My Writing Process

I wanted to give you a real behind-the-scenes look, so here are some answers to some FAQ about me and my writing process:

1. Favourite notebook: A hardback Old World Journal from Peter Pauper Press, which was given to me by my son for Father’s Day, and which is almost too good to use. But for day-to-day use, probably a Moleskine (or cheap imitation).

2. Favourite pen: I tend to write with whatever comes to hand. I’m more than happy using a Bic biro.

3. Writing software: Microsoft Word. I have tried Scrivener, but didn’t get on with it. It seemed unnecessarily fiddly. But that’s probably because I started writing on a typewriter and got used to the idea of starting at page one and writing through in sequence until I reach the end.

4. Hardware: Mac desktop and cheap Hewlett Packard Windows laptop.

5. Taking Notes: Google Keep on my phone.

6. Favourite places to write: The Watershed upstairs bar in Bristol, and the cafe in Waterstones, Bristol Galleries. I find the low level background noise helps me focus and not get as distracted as I sometimes do at home (no housework nagging at me). Plus the staff in both places are chill about you working in there for hours at a time.

7. Words per day: I tend aim to for 1000 words but don’t always make it (and on rare days, I’ll write 2000 or 5000). Some days, I’ll only write 100, but if they’re 100 good words, I’m satisfied.

8. Favourite writing snack: The great thing about working from home is that I can make cheese-on-toast whenever I want.

9. Coffee or tea? Although I love the flavour of coffee, it doesn’t always agree with me. I savour a really good filter coffee every now and again, but generally stick to tea when I’m at home. There’s something gentle and thoughtful about tea. It lifts you up like an enlightened flight of angels where coffee just yeets you into the sky like a trebuchet.

10. Background music: My all-time favourite writing music is Vangelis’ soundtrack for Blade Runner. But if I’m in the mood, almost anything instrumental will do. However, I’ve recently found YouTube videos of ambient noise really helpful: cafes, bookstores, waves on a beach, rain in a forest. It’s the same benefit I get from writing in coffe shops: low levels of background noise that seem to placate the conscious parts of the brain (the bits that worry about laundry and tax returns) and let the creative part take full reign. 

11. Creative heroes. 

  • Miles Davis. For a heroin addict, the guy had a hell of a work ethic. He put out dozens of albums and repeatedly reinvented not only himself but also his musical genre.
  • Patti Smith. I fell in love with her album Horses at an impressionable age. In recent years, I’ve also come to love her books and they way she blends art and life until the border between the two becomes indistinct and permeable.
  • Iain M Banks. Inspiring, fearless science fiction that’s so inventive you sometimes have to take a step back in order to realise just how creative it all is.

12. Plot or Pants? I’m a mixture of both. I have to know where a book’s going before I start writing it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t leave plenty of room for digressions and detours en route. My entire notes for a book might take up a page or less of typed A4. I don’t like to plan in huge detail, because I like to give the characters space to react and act, and find a totally worked-out plot constricts my creativity. Part of the fun of writing is to get to know the characters as you bring them to life, and then see how they’ll behave when you throw problems at them.

13. Editing. Usually, I tell people to write their first draft and get it finished before they start editing, as editing can be an excuse for procrastination — but to be honest, I don’t take that advice. I do the majority of my editing as I go along, so that by the time I reach the last page, the whole draft is in decent shape. I know, I’m a hypocrite, but it works for me.

14. Alien or Aliens? To be honest, they’re both head and shoulders above every other sci-fi horror movie, but my heart will always belong to Aliens. It was the first of the films I saw (I watched Alien a few days later on VHS) and some friends and I snuck into our local Odeon underage to watch it. And I still think it’s a masterpiece of set-up. Those marines aren’t faceless grunts. Before they meet the Aliens, each of them gets a moment that humanises them, which means we’re rooting for them even though we know they’re (mostly) doomed. And I guess the aesthetic of that movie never really left me. You can see it in my writing, and they way most of my characters are grunts in dirty overalls, just trying to do their jobs.

15. Biscuits? Ginger nuts dipped in coffee or tea. 

* This article was originally posted on my Patreon page in October last year.

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Author: Gareth L Powell