As I write this, I am on a countdown to a self enforced deadline with my novel.
I may not keep that deadline but that’s another tale for another post. The important thing is that you have to keep writing until the book is done.
“Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end: then stop.” – The King to the White Rabbit, Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.
What might be of more interest to you is the pile on my – well, the pile that gets moved around the house to wherever I feel comfortable writing at the time.
A pile of books. Yes, I am reading while I am writing.
First, let’s see what’s in the pile.
English – Sinhala Dictionary: Words and Phrases
Village Folk-Tales of Ceylon: Volume Two by H. Parker (with many thanks to my grandfather whose bookshelf I “borrowed” this from).
A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English by Michael Meyler
The Mahavamsa or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon by Wilhelm Geiger
The Pleasures of Conquest by Yasmine Gooneratne
Seven Centuries of Poetry in English edited by John Leonard
… and a few textbooks on Geography and Biology.
I was never so excited to receive something in the mail as I was to get my copy of the Sri Lankan English dictionary which tells you how much of a nerd I am. I know the slang most males would use but not the slang the women would which may seem odd but probably just reflects how most Sri Lankan women who don’t wish to use their brains tend to bore me to death. Seriously, most of them do.
“Speak English! I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and I don’t believe you do either!” – The Eaglet to the Dodo, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
The poetry, geography and biology books mainly are for me to refer to – they reflect some of the characters’ interests (which typically reflect some of mine). Ditto the history and folk-tale books.
“Of course the first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through. “It’s something very like learning geography,” thought Alice, as she stood on tiptoe in hopes of being able to see a little further.” -Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll
Yasmin Gooneratne’s book is just to ensure I am not telling a story that’s already been told, pretty much. And because I like to keep up on what others are writing fiction-wise that might be similar.
And yes, I speak Sinhala but it’s my second not my first language. I might get something wrong. I need to double check my dialogue.
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’ “- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
All this serves the same purpose that a photograph does as it sits pinned up on my bulletin board above my desk. It’s a close up photograph of grass which is what makes people think that I must definitely be crazy but in the middle of the grass is a plant called the nidikumba or the sleeping fern. It, along with geckos, sunsets and humid weather and the like, form a nice little setting into which the jewel the story is, is sorted of placed. If that makes any sense at all, please let me know.
‘Tis a pretty peacock, no? For more pictures, check out Light Refraction.
I lived for 18 years in Sri Lanka but even now as I live away I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to accurately depict 2005 Sri Lanka and that fear leads me to research to plug up any and all holes. To create backstories that may never end up in the final draft. To enrich the story and drag even non Sri Lankan readers into this world despite the occasional slang they don’t understand and the part western part something altogether foreignness in being of half the things described in it.
And in case you didn’t get it yet, this is research. If that’s a scary word, tough luck.
So what’s the best way to go about it?
Part of the best thing about the writing process is the research part. Every time I get a new idea for a book (7 and counting at the moment), each book gets its very own notebook.
The first half of the notebook is dedicated to notes about the book. The second half is dedicated to possible scenes.
As I think about the book idea, I jot down ideas for characters, the plot, scenes etc in the notes section with a date in the margin to see when I was thinking of something. I use a different colour (at the moment, red) and draw a box around it when it’s a question about something I need to research.
Like a question I had on Tuesday about whether it was possible for a Tamil person to join a political party even behind the scenes if it had a majority of non-Tamil members during the 1970s and early 80s. Turns out it was possible – hallelujah because if it wasn’t, there went part of my backstory that was just too good to be tossed out.
As the book tries to make the case to be taken up to Step 3, you use the second half of the notebook to start scribbling out scenes and test them out. As you fill up the notebook, you staple a fresh one to the back of it and divide it up the same way and keep going till you reach Step 5 where you dump everything into yWriter 5. And you can buy a stack of red Coles/Woolworths brand 80 page ruled notebooks for very little.
Or you can be fussy and buy Moleskines but frankly when I buy Moleskines I am loathe to destroy them in any way by cutting into them (and I cut into the tops of my notebook pages to make the tabs that differentiate between the sections).
And I am a writer – the cheaper option in this case makes more sense till my publisher calls around with champagne because I have sold a million copies of something.
The best part is that if you have family and friends who want to support you, this is a perfect time for them to get involved. My dad sourced the Sri Lankan English dictionary, my grandfather provided the folk-tale book and my best friend Matt, got all excited about one of my ideas for another book and is constantly surprising me with any book he can find to do with Leonard Woolf who will be referred to in a character’s backstory in that book. In fact, your family and friends, though they might ask why you can’t have a proper job or hobby, will be tickled pink if asked to help.
Unless you ask them to edit it. Or provide feedback. Immediately, then they have more important things to do. Typical.
If you would like to be a beta reader (and have the time and inclination to provide critical feedback), let me know by sending me an email: marisa @ marisa.com.au
As always: feedback, questions, suggestions, cries for help etc, go in the comments below.
- How to write a book: Part 1: Introduction
- How to write a book: Part 2: And the number one secret for writing a book…
- How to write a book: Part 3: Myths about writing
- How to write a book: Part 4: Inspiration (or is there a muse?)
- How to write a book, part 10: Research. Or why I need a travelling library.
- How to write a book: Part 5: Structure (or Chapter and verse)
- How to write a book: Part 6: How do I get started?
- How to write a book: Part 7: The writing process, step by step
- How to write a book: Post 8: Why you shouldn’t let your muse get drunk on champagne/how to braintrain your muse
- How to write a book: Part 9: Copyright issues
- How to write a book: Part 11: Motivation
- How to write a book: Part 12: Time & expectation management
- How to write a book: Part 13: It’s kind of crowded in here…