It Works For Me. Elaina James Shares Her Personal Writing Rules

Posted on 11th February, 2017

This week I am delighted to welcome Elaina James to my blog. Elaina is a member of the RNA NWS. She was a childhood writer who in adulthood filled notebooks with poetry, song lyrics and ideas for stories... until one day she decided it was time to get started on actually writing a book. Here, she shares her personal writing rules.



In my day job I’m an accountant, a profession driven by rules. As a writer I cherish the freedom to be creative and spontaneous. The accountant in me however won’t allow my creativity to go unchecked. I have rules. Lots of rules. Disturbingly it wasn’t until I came to write this post that I realised quite how many. You’ll be relieved to know I’ve whittled down my list to the top five:



1 - Never rely on memory


Inspiration for a great new story, a compelling character or the perfect line of dialogue doesn’t always strike on demand as I sit poised in front of my keyboard. Instead my best ideas spring into my head at the most inconvenient moments, like when I’m just drifting off to sleep, all comfy and warm snuggled up in my bed. The temptation is to convince myself that I will remember it in the morning, and therefore don’t need to shuffle up the bed, fumble for a pen and notebook and scrawl in torch light to preserve these precious thoughts. The reality is my memory is useless. No matter how brilliant the idea is, or how well formed it seems at the time, once that moment has passed it will be forever lost. My main writing rule is therefore to always write down the ideas when they come to me. Of course at 2am in the middle of winter it’s not the easiest of rules to keep.



2 - Write what comes to you


Some writers plot in meticulous detail before they even begin to form their story. I am not one of those writers. Which is odd, because in every other aspect of my life I am a planner. When it comes to writing however, all I need is a character and a vague idea of destination before I pick up a pen. The trouble is I don’t just have one characters voice in my head, I have many, which means I’ll write the story for the character who shouts the loudest that day. When I get up in the morning I have no idea which story I will write, I just write. Unless of course I’m working to a deadline, at which point all those unruly voices have to learn a little patience. Even creativity has to adhere to prioritisation at times.



3 – Research


It doesn’t matter if its set in a far off historical location or on my doorstep in the present day, every story needs research. Whilst my first draft is usually written fairly quickly, my second draft is when I go back and fact check. I keep a folder of all the facts that I collect from internet searches and library visits, most of which won’t even end up in the novel but all help me to get a feel for the time or place I am writing about. I love researching locations, mainly because it’s a good excuse to go off exploring with my trusty camera in hand. The photos are great to look back on when trying to write a description later and saves me relying on my poor memory.



4 - Don’t set writing targets


I never set targets for how many words to write each day. It would just depress me. Some days I write very little, some days I write a lot. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. It depends what I’ve written, rather than how much. As an accountant everything is measurable, as I writer, I love the freedom that nothing is.



5 - Accept procrastination…to a point


Usually I’m the kind of writer that will eagerly avoid mundane household chores and even turn down social events to sit at my desk and write because my characters are demanding attention. Sometimes however I can find any excuse to keep me from the keyboard, even mowing the lawn. Believe me, for someone who hates gardening that’s pretty drastic. I flit between feeling guilty for ignoring daily life and panicking that I’ve lost my love of writing. The trick I’ve learnt (or am learning) is to accept that both extremes are normal and neither is permanent.





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Comments (20)

I love it Kirsten, your poor belwilderd passenger! The things we do for our stories hey? I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.
Loved your comment, Kirsten. The thought of your colleague's face is priceless. I'm glad you enjoyed Elaina's post. It seems other writers identify with her guiding rules.
Hi Elaina - I really enjoyed your post - I found myself nodding in agreement throughout. I'm a great one for forgetting the flashes of inspiration straight after they come into my head! I've been known to shout 'just write this down' to my passenger when I'm driving. The kids are used to it but a work colleague did give me a strange look when I asked her to jot down 'throws herself at Mark'!
Thanks Kate. The waterproof note paper looks fab. What a brilliant invention for us writers :) Glad you enjoyed the blog & don't worry about my name - my autocorrect does that to me too!
Hi, Kate. So sorry you had problems leaving your comment first time round. I think the "false" thing happens if you try to leave a link inside the comment itself. It has happened before to someone else. But thanks for persisting. Glad you enjoyed Elaina's post.
Me again! Sorry Elaina, I didn't spot that your name had been autocorrected in the last comment. I give up! My new rule is never go on social media when I'm tired! x
I'm commenting again as I've been branded false! 😧 It may have been because I posted a link to Aqua Notes on Amazon, for those of you wanting to write notes in the shower. Another fascinating post, thanks Elaine and Sue! x
Hi, Karen. So pleased you enjoyed Elaina's blog. It is always useful to find out about other writers' strategies because you never know when you might want to pinch one for your own use! Thanks for dropping by.
Hi Karen, I'm glad you enjoyed the blog and found my rules helpful. The photograph idea came from a creative writing course I did a couple of years ago, where we were asked to write a character description from a picture we were given. It's stuck with me ever since and works for characters and settings. Enjoy your excuse to take lots of photos everywhere you go now!
Hi Jen, I love your idea of a waterproof shower writing board