How it is Done

I have been enjoying reading Kim’s posts about the evolution of her short story The Shoes from an idea into a Loomidob (technical term).

Here’s the first post and here’s the second one. Both well worth reading for an insight into what happens when you are drafting, editing and reading-like-a-writer all at the same time. I am curious about it because it shows a writer very aware of her own process and I’m not sure if that’s the effect of writing something inside the confines of an academic course, of because that’s the way this particular writer is.

I think I’d like to write something like that for the way I worked on Cold Light but it would be all lies in retrospect and my process is so messy and trial and error that, like the insides of my cupboards, I’d be ashamed to let anyone see it. I would dearly love to know what I am doing when it goes well so that I can do it again, but it hasn’t worked out like that so far. Although it has improved slightly.

Last week when I was fretting over the impossibility of writing another novel, I remembered things about lists and diaries and time off and CALM and resting and ‘we don’t get paid much, so it’s okay to have lies in and take afternoons off when you need to’ which are all things I learned when I was being mentored, and help a lot still.

Yesterday afternoon I did CALM typed up all my notes about number three (need to call it something – I called Cold Light number two for ages, but only because that was comedy gold) and arranged them into a rough synopsis. I’m challenging myself to develop a structure – to decide about things like point of view and tense and time-scale first rather than let it evolve on it’s own. That’s because I want to do something a little bit more complicated and challenging this time and I have an idea for the sort of thing I would like to try. I have not done it before. I don’t know if I can.


I also made a list of things that I need to research. Lists are excellent.

I will spend what time I have to read and work over the summer finding out about:

Crufts. The various categories, how you enter, how much you win, what the day is like.
My two settings: Salt Lake City, Utah and Chorley, Lancashire.
Being a Post Man. Secrets and tricks of the trade.
Long term faecal incontinence caused by unresolved birth injuries.*
Heathrow Airport.

That’s about it for now. My agent needed to see my plan and hear about the next book. When I told him about it he said it sounded ‘fab’ and very ‘Ashworthian’ which is I think a good sign.

It is no wonder I am not working very well. I am a cocktail of gestation hormones. I can’t sit at my desk without a person head-butting me in the ribs. I had a bad dream last night that the Mr had touched, moved or otherwise disturbed my ludicrous pile of cot-blankets (it will be summer, and McTiny will be sleeping with me anyway… pointless blankets) and woke up so angry I had to poke him awake, shout at him and then check the blankets.

No-one can produce the great British novel under these circumstances.

*note to self – do not google this until Later This Year. 

8 responses to “How it is Done”

  1. The Small Fabric Of My Life says:

    Love your list – just read a great article about old wive's tales and faceal matter by Germaine Greer in The Guardian. I created a new version and read it to my poorly 10-year-old last night – he loved it.

  2. kim mcgowan says:

    Cheers Jenn.

    Its definitely something I have to think about.

    I keep getting to the end of a piece and realising, ‘Oh buggerit! I was meant to be looking at ellipsis how the writer treads that fine line between economy and incoherence.’ (for example) Instead, I just had a nice read.

    Could you maybe go to Crufts? Or is that too much to ask of even the most dedicated novelist?


  3. Anonymous says:

    What is CALM can you explain?

  4. Jenn Ashworth says:


    ooh – thanks for that link, looks interesting.


    you're welcome. I'm not sure if I could spend a WHOLE day at Crufts. Maybe there's a documentary about it somewhere? Must search and check.


    It doesn't mean anything special. Just calm. CALM. Like, me trying very hard not to be anxious and angry and worried about things.

  5. Nik Perring says:

    Brilliant post, Jenn. I've always found examining my process, in any way other than what I already know about it, a really scary thing – I wouldn't want to find myself out!! 🙂

  6. Jenn Ashworth says:


    I'm always really torn about it. In some ways, I have an idea that being more aware of something that's mainly instinctive will stop the trial and error of it all and help me write better. There must be a reason why most MA courses make you write some self reflection, critical commentary on your progress and it's a massive part of most CW Phds too – something I'm considering.

    But I'm not sure if it is possible for me. I'm certainly more aware since I started teaching, but when I'm in the thick of the writing, I'm not thinking about myself writing, I am seeing what happens as a film unfurling in my head. It is only afterwards I need to figure out how to look at it and cut it up so it looks its best to other people.


  7. Nik Perring says:

    I think we're both thinking in very similar ways, Jenn – and I've had to do that self-analysis thing to as a result of teaching. BUT there's something really appealing about things being (educatedly) instinctive or intuitive; the reason I love your writing is because it has its own atmosphere and soul, that Jennness, and I'd worry (probably with prejudice – let's not forget I didn't even finish my A levels, let alone a degree or anything post-grad) that that could get lost if things got too academic. I also think we get better at knowing (instinctively) how to write better, or quicker, or more efficiently (with regards to the stuff you mentioned in your post) through practise and growing and just knowing more.

    Thus ends my huge ramble!

    And, as I said, I am prejudiced and probably scared too!


  8. […] in knowing a bit about the thinking that goes into planning a novel might want to read the post I wrote during the summer here, as well as the comments. This post is a kind of reply or sequel to that […]

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