Let’s talk about process. As a writer, I’m endlessly fascinated by other writers work habits. This fascination is born of a private hope that maybe there is a trick or tip that will make my own writing flow more easily.

Write in the morning, write in the evening, use a typewriter, use a pen, drink lots of coffee, stay away from caffeine, set a word limit, set a time limit, write in bed, write at a desk, write, damn you, write! The truth is there is no one correct way to go about writing. The only adage worth remembering is whatever works.

This is what’s currently working for me.

I get up early in the morning – usually between 6 – 6.30. It’s still dark. I start the coffee machine and while my coffee is brewing I drink a Berocca and pop a multivitamin. I have porridge for breakfast. Sometimes I eat pie and custard if there are any leftovers in the fridge. My sweet tooth asserts itself most aggressively before the sun rises.

When I finally make it to my desk, my brain is still rebooting. It won’t be fully operational until about 11 am. This is not a bad thing. A little fogginess helps me slip into that creative space between conscious and sub-conscious.

Currently, I’m re-writing the Lüne manuscript to address some editorial notes. I’ve found the most effective way to do this is to strip out each chapter from the main manuscript and save it into a separate text file. My word processing program of choice is IA Writer. The minimalist layout and focus functionality make writing a much more visually pleasant experience. The absence of toolbars, panels, rulers, icons and colours does make a difference. There’s just me and the words.

I read the chapter aloud to see if the sentences sing, rewriting and amending where necessary. There is a musicality to good prose that I try to find. I do the voices of the characters. Luckily, the walls in my house are thick. Once I’m satisfied the chapter is as polished as I can possibly make it I run it through two apps.

The first is Hemingway Editor.

As the blurb says, Hemingway Editor makes your writing bold and clear. It doesn’t necessarily turn your manuscript into A Farewell to Arms but it helps you identify long or difficult to read sentences through a nifty colour system. Be wary, though. When I first started using Hemingway Editor I went a little crazy breaking up my prose into short crisp Hemingway-esque sentences, stripping my work of its idiosyncratic style. Use the app as a way of identifying clusters of long sentences and judge accordingly whether to break them up. Don’t be afraid to ignore its suggestions. There’s nothing wrong with long sentences. Even Hemingway wrote them.

Once, my words have passed through Hemingway Editor I paste them into the second app, Grammarly.

Grammarly is very effective at spotting unnecessary commas, misused words or suggesting better grammatical options. Again, it should only be used as a guide. Sometimes, breaking grammatical rules is necessary to get your point across. Sometimes, it’s just bad writing.

After I’ve finished with Grammarly, I paste my copy back into IA Writer and export the chapter as a word file, ready to fold back into the main manuscript.

This process is a little fiddly, and a little laborious but it gives me the illusion of control and that, I think is the best you can hope for. Ultimately, what writers do can’t be systemised. It’s not a science. It’s not really even a craft, though there is craft involved.

It’s magic.

M.J.

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