Most of us are happy to talk about how we write and the methods we use – which room in the house, by hand or by computer, with or without music etc. And if you're anywhere near as nosy as I am, you love to find these things out and compare notes. I'm not ashamed to admit that I am just as nosy when it comes to finding out about the way famous authors write.
So you can imagine my delight when I came across a number of quotes from some well-known writers as I was thinking about this post. Each one talks a little about what they do or how they write, or offers a little advice for the writer who just doesn't know what to do next.
First of all, some straightforward advice from HG Wells: 'I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.' Starting at the beginning and working through to the end seems the most logical way to write, but sometimes it just doesn't work out like that. And it's easier said than done, sometimes, particularly when the words stop coming and writer's block sets in.
What about inspiration and new material? PD James recommends that we draw upon our own lives. 'Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.' That's where the small notebook in my bag comes in handy. You never know when you might visit a place or hear a snippet of conversation that you think is interesting, or perfect for a story. And you know you aren't going to remember it when you get home...
'Proceed slowly and take care.' So said Annie Proulx, the writer of the short story on which Brokeback Mountain was based, and in saying that she's clearly a woman after my own heart. There's nothing better (in my opinion) than knowing who is going to say what when and where the story is going. Planning, planning, planning – for me that's the key to easier writing.
For all you pantsers out there, I have the perfect quote from a great writer: 'I have something in common with Doctor Who? I make it up as I go along, except I am better at it than they are.' The person who said that? Terry Pratchett – a man with a fantastic sense of humour as well as an amazing imagination! Whether you enjoy reading his books or not, there's no denying he is a very talented writer and for some people, spontaneous writing is the way to go.
You could try taking the same approach as Michael Moorcock who said: 'Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.' I like the sound of this, particularly as I'm the kind of person who doesn't like being told what to do very much! But on a serious note, why can't we bend the rules? As writers, if we can't create our own rules, who can?
And last but not least, we have the words of Joyce Carol Oates: 'Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.' There's nothing more I can say about this – it's the best advice I have seen for dealing with the submission process, which is where we all end up when the hours of careful writing and editing are finished.
There is no one right way or wrong way to write. There may well be a right way for you, but you have to do a little trial and error to find that out. I tried making it up as I went along, but that turned out to be a big disaster. I know that, like in my life generally, I need to be organised when I write. I need to have the notebooks full of notes (I love notebooks, but that's another story) and know exactly where I'm going. For other people, that's a complete waste of time because they'll just go and write something completely different anyway. You write in a way that suits you.
But that's not to say you shouldn't do your research into how others write. Keep being nosy. I know I will.
Which of these writers do you relate to the most? Or is there another writer that you identify with more?
Stacey Mitchell is a writer who lives in south Wales. She writes both fiction and non-fiction, and has an obsession with all things historical. Her bitesize biography of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven is being published by Collca in April or May this year.