherlock suffer, but Sherlock certainly should!
Racing Against the Clock is next up. Another AU, this time Sherlock meets Skyfall (although it’s not a true crossover) spawning espionage, plots within plots, 00 agents and Moriarty as a suitably cracked Bond villain. The central theme, however, is Sherlock and John meeting and falling in love, which is unsurprising given that this started as a submission to the Unconventional Courtship Mills and Boon Pan-Fandom challenge,. Again, two chapters have been posted already and everything is plotted, I just have to finish writing the other four. After that? Well July will be taken up with the prompt a day challenge, so you can expect to see a lot of John suffering physical and emotional hurt/comfort over my dash.
Then I will be returning to the epic Plans (which is already seventy thousand words long and still not finished), a post Reichenbach, hiatus and reunion fic that started life back in November 2011. It will not, in any way, be Series 3 compliant. I’m sure you can guess why. And once that’s done I shall remember that Series 3 does actually exist and Pretending He’s Beside Me and East Wind Coming will make their appearances.
As far as my original works go ….
The Arthurian novels are currently languishing on my hard drive, in various states of disarray, wondering when their knight in shining armour is going to come and rescue them. Sadly they’ll be waiting quite a long time as I found a huge problem in the world structure and I still haven’t figured out how to fix it. Until I do, I can’t make headway. I suspect my lack of brilliant ideas for sorting it is also down to how much else I’m working on and I’m quite content for it to sit on the back burner for the moment.
In Foreign Fields (a working title) is a different matter entirely. This is my World War One and Afghanistan Conflict novel and, if I don’t lose my mind trying to hit every little detail spot on whilst I finish the planning, I’m hoping to use this years NaNoWriMo to get a decent draft together that I can then spend the first half of 2015 rebuilding before I start putting feelers out for a publisher. I realise I haven’t really explained what the novel is about but I hope it will be worth waiting for.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I have a genre? Oh, right. Excellent. Gold stars and chocolate cookies for anyone who can tell me what it is.
Sorry, being serious for a moment, my first answer to how my writing differs from that of others would be “because I’m the one doing it”. Every single person in this world has a different take on things, because individuals experience life in different ways. Someone once said – and I really should google this to find out who – that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them. I believe that wholeheartedly and it’s one of the reasons why I write – to find out how I will tell the story.
I have never sat down to write a romance or an action story or a crime thriller. When I sit down, I’m trying to tell the story that the characters I’m hearing and seeing in my head want me to tell. Their experiences are informed by mine. Their story becomes “our” story. It’s one of the reasons I can’t seem to stop writing Sherlock fic; the Sherlock and John I write about have pieces of me in them now and I need to know how their stories end in each of the different worlds they’ve dragged me into.
Going back to my slightly facetious first response to this, and the genre question, I genuinely don’t think I can pigeonhole what I do that neatly.
Take my Arthurian novels for example, unfinished though they may be. Are they fantasy or historical fiction? (And let’s not get into the “Arthur didn’t exist” debate, simply accept that I believe there was a Warlord in Britain around five hundred A.D. who united the tribes for a while and held off the Saxon Hordes and he is my Arthur). Well, they definitely fulfil the fantasy tag because there is magic, very definite magic, of the hand waving, spell-casting, power-over-mind-and-body kind. That said, everything else about the world – the living conditions, the clothes, the armour and the hierarchical structure – is as close to correct for the time period as I can make it. Is there romance in there? Yes of course there is, this is the story of Arthur’s life – no one lives without encountering romance in some form or other, even if it is only to push it away and deny it. Is there action? Hell, yes. The dark ages were brutal and violent and Arthur earned his reputation as a Warlord. If I had to classify it, which genre would I pick? No idea, please don’t ask.
3) Why do I write what I do?
More often than not there is no rhyme or reason as to what gets me to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. You only have look at the diversity of my WIP to see that I can find inspiration in almost anything.
Take my latest finished Sherlock fic, Tales from the Riverbank. It’s just over a thousand words that simply flowed out of me. The initial inspiration came from seeing the first stanza of Kiplings “A River’s Tale” in a story I was beta reading and instantly imagining what Sherlock might have thought of the poem as a child. I wrote the poem down and made a note to write a story using it sometime in the future, but I had no intention of doing anything with it immediately. Then, barely five days later, I was doing some different beta work which (although indirectly) involved Sherlock and John doing something that, for me, crossed the line and made me active dislike both of them and spawned some very dark thoughts that night. The next morning, born I think out of a need to reinstate my Sherlock and John in my head space, the whole story was playing on a loop in my mind. It took me less than an hour to get it from brain to page. The poem remained a major element of the story but the other main aspect came from the research I’ve been doing for parts of In Foreign Fields.
