The Writer’s Craft: Where do the Words Come from?

When I took my first hesitant steps towards becoming a writer, one of my chief concerns was whether I would be able to put the words together coherently on a regular basis. That may sound silly because I was confident I could write at the time; I just wondered whether I could sustain it. Looking back, it’s easy to brush aside those early worries but I suspect that such concerns often make budding writers give up, especially if the words dry up.

The first book took me a long time to write because I was still working part-time to begin with. Words did not always come easily – as many writers have found – but I always seemed to find a way out. I’ve seen two strategies suggested for writers when the words won’t flow. What they amount to is either walk away from the page and clear your head or bludgeon any collection of words onto the page and rewrite them later. I’ve tried both of these methods and would recommend the walking away model.

Now, with two books finished [almost!] I’ve found more of a rhythm to my writing than I had before. You find out pretty fast when you write best and for me it is usually in the morning. The funny thing is though, that whilst I seem to find the words easier to spray on the page before lunch, my best ideas for scenes and character development tend to come later in the day when my mind is occupied elsewhere – or simply lying dormant! This creative pattern seems to work for me but when the rhythm is broken for a time, I always wonder how easy it will be to start again.

Recently, we went on holiday to Crete – well, it was a walking holiday so, given temperatures in the mid-30s centigrade and a certain amount of climbing, it was a fairly full-on week. I had decided to get away from the writing for a week – whilst the editor was still busily thrashing through A Traitor’s Fate – and stay offline too. The latter was not difficult and it was a relaxing week, but there were quite a lot of occasions when I found myself slipping into writer mode. I began to wonder where the words and ideas would come from for the next book.

As I splashed down a cool beer at the end of a long, hot walk, was I even then storing away some well-phrased description of near exhaustion or perhaps an image of the beaming waiter’s expression for future use in some medieval scene?

When breathlessly climbing Mt. Gingilgingolos1os above the Samaria Gorge with the sun beating down, would my experience of relentlessly pounding up the hillside come in handy if Ned Elder decided to do a spot of hill walking  along a rocky path of loose scree?

Where could I utilise this excellent experience of sweat and toil? I rifled through my embryonic ideas for Book Three in vain. Perhaps one of the other characters could be persuaded to spend some time on an exposed ledge somewhere. After all, I had a few encounters with sheer drops to refer to if required. Alas, I could not see a connection but I’m convinced that the ideas were already being born.


Perhaps I could send Ned Elder to Crete? Who owned Crete in the late 15th century, anyway? I think it might have been the Venetians…but my ignorance of 15th century Cretan history was immense in its scale and variety and in any case Simon Turney has already threatened me with GBH if I do a Crete story before he does.

So the experiences kept coming but I couldn’t see how they were going to be much help with the next couple of books in the pipeline. Then it struck me – and I was nowhere near the road to Damascus at the time – that it didn’t matter because what I was doing was what most writers do. I was accumulating some flotsam and jetsam, some fragments of experience to be sorted and re-sorted and probably twisted out of all recognition to form the basis of some yet to be envisaged incident. The sights, the sounds, and even the sweat, will all be synthesised into words, phrases and sentences expressing exhilaration, relief, satisfaction or any one of a whole palette of emotions. These fragments form the building blocks of a craft in which I have as yet acquired only the most basic of skills and which I am trying to learn as I write each new page.

At the end of my week in Crete I had to accept that writing had taken over my life – even on holiday. But I don’t mind. It doesn’t spoil anything and I enjoy turning over the material in my head. It’s the same when I’m doing almost anything else: walking, swimming or gardening. The creative ingredients are there but they are only shadows on the page; they are not yet words, until morning comes and I sit down to write.

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2 Responses to The Writer’s Craft: Where do the Words Come from?

  1. prue batten says:

    I love this post. Every single thing I do has become a bankable sensation for the memory bank, ready to be used at some point in the writing. What I really like is the way it focuses the mind on the absolute present – that ‘living in the moment’ facility that gives life such brilliant dimension. Nothing can be taken for granted. Looking forward to reading Feud.

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