“I had to get it wrong to find out” reveals debut author, Nikki Sheehan
It’s a situation loads of us face: you’ve got a great idea for a Movella, but you can’t seem to get it written down. Nikki Sheehan, the author of a quirky and gripping novel with a truly original premise, reveals what she’s learned from the writing process:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us spend so much time thinking about what we write, that we never really think about how we write it. Until it goes wrong that is.
My first published book, Who Framed Klaris Cliff? was written much like the a couple of test runs I’d tried before. I had a vague idea of situation, characters and ending, but not much more in between. I started at the beginning and worked my way through with more or less success. But what I lacked in writerly perfection I made up for with enjoyment. Writing these books was fun because I never knew what was going to happen next, so the process was quite a lot like reading. I just listened to my characters as they got on with it.
Of course nothing is perfect and the downside with this approach is that my characters didn’t care as much about structure, pace and plot holes as my agent did. They just tore around the story doing mostly whatever they wanted while I feebly tried to keep some order.
Being completely ignorant about how such things work I assumed that everyone wrote like this. Then I met, well, let’s call him Bill. Bill was a great writer. He was everything I wanted to be. He had cool characters, exotic settings and a mastery of plot twists that left me metaphorically green with envy. He also had a little grey plastic box. And in this box was a set of index cards. On each of the cards he had written out, in detail, every scene which made up the chapters of his 80,000 word novel. And the most surprising thing to me was that those cards had been written before a single sentence of the book. Every time Bill sat down to write he knew exactly what was going to happen.
So when I came to write my second novel, which was being eagerly awaited by my publisher, I thought I’d have a go at the Bill method. I plotted and planned, and I thought I’d done a great job. It was organised and tidy and, unfortunately completely lacking in the life and magic that had made my first novel work. Everyone was very nice about it, but I knew that it wasn’t great, and I gave up on it shortly before the end. And then, with a huge sense of relief, I went back to a story that had been trying to get out while I’d been wrestling with the abandoned novel, and, without the aid of lists and cards and planning, in fact armed only with the courage of my convictions, it came out pretty well.
That left me wondering why writing without the aid of a safety net works better for me, and I think I have a partial answer. My characters are very much an extension of the imaginary friends that I, and many of us, had as kids. We know that they’re not real, but that doesn’t mean that we entirely control them either. In fact you try to force them to do something they don’t want to at your peril. As an example, I introduced a girl specifically to be a love interest. Naturally my main character and the girl took an instant dislike to each other and they never did make it to more than good friends.
So for me as a writer it’s yet another lesson learnt. I now know how I work best, and it’s unlikely to be the same as the way you work best. I had to get it wrong to find out, and painful though it was to abandon a nearly finished book, I couldn’t be happier with the result.
And in the future I’ll let my characters sort out their own love lives.“
Check out the awesome competition we're running in conjunction with Nikki's book, here.
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