Author Spotlight - Jennifer Wilson
Hi Shona, and thank you so much for inviting me to your blog today. There’s nothing I like more than writing or talking about writing!
I am a natural born planner. I like to know what’s going to be happening each week, day, and even hour if I can. My holidays are an example of organisation that any general would be proud of. It can, sometimes, I admit, get out of hand. But not with my writing. In my writing life, I’ve always fallen wholeheartedly into the Pantser category, however much the concept might appal me. Yes, there would be a setting, a cast of characters, and a vague idea of what some of them might get up to, based on historical facts, but a clear, narrative thread? Not a trace.
I apply the ‘mosaic approach’ to my writing apparently, doing bits and bobs, here and there, more D to P to C to L to W, rather than anything approaching A to Z. Then, at around the thirty-thousand-word mark, comes the mad panic that I’ve spent a couple of months on utterly-wasted words about direction-less characters with no sense of plot. It can usually be resolved by lots of numbered index cards and shuffling, but really, it’s a lot of stress that I don’t entirely need, and uses energy I could be more usefully be using to keep writing!
I swore that 2018 would be a year of balance for me, so I decided to seek help. My lovely Facebook friends came up with a range of ideas, including timelining, some specialist software, and the which really grabbed me: the snowflake method. This appealed due to the structured approach, starting small, with only a sentence to describe your project, expanding into a paragraph, to a page, then, well, you get the idea… Following their instructions, you gradually build up a full synopsis of your project, as well as understanding your main characters, by producing half-page synopses for each of them, as well as for the story itself as a whole.
So, how has it gone?
Happily, I have to say, so far, I think it has made a difference. I’m currently working on a shorter-length piece than my previous projects, so perhaps that was an easier way to try out a new method, but having that time at the start to really distil what it was I wanted to write about, and get to know the characters that were involved, and what they wanted from events, really did help.
I’ve started using the tool to begin crafting my other WIPs as well, distilling each of a number of ideas into a single sentence, to see which grabs me most, and makes me want to expand it. A useful by-product of this method is that in creating that initial sentence, you, by default, also end up creating the famous ‘elevator pitch’. Now, it’s true that things can change once we start working on a project, but if you keep going back to that original sentence, not only will it keep you on track, but if you need to tweak it as you go along, once the novel (or any other project, it could work just as well for non-fiction) is finished, then you can use that sentence as a hook for cover letters, pitches to agents, or even when describing your novel to your writing group.
That ‘keeping you on track’ idea is a very useful one. During Swanwick Writers’ School in 2016, I attended a mini course by Michael Jecks, on ways to avoid writers’ block and to find the means within you to keep going. He suggested the ‘summarise your novel in a single sentence’ approach, and advised pinning it somewhere visible, such as a noticeboard above your writing desk. By doing this, whenever you found yourself stuck, and unable to move forward, you could always refer to the sentence, and be reminded immediately of the story you were ‘meant’ to be telling. As I say above, stories change, but then, so can a pinned-up sentence on a noticeboard.
Finishing this post then, finds me about to start a full-scale snowflake approach for what I hope will become Kindred Spirits: York, an idea which has been flitting about quite nicely for the last couple of months, with nothing having as yet been pinned down onto the page. The last thing I want is to make it to August and still be flailing about with my back-to-front and upside-down approach; I might still not write linearly, but I will at least know what the line is that I am following!
I would love to know anyone else’s tried and tested methods for planning their writing, and how they find they’ve helped with projects / sanity / a bit of both!
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, co-hosting the prize-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle.
Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. The third in the series, that Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey is due to be released on 8th June, but available to pre-order here, now. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook. Her timeslip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? Is available for download from Amazon.