Ash Mistry and The Savage Fortress

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Sarwat Chaddas Blog

How to write a book, my way

What you see above is the plot for one of my books. Which I wrote AFTER I'd finished it. Now, if you look carefully you'll see two maps (the third is off the right hand side) of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a few post-its as little reminders and dates and people I needed to remember when I was writing the book. Now, this is what I did when writing a book.

1. Research. LOADS. Now I did a month or two reading before I actualy started then I was researching as I wrote the first draft. I had a rough idea of locations, kep characters and the order of events so more than enough to get the bulk of the story down. A lot of writers right chunky 1st drafts and then trim. I'm the opposite, my first drafts are very lean, nothing more than the bare bones of the story. I might have a few false starts, try a few chapters this way then that, scarpping one but sticking with the other. But once I've settled in then I push on until its done. A month off working on something else, sometimes more,  then I read through the draft making notes where I need greater background, a few more lines of description, more intensity and perhaps just MORE of this or that. For example a first draft may be about 50,000 words but the final novel closer to 70,000. As you can see, a lot goes in later. This is important because...

2. I don't want to loose the energy of the tale. The first draft is a BLITZ. I'm not worried about getting it right, but getting it DONE. The first rule of writing books is to FINISH. So, my little technique means I do finish, pretty quickly. Four to five months to get the first draft down. In the meanwhile I'm still reading about the subject, making little notes on my maps and bits of paper, reminders of what I want to do when I go back to it. BUT there is a great satisfaction in having it DONE. The story may change halfway through so I'll put a note reminding me to change some aspect of the beginning but I do not, EVER, revise what I've written. Otherwise I'll be changing and changing and never get it finished.

3. Schedule. I've done a few books now so have a rough idea of how long the book'll take. This is to stop me from having too many afternoon sleeps. Typically (first draft) will be 20,000 words per month, usually more but never less. Second draft, based on the size I think the final ms will be is usually 2-3 months. There will be interruptions, Usually edits on other books, but I do aim very seriously at getting the book complete. Like my new project, finished just before we break up for the summer.

4. Second draft is pretty chuncky. I read through the ms, make a note of where the gaps are. Then, chapter by chapter, I make a table of events on my index cards and put them up on the wall (as above) to see how the story is being paced. Pacing is a black art and very subjective. Books I may finish in a day others may take weeks to complete. This is where understaning your genre helps. Mine and action, so I've a fairly good instinct for the tempo of a book. I've noticed a trend in short chapters which I think is kinda rubbish. A chapter (IMHO) should have a beat of its own, sometimes you want the reader to linger, to abosrb big chunks of the tale, other times you want the reader to be flipping through pages within seconds. My chapters can vary from 20 pages long to a couple of lines. It depends on the needs of the story, its pace, at that moment in the overall story.  Still, each to their own.

5. Plan the next project. Near the end of the redraft I start pondering what to do next. This serves two purposes. It gives my hope I have another story and motivates me to finish this one on time so I can crack on with my new, super-exciting epic! I force myself NOT to write anything on the new one (except maybe a few notes so I don't forget) until I finish the book I', working on. It's effective since, perhaps, towards the end you're feeling worn down by the relentlessness of the current project and may risk slacking at the final hurdle. Don't. FINISH.

That's pretty much it. Every writer has their own strategy. This is mine. Have a great holiday, people!

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