I am endlessly fascinated when authors describe their writing process. This is partly because I’m just plain nosy, but also because I’m probably looking for validation that I’m ‘doing it right’. We all know the adage ‘there’s no right or wrong way, just your way,’ but even so…
The question I’m most frequently asked is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ This remains one of the hardest to answer. I wish I knew. If there was a postcode location to the place where the good ideas live, I’d move there in a heartbeat.
Searching for a good story is a bit like going out determined to find the love of your life. It’s bound to end in disappointment. You scare away the good ones and are left with only the rejects. I don’t mind admitting that looking for a plot keeps me awake at night, far more than the writing process ever does.
The inspiration for my latest book, A Million Dreams, came to me after I heard about a couple in America and the incredible series of events that had thrust them into the limelight ten years ago. Their story fascinated me and triggered off the question I usually find myself asking at this stage of the process…‘I wonder what would happen if…?’
There are authors who are dedicated plotters. I’ve seen photographs on social media of entire walls covered with post-it notes. I am in awe. I don’t plot, or at least not like that. Once I have an idea I’ll usually know where the book is going to start and also where it will end…it’s the bit in the middle that remains a mystery. Of course people like your agent and your editor actually want a fleshed out synopsis before you set off on your writing journey. I’ve provided these for each of my books, and some of them even bear a passing resemblance to how the book actually finished up, although I feel that is more of a happy accident.
I write at home on an old fashioned desktop computer. Perhaps it’s all the years I spent working in offices, but for me something engages in my head when I’m sitting down at a desk, that I don’t think would happen if I was curled up on the settee or in bed with my laptop. Those are my favourite places to lose myself in other authors’ books. My own come into being in my office. Well, I say office, it’s more of a narrow storage room cum cat food station (we can’t feed her in the kitchen, or the dog will eat it). Some people surround themselves with fresh flowers to inspire their writing, whereas my books have all been written with the aroma of something fishy swimming in jelly in the air.
During the winter months I’m guaranteed to have company as I write, which has more to do with the underfloor heating we’ve installed in the room where I work, rather than the devotion my dog and cat feel towards me.
Having music play while I write is a necessity. But it has to be something I know well, so that I’m not distracted. My current obsession is country music – no judging me now. I’ve discovered a radio station that plays nothing except this genre, so my last three books have all been written with this playing in the background. However there are certain scenes that cry out for a specific song in order to create the right mood. One of the final scenes in my book This Love was written with Keith Urban’s song ‘Break On Me’ playing on a loop. Now, whenever I hear that song, I’m transported back to those pages of my book.
The blueprint for my work day begins with a dog walk. This is where I’ll formulate that day’s writing, and where I get my best ideas for conversations between my characters. I’ll often try these out loud, which confuses the poor dog no end, and probably makes me appear more than a little crazy.
Before I begin work each day I always go back and edit the previous day’s work. I know many authors prefer to keep their eye on the finishing line and don’t want to break momentum by tweaking as they go, but I don’t feel happy going forward if I think there’s something that might need fixing. Admittedly this slows down the process, which might explain why it takes me so long to write a book. The upside of this is that my first draft is usually fairly clean and tidy.
Several years ago, when I left my ‘proper’ job to concentrate on writing full time, I was full of (totally unrealistic) good intentions. I thought I’d be super productive; I thought I’d be disciplined; I thought I’d be able to write two books a year. I thought wrong on every count. Mornings are not my most productive time, which is a euphemism for saying that I spend far too long on Facebook, Twitter and eBay to actually produce anything at all. However mid to late afternoon is when I hit my stride. My long suffering husband discovered very early in my new career that if he wanted to eat anything other than takeaways, he was going to have to take over the evening cooking duties.
The one thing I like to do before turning off my computer is to read that day’s work out loud. I find this is a really invaluable way of checking both the pace of the story and the authenticity of the dialogue. And because two opinions are better than one, I’ll usually ask my husband to listen to this daily account (I wasn’t kidding when I said he was long suffering).
Being a full time author is a career that came to me fairly late in life and I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed that, after years of trying and failing, I am now one of the lucky few who now has a job they’ve always dreamed of doing. It’s an honour and a privilege to be a published author, and one I never take for granted.
(c) Dani Atkins
About A Million Dreams:
Beth Brandon always dreamed of owning a florist, but today the bouquets of peonies and bright spring flowers are failing to calm her nerves. Because today, Beth has a life-changing decision to share with her husband.
Izzy Vaughan thought she and her husband would stay together forever, but sometime last year, their love began to fade. They both find such joy in their young son Noah – but is he enough to keep them together?
Eight years ago, something happened to these two women. Something that is about to bring them together in a way no-one thought possible…
Thought-provoking, emotional and uplifting, this is a gripping love story for fans of Jojo Moyes and Amanda Prowse.
‘A true love story, written by a mother’s heart’ Milly Johnson.
‘A captivating story that packs an emotional punch’ Heidi Swain.
Order your copy online here.