How Penny M. Geddis Writes
How does a writer think, read, write and revise their work? An interesting question with varied answers depending on who you are, what you write, and what you do in life.
I believe that writing is essentially collaboration between me and the spirits that guide me. I know many people will look at this and think, ‘Oh, she’s nuts’ and that’s okay if they do. I’m a pagan and this is what works for me and is an acceptable process for many people that I know. If you’ve ever had a vivid dream where you could see in accentuated colour, could smell, hear and taste what was going on, and then wrote it down to be read, then you’ve had this experience on some level too.
But how do I work? How do I conjure up the work I do? How do I get it down? How do I edit and revise it? When I analyse it, I have set times of the day that I do things best, and believe me, I know this works differently for everyone.
In the morning my analytical skills are at their best, so this is the time to read both the fiction work of others for inspiration, and also my own. I use a pink pen to edit with, directly on paper. Editing on paper works better than on screen. Perhaps it’s the tactile nature of it? I’ll work one chapter at a time, typing up my changes either in the same morning or in the afternoon.
Afternoons are essentially best in the early stages of my writing projects for planning my novel with wall charts and so on spread across the kitchen table. This is what I do before I even start writing a novel. I chart out the path of my protagonist and my protagonist’s heroic journey (Joseph Campbell has a lot to answer for here). Once this is done, I find afternoons are best for conducting research in, via book or Internet. Research is done by walking around in the natural world too! Then I chill out, I make food, I eat dinner.
And then the magic really starts – I write best between 7.30 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. It is the most magical, prolific period for me. And I need music for this – nothing classical, but something with a steady beat, a constant rhythm. Usually I make up soundtracks on my computer, music that my protagonist would listen to, music that would suit my protagonist’s mood at any particular time. With this music I can tune in to my protagonist’s wants and needs, and also kill off any incidental sounds that can occur, like the television, from outside of my office door which I keep shut to write.
That is the process I go through in a day. But what do I think as I do all of this? Firstly, I forgive myself for not being perfect. With the first draft I write as if I am the only person who is ever going to read it. Secondly, when I re-write and revise, I write as if I am conversing with a reader: what do they really want to read? Thirdly, when it truly gets technical, I write with an editor in mind. What would be acceptable to them? What would make them happy?
When I am in the protagonist’s world, I immerse myself in it. I live it as if I am in the pages of the novel myself. In my opinion, it is the only way to be authentic. This of course means that occasionally I get up from my desk with tears streaming down my face at the death of a character or a tragically awful relationship break-up.
The important thing is, I make time in my day to go do something different too – go for a walk, talk to people, watch something, read something else. Taking a break is just as important to the writing process as writing itself. And this helps deal with what many a writer would call ‘writer’s block’ when writing just doesn’t come. I’m a great believer in planning a novel – when you truly plan, there is no block to the journey of your characters. You know where they are going and what they are going to do because you’ve written it down in a plan. If you genuinely feel ‘stumped’ after that, then what you’re probably feeling is tired. Writers need to recharge their batteries as much as anyone else does. Get enough sleep. Try to eat healthily. Give up caffeine (yes, I am serious) as it scrambles your brain. Drink enough water. Go outside and feel the sun/rain/snow on your face. Live your life too and you will be a better writer for it.