Not all inspiration strikes quite so swiftly and completely though. However, once something has gripped me enough to start, I don’t let it go, no matter how long it takes me to work through it. Whether I’m exploring the effects of government backed homophobia or trying to understand how soldiers can walk into what seems like certain death or how they reconcile the need to kill to carry out their duty with their own morals and/or religion, I put the characters into the situation and then just keep plugging away – a hundred words here, two thousand words there – until I’m done.
I also write from direct prompts or for challenges. The Send-Off was written for the Red Pants Challenge and Thank God There’s a Doctor in the House was written for a prompt I stumbled across on one of the Sherlock Livejournal communities. Whereas Thank God There’s a Doctor in the House pretty much followed the prompt to the letter, The Send-Off is about as far removed from what is expected of a Red Pants fic as you can imagine – no sex and a central theme of loss, coping and recovery stemming from John’s time in Afghanistan.
There are times when I wake up with a character in my head who just won’t shut up until I’ve written down whatever it is they want me to tell the world. I might see a picture and end up with far more than the thousand words we’re so often told pictures are worth. Sometimes I write because I want to know what I really think and feel about a topic I saw on the news, or a character trait I encountered in someone. Sometimes I write because I need to stop feeling.
Most of all I write because I can no longer countenance not writing. Writing is a part of me, a facet of who I am. It’s how I understand myself and make sense of the world around me.
4) How does your writing process work?
Now there’s a question. In all honesty, I’m not sure I actually have one single approach that works for everything. It’s a bit of mix and match, depending on what I’m working on.
As I said above, some of my short stories appear in my head almost fully formed and writing them down feels more like transcribing what I’m watching in my mind’s eye. However that is the exception, rather than the norm. Most of the time I’ll have an idea, or see something that sets me off, and that initial thought/feeling will get jotted down in the ever present Notebook (and yes, it does deserve a capital letter). Depending on how far into my brain the thought has burrowed depends on what else gets written down alongside it; things from bullet points of questions it raises, or a quick sketch of a scene I can see based on it, all the way through to the entire skeleton of the plot.
If the “idea” is actually a character then there’ll be an initial scene that gives an outline of their personality and then I’ll keep going back, adding points and information as they occur to me. Sometimes the page in the notebook is all I’ll need for them – if they’re only a minor character or just for a short story – but if they’re going to take centre stage then they get typed up timelines and a proper character file.
I spend over an hour each day driving to and from work and I use this time to mentally plot things, niggle at little details, talk out loud to my characters and generally behave in a manner that would make anyone else who witnessed it think that I might possibly need some mental help. This is an invaluable part of my writing process, as is walking the dog, where the pounding of feet and the fresh air bring things into sharp focus and helps me identify what really matters and what is extraneous and needs to be put aside. I keep a file just for that purpose because often further stories are born from the “darlings” I’ve killed.
If the story is a one-shot I just start writing, plotting as I go and then reshaping and redrafting once I’ve found out just what it wants to be. Which would be fine if I didn’t have a compulsion to edit everything I write almost as I write it. It does nothing for getting from A to B and can be incredibly stifling. I often have to push myself very hard to get to the end of the story before I start really hacking about with sentence structure and polishing dialogue.
With short stories and one shots, once it’s written and has a first rough edit, I then leave it for a bit (and a bit can be two hours, two days or two weeks) before going over it from a plot and flow perspective (picking up as many SPAG issues as I can, but not focusing on them). Once that’s done, it goes off to a beta reader. When it comes back I go over the comments and changes, make the amendments required (and yes, again, the “darlings” that don’t make the final cut go into the file) and then – unless I’m feeling really impatient – I give it a day to just sit before I do a SPAG review and then post it (most of my shorts are fan fic or original stuff for my blogs, rather than anything I actually try to get published).
That said, there is often a point, usually about 8k words into the “short story” when I realise that it’s going to be anything but short. At which point I switch to “multi-chapter” mode.
If I know that what I want to write will take several chapters I first of all type up the brain dump from the Notebook, then try and organise it into a basic skeleton. If there was already a basic skeleton in the brain dump, so much the better. I then take each section of the skeleton to a separate document and just freewrite on each one. The freewrites are then re-amalgamated to become a rough, chaptered plan.
At that point what happens next really depends on how I’m feeling about the story. If I’ve got lots of I need to check x notes within the plan at really basic points then I’ll do research and fact checking. Then I’ll revise the plan again before I start to draft the chapters proper. However if I’m feeling impatient or there are scenes that I can see vividly, I’ll write those first, then do the research.
If the skeleton and basic plan feel “off” to me in some way but I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong then I’ll start micro-planning, and end up with a walk-through of the story, which usually means I can pinpoint the problem. Beyond the Grave ended up with a micro-plan. I’m already aware that In Foreign Fields is going to need one too.
