This is a weekly series of guest posts on How Writers Work.
Australian children’s and YA author Michael Wagner talks about his writing process.
As you can probably tell from the picture, my writing space is a tiny room thats very messy most of the time. But thats okay, because its my special place, so no one else really has to put up with it.
If youve noticed the speakers on either side of my computer, you might have worked out that I like listening to music. I actually love it. And I find it quite useful as part of my writing routine as well.
Occasionally, at the start of the day, Ill listen to songs that help me get into the mood or zone of a story. I even have playlists of songs that suit particular books an Undys playlist, a Maxx Rumble playlist, a Ted playlist, etc. I fill each of them with songs that have the right energy or feel for a story, then, in the morning when I sit down to write, I put the playlist on and turn it up. It blares through those big speakers while I get myself organised. And it continues while I start writing. But I find, as soon as Im in the zone, I start turning the music down. And before long its off altogether. For me, music is good for getting started, but once Im on my way it feels too distracting.
If you look closely at the wall behind my computer you might notice two book covers. One is of the book Im writing at the moment, Ted Goes Wild, and the other is of a novel that was published in 2010, Destinys Right Hand.
If youre familiar with the actual cover of Destinys Right Hand, you might have noticed the version on my wall is a little different. In this version, the main character, Eddie, is upside down as if hes falling into Destinys hand. I put that version of the cover on my wall before wed made our final decision on which one to use, and then just left it there because I quite like it. Its a little bit kooky, which I think suits the story. :^)
Also on the wall, just to the left of the clock, is a page of black and white character photos. All of those little faces (which are probably very hard to make out) are characters in Destinys Right Hand. Actually, theyre all just images of young people Ive taken from the Internet, but they each look like what I imagine the characters in Destiny to look like.
Ive put them there for a very important reason (well, its important for me anyway). When Im writing I find it helps enormously if I can clearly imagine the characters and scenes Im describing. Having pictures of characters to look at, brings them to life in my imagination. So, when Im about to write a scene with, say, three of characters on my wall in it, I start by simply looking at the pictures while trying to imagine them in the scenes location.
At first, this helps a little helping me to get sketchy images of the characters and the place but gradually, usually over months, it becomes invaluable.
What happens is, the characters become more and more vivid to the point where they feel just about real to me. In fact, theres a magical moment, that Im always aiming for, when the characters start surprising me with what they have to say during a scene. They become so real they actually start talking for themselves. When this happens, I listen closely and type as quickly as I can. Ive learned from experience that this is where much of my best dialogue comes from.
Its an odd kind of technique, I know, but it might work for you too, so maybe give it a try. The only thing Id suggest is that you persist for a few months because it often takes a while for the characters to really become solid.
So thats my little writing room and a little snapshot of how I work. Its probably quite different from most other writers, including you, but it seems to work for me. I hope you found it interesting.
Your latest publication or WIP
At the moment Im working on a new series about an adventure-loving teddy, called Ted, whos emerged from a very dark past to become someone who loves to save and serve others.
Hes a cool little guy who knows how to survive in the harshest of conditions thanks to the years of training hes received from the leader of all the worlds teddies, Papa Guru.
The first book is currently called Ted Goes Wild and the second one is Ted Gets Lost, but those titles and many other details could still change as I work with Penguin to get them just right.