Filtering the World – Writing craft chat

I’ve been writing professionally for a decade, and one of the things that’s really developed in my technique is that I’m always interpreting the world through writing, 100% of the time. I make dozens of notes on my phone throughout the day, when things I read/see/watch/do/hear remind me of my projects.

This could be anything from a discussion on social media about how someone processed grief, a moment of emotion in fic, a visual framing device in a TV show, a description of food in a recipe book, a song that reminds me of a character’s starting emotional point, a good word or odd way of phrasing a sentiment that comes across as quirky, and literally hundreds of other things. I’m filtering everything that catches my attention at all through the eight or so projects I have on-the-go, until it clicks into place. Almost always, it fits into one of the projects somehow – because that’s why it caught my attention.

Yesterday I was listening to a song on repeat, and stopped to wonder why – and ended up writing 1,000 words of a character’s diary entry. But in the vast majority of cases, I don’t go back and look at those notes for many weeks. When I go back to work on a project, the first thing I do is copy those notes from my phone app over to a Word document, and turn them into the snippets of dialogue or prose I imagined them being useful for. Then I build the story around that framework.

This automatic world-filtering is something I’ve only started doing instinctively in the last few years. I used to have to intentionally ‘seek out’ these moments of resonance, as I started a new project. It was a whole stage in the process, before I could start writing. But I’ve somehow trained my brain to do it automatically, as soon as the project is first concrete in my plans. It’s so, so useful, and I really recommend thinking more consciously about how you process media if you’re a writer – you’ll be thankful you did so, in a decade or so!

(I use Workflowy bullet point lists to record my notes.)

I speak to climate activists and scientists about climate change and Green Rising in an interview here:

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. She is also a Creative Writing lecturer, freelance editor, screenwriter, and the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League. Her upcoming release is Green Rising, a climate change thriller. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2021. She teaches creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

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