I’ve been reading Elizabeth George’s Write Away (ISBN: 978-0340832097), which is subtitled as One novelist’s approach to fiction and the writing life. The first few sections of the book deal with the practicalities of writing novels: plot, characterisation, scenes, etc. In the final section, George writes about how she tackles her writing projects and the processes she goes through.
For her big projects she maintains a journal where she records her thoughts about the book she’s currently writing, mulls over any problems or difficulties she has, and tries to identify potential solutions. It’s not clear whether she records this information in a notebook or electronically, but I found it interesting how she uses this information.
For her, this journalling process is a two-step activity. For step one she gets her current journal and writes about her WIP, work in progress. There’s no prescribed length, or word count - she simply writes what she needs to write to get her thoughts down and to mull things over. Once she’s done this, she moves onto step two. This involves opening the journal for her previous big project, usually her last novel. Reading one entry per day, she reads her next entry.
At first I was a little confused by this. Why read about the problems you were having in the last book that is now complete? However, George goes on to explain that she does this to remind herself that in her last project she encountered problems which, at the time, felt insurmountable, yet she knows she did complete the book, so they weren’t really insurmountable. This helps her cope with her current problems, reminding her that she’s overcome problems in her writing before, so she can do it again.
This process has shown her that she often has similar insecurities at the same point in the novel writing process. Her previous journals have taught her that her current queries and self-doubt are simply part of her writing process, and by maintaining the journal for her current book, she knows that she will, eventually, overcome them.
Following on from last week’s post about using notebooks to write your way out of your current dilemma, it struck me that it might be worth taking a few minutes to look back through some of your own previous notebooks too. Why not remind yourself of some of the writing challenges you’ve faced in the past? As George says: if you’ve overcome your difficulties once, you can do it again.