I’m an 18 year old who goes by the name ‘Jessica’ in real life, but by the pen name Nikki-Lee Mars (mainly because people I known in real life aren’t supportive of my writing) on the internet. I’m in my first year of uni, studying Psychology. Sure, I love picking at people’s brains, but what I love most is reading and writing.
I recently finished my first novel, Ruby Red, and am in the midst of trying to edit it within an inch of its life, whilst working on my second novel. I specialise in fantasy, with a huge interest in faeries.
How do I write? I’ve never actually thought about that before Kayleigh asked me to guest post on her blog. After a lot of thinking and going through my notebooks and my blog, I wasn’t any closer to finding out how I write. But then I realised that it was because I didn’t have any set rules for how I wrote each novel/story/whatever. How I wrote my first attempt at a novel is so different to how I’m writing my current novel.
Before NaNoWriMo of last year, I was the kind of person who pantsed through every piece. I never made any plans. I didn’t know any of the characters, I never knew the plot, except for the most basic plot (example: boy is turned into puppet by witch. Witch’s apprentice, girl, ends up helping him, turns him back. That was honestly the extent of my planning). This method worked for me, until I tried my hand at writing a novel. A serious attempt at a novel. Then I realised that pantsing just wasn’t a good idea with pieces larger than 8,000 words. I got stuck halfway through my novel, and then I decided to take the plunge and draw up some maps.
I never realised I could learn so much just by drawing up a map. That single map helped me to figure out the basic outline of the novel: what would happen, where they would go, who they would meet, and any side quests. So now, before I start a novel, I spend a bit of time trying to get to know the characters, the storyline etc. I don’t make the outlines too detailed, otherwise, I just feel like I have no freedom to be creative. I basically write a sentence or two summary for each chapter, something to let me know the basic direction I should go in. But I still have space to surprise myself with something I never realised would fit in the novel. For my first completed novel, RUBY RED, I added three characters that I thought were simple background characters, but they turned out to be quite vital to the progression of the story. Thing is, I hadn’t actually planned them out at all.
I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a pantser or a plotter, or an in-betweener.
Inspiration comes easily to me, it can be a sudden idea that randomly pop into my head, or it could be from me analysing old fairy tales and asking myself ‘what if?’. For Ruby Red, I was inspired by the 2006 version of Jane Eyre, where she is forced into a red room. At the same time, I had been reading Holly Black’s Tithe, so my brain just mashed the two together. So, I basically get inspiration from a lot of things. I always write them down in my special ‘idea’ notebook, which is in tatters because of how much I’ve used it.
When it comes to naming characters or places, I’m very deliberate and specific in the meanings. In RUBY RED, I had named one of my characters ‘Renfrew’, which was Celtic, meaning ‘from the still river’. Now, Renfrew is a kelpie, so you can probably see why that name is significant.
I’m also somewhat OCD with names. If they don’t feel perfect, and if they don’t seem to have that spark, then I won’t use it. It has to be THE ONE. I won’t progress through my story if I don’t know what my characters are called.
I try to be as organised as possible with my writing, which means separate books for vague ideas, full on plots and outlines, and where I write snippets of story in when I’m away from my laptop. I colour-codes my notes, and use so many post-its that you could say that I have an obsession. This is really odd, considering that I’m usually not a very organised person outside of my writing. In my last year of high school, all my notes were written in one book, if that gives any indication as to my organisation fail.
With the actual writing process, it’s complicated. I go through phases where I’ll write 1,000+ words a day for a week, then abruptly stop. This hiatus could go on for a few days to a few weeks, then I’ll randomly start writing again. I’ll sometimes try to write during those breaks, to get myself into the habit of writing, but the writing is poor, and the word count low. Because of this, my work can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete.
I have a few quirky habits, or rules, that I have during writing. I must always have something to drink, whether it be my favourite, chai tea, or even just water or Coke.
I find that I write best in the morning, between 3 a.m. and 10 a.m. Watching the sunrise is one of the most inspiring things I can think of. It never fails me.
I write on my laptop at my desk almost all the time. During the day, I’ll change places; I might move to the sunroom or onto the deck in our backyard if the weather is nice. But I’ll never write in bed. If I’m at school or on a bus or train, I’ll pull out my Smiggle (www.smiggle.com.au, I always use Smiggle. Their notebooks are just so pretty and inspiring) notebooks that I always carry around and write, but I’m more comfortable with typing. It’s less of a strain on my wrists, I think.
When I type, it’s always in Arial Narrow size 10. I always have music playing. In fact, I have playlists made for each story, each important scene and each character. They help motivate me, and I end up finding myself typing away to the beat of the song. As a result, the songs I choose are almost always fast-paced.
I’m still essentially learning how I write. Who knows, maybe I’ll never fully learn. Maybe I’ll just keep evolving my technique. That’s why I love being a writer, because every day is a journey, every day, you learn something new about yourself.