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My Writing Process by Sandra Harris

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Sandra Harris

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I’d love to be able to tell you that there’s mystery and magic inherent in My Writing Process, lol, but sadly it’s a lot more prosaic than that. I’d love to be able to say that I rise at 5am, meditate for an hour by my Oriental water feature and koi pond and then sit in my glass box with its spectacular views of the French Riviera/Swiss Alps/Brazilian rainforest/Aurora Borealis/Chris Hemsworth’s bathroom for the rest of the day and pen beautiful words with a calligraphy set once owned by Charles Dickens himself.

I’d love to be able to say all that, but none of it would be true. I’m not even sure that that much perfection wouldn’t put me off my game anyway. I mean, can you imagine the pressure on you to write fantastic prose in such mystical surroundings? I think I’ll stick to my kitchen table, thanks…!

During the school year I get up at 7am, pack the son-and-heir off to his special school and sit down to write, anywhere between eight and eight-thirty. Thanks to the Great Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020, it’s now more likely to be up at nine, writing by ten. I wrote Thirteen Stops and its sequel, Thirteen Stops Later, during school hours.

The prequel, Thirteen Stops Earlier, was written during the lockdown, so I suppose I should be extra-proud of this one because it was harder to write. I get most of my writing ideas while out and about, you see, walking and doing my little Mammy-errands during the school day. Because we were all so cooped-up in lockdown, I was out much less and the ideas dried up. I therefore had to work much harder to come up with interesting plots and sub-plots for my characters.

My desk is my kitchen table, as I’ve already mentioned, and my study is, obviously, the kitchen itself. During the lockdown, when schools and certain workplaces were closed and both my son and daughter were at home all day, there was a lot of traffic through here.

I could be interrupted by my offspring anywhere between five and fifteen times per writing session, and have to answer such diverse questions as why is there no butter and what’s the capital of Hungary. You get used to interruptions, though, as a mum, and you learn to not let the often-bizarre requests your children make of you on any given day throw you off your stride too much.

All I need to get started is my laptop, a gigantic barrel of tea and Kate Bush on the CD player. I don’t require absolute silence to write. In fact, it would probably unnerve me. I’m a ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter,’ which means that I don’t religiously plot out every single thing that happens in a chapter in advance and fly by the seat of my pants at times, but I do always need a core idea before I can start.

Once I have that core idea regarding what’s going to happen in a chapter, I’m grand and I can just work away and be reasonably satisfied that things will pan out okay. But I’ve never, ever sat down to a blank screen and thought, ho-hum, what will I write today, which I suppose is the purest and most accurate definition of the ‘pantser.’

I just don’t think that that way would work for me. I need that glimmer of an idea, first, however small, before I can commence my one-fingered tapping at the keyboard. I’m like that mechanical bird in The Simpsons who stands in for Homer perfectly adequately at the power plant by dipping and tapping his beak against the keys, and the effect is just the same as if Homer himself were there, mashing the keys with his obese palm…!

Each book in the Thirteen Stops trilogy comprises thirteen chapters. Each of twelve different characters gets their own chapter. Why thirteen chapters and only twelve characters? You’ll find that out when you buy the book, lol.

I write for two to three hours in each writing session (one to possibly two thousand words per session; any less and I beat myself up, any more and I collapse from exhaustion), and it takes three to four writing sessions to complete a chapter. If I allow myself to get distracted by social media, it takes longer. If it sounds painstaking or hard to do, that’s because it is. If it were a picnic, I suppose everyone would be at it.

Oh wait, everyone is at it. That’s why it’s so hard to get anywhere. When even next door’s dog has penned a series of bestselling self-help books (Taking the Ruff with the Smooth, Paws-ing for Thought, Embracing Your Inner Cat, What to do when your Tail Wags YOU, With (Pedigree) Chums like that, who needs Enemies?, Spaying your Cat, not your Creativity and so forth), it can be hard to believe that little old you is destined for great things. So, what’s my advice?

Keep at it. Show up every day at (roughly) the same time and, eventually, magic may happen. It may not happen overnight. It took me ten years to get my first traditional book publishing deal. And it’s still not plain sailing. The book industry is a cruel bitch-goddess. But when you see your own book in print for the first time, or hear someone give it a good review or say that reading it made a difference for the better in their lives, you might just find that it’s all been worth it.

You can pick up Thirteen Stops here!


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