Then I write the first draft.
Usually any problems I encounter at that point revolve around reconciling the plot and the character, because as I write I let the characters drive the plot, not the other way round. Thus I often have to completely rethink things at inopportune moments. In Beyond The Grave, for instance, my initial idea was that Greg, not John, would be the one to punch Sherlock when Sherlock revealed he was still alive. It was a scene that got written before I finished my research. I could see it in glorious Technicolor and it was divine. Then, as I worked through, I realised that Greg, as I was writing him, wouldn’t do that. The ending I was working towards wasn’t valid at all. Sherlock ended up not being punched by anyone and I spent a long time having kittens about what on earth I was going to have Greg do instead. Then Sherlock did something so intrinsically Sherlockian I had no idea why I hadn’t realised he’d do that in the planning stage and suddenly Greg’s reaction was obvious.
My first drafts are, as you’ll gather, not strictly speaking first drafts given the detail that is already there before I start to write. This does mean that, if I’m writing for a challenge, or feeling particularly impatient, or still uncertain whether the story is really going to work, I send initial chapters out for beta before writing the rest of the story. When I was still learning how my writing process worked, I thought that – in the case of my fan fic – if I posted those chapters it would push me towards getting over whatever problems I’d found in the rest of the draft. As Racing Against the Clock and As Nature Intended proved, this was actually counter productive and made me panic so much it’s taken far longer than it should have done for me to pick them back up. I now don’t post if I don’t have a workable draft. However, I sort of broke my “rules” a bit with Backside Rodeo, but I wanted to get something out in time for the challenge deadline, so I posted the first chapter before I’d finished the first draft of the whole story. That said, there is a full draft now and I’m working to tidy it for beta, so I don’t feel too guilty.
For non-challenge works, I leave the first draft alone for a few days, may be even a week, and then print it out and read it through. If I’m uncertain about phraseology, flow or pacing, I read the sections aloud. I make changes as appropriate and then decide that the story is awful, that no one will want to read it and generally have an internalised strop that would put one of Sherlock’s sulks to shame. Then I send stuff out for beta reading and wait to see what they say. For my fan fic, unless there’s a huge problem or a particularly tricky scene, it only goes out to my beta and gets reworked once before I post. For the rest, it depends on the length and complexity of the story. Again, as with my short stories, SPAG is the last thing I review before they head out into the wide world.
A final word
Do you know what? Looking at my answers to those questions, I actually feel like a proper writer, rather than someone who’s just having a quick dabble on the fringes of the world of words and has no idea what she’s really doing. Two years ago I couldn’t have begun to answer any of them in a meaningful manner. The fact that I now can is down to 150,000 words of Sherlock fan fiction and the circle of incredibly supportive friends, readers and fellow Sherlockians I’ve come to know in the process. Not forgetting my Mum, who is my biggest fan and does a wonderful line in sensible thoughts and SPAG checking.
So thank you. All of you. I am very, very grateful and very glad to know you.
Next week, the Writing Blog Tour is visiting the following three fabulous people. Please don’t forget to check in with them on Monday 31 March:
1electricpirate/rumregrets has a terrible penchant for picking ridiculous screennames and using loads of them all at once – so you can just call her Heidi. Heidi is a twenty-something master’s student of Nation, History and Society in Eastern Europe at the University College of London. If you were to ask her where exactly she’s from, she’d probably laugh in your face. (The Internet still isn’t a socially acceptable answer to that question, but she lives in hope.) When she isn’t buried under a pile of books on Yugoslavia or beating her head against Finnish grammar rules, she is to be found either tweeting up a storm or trooping merrily across London or, often, both at once. She started writing fan fiction (terrible, terrible fan fiction) at the tender age of thirteen and will under no circumstances be divulging which fandom that dubious beginning was in. Since then, she’s made a fandom journey through Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter MWPP-era and thus into the Sherlock fandom where she intends to stay for the foreseeable future.
221b_hound: I took up fanfic again after a 30 year break because there wasn’t enough Sherlock in my life and because fanfic gave me an opportunity to play around with styles and story types I hadn’t written before. In RL I work professionally as a corporate writer and editor, and I’ve also had several books published. Several professional projects have come to fruition as a result of my experiments with fanfic, including the Kitty and Cadaver online multimedia project and my new line in erotic romance!
Atlin Merrick is paid to write non-fiction by day (health and wellness features mostly), and not yet paid for the slash and original fic she writes by night. She is exceedingly glad to have found BBC Sherlock, the wonderful Sherlock fandom, and the glorious readers who take the time to share their informative, happy-making thoughts after they’ve read a story. Atlin finds people are generally less effusive about her articles on flu shots or pap tests. Go figure. P.S. Atlin is American-born but lives in London as she studies for a bachelors in Film and Media.