Ask one hundred authors what the best part of their job is, and you'll probably get about a hundred different answers. No author out and out hates writing, no matter what they say - or I hope they don't. What a miserable thought: having to sit and type a hundred and forty thousand words when you hate the idea of the task. But writing is not merely a matter of picking up a keyboard and putting words down on paper.
The sentences have to be honed. It's often said, fairly, that writing is a matter of rewriting. No author leaves his sentences alone. They are all edited, tautened, and then worked through again.
Many people new to writing think that they have to be careful, and stick to a series of strange rules. They scatter adjectives around like machine-gun bullets on the Somme, especially, it sometimes seems, if they have studied on a creative writing course. It's the same with students: many believe they must write "up" to a certain, non-specific, academic level. It's not right. There is no need to write to sound clever. Mark Twain once wrote: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out" for the very good reason that all too often adjectives simply get in the way. There is rarely a need for convoluted sentences. The reader will take in more, faster, if you let them use their own intellect from your writing. Writing has one requirement, really: clarity.
Some writers will say that they love the research, rather than the writing. Many, I know, look upon the actual writing as a chore that is better deferred. Others loathe it so much, they dictate and hope that the computer will perform the hard task itself. I am not quite of that mindset. I find that the process of researching is fun, especially when I find a strange topic that is new to me; however I think that writing itself is a delight.
I seriously enjoy sitting down and imagining myself in other men's or women's minds. It is what I used to do as a salesman. A good salesman has to be able to think about what the client actually wants, how a product will benefit the business, how it will help him in his work, how he might present it to his boss to make the price palatable. In the same way, to plan a story means looking at it from four or five different points of view, seeing how each participant looks at a scene, and trying to explain their thoughts to the reader. It's not easy - but although it's a challenge, it is stimulating.
I'm at the beginning of a new story now. The first consideration is the characters involved. If I don't understand them, I can't view the world through their eyes, and that leads to a weak description of their motivations. So, for me, the earliest stages of writing involve inventing the people, their inner thoughts, their basic natures, before I even think about the locations or the main thrust of the story.
For this, I tend to use a lot of paper.
A pad like this is ideal, I find. I should say, this superb Rhodia pad has been donated, along with the full A4 version, by Cult Pens as a part of their sponsorship for this blog, and I am inordinately grateful for them.
I structure the plan in a very basic manner. The first stage is the research for any genuine characters I'm using. Most of my work revolves around real people, their families and their woes, so I can go straight to their biographies. I always have the Dictionary of National Biography and a vast number of books of biography to hand.
However, sometimes there isn't enough there. I have a collection of several thousand books for my researches now. Since I live in Dartmoor, the cost of travelling to London to the British Library is prohibitive. Instead, I use the local libraries down here in Devon, and the superb resources at the Devon & Exeter Institution, the university, and archives, but if there's a book I will need to refer to regularly, I make use of a number of specialist booksellers, such as medievalbookshop.co.uk, which is run by a fabulously helpful man.
However, the other characters, the ones which I have to invent to fill out the story, will always come from people I have met, and who possess certain attributes that will make the plot work. There are many ex-colleagues and clients from my days as a salesman who have been given a second life in my pages. One unpleasant fellow has been killed several times, to my great delight!
So, this week, I have notes made on Sir John de Sully, a real man with a stunning career as a fighting knight in the 1300s and the early days of the Hundred Years War, and a delightful character called Berenger Fripper, whom I invented. These two will be the driving forces behind my short story, I think.
The story will be quite brief: about six thousand words or so. That will be plenty. So the next task is to work out what the plot will be.
With luck, soon a basic thread to the story will occur to me, and I'll be able to start writing. First there are a few things I'll need to get working, though.
And some more meetings to attend. Writing is sometimes a balancing act between displacement activities ...
As well as collaborating with fellow members of The Medieval Murderers, Dartmoor-based Michael Jecks is the author of thirty three novels in his best-selling Templar series. His latest, Fields of Glory will be published in June 2014 in hardback and Kindle from Simon & Schuster. Expplore more of Michaels' work at: www.michaeljecks.co.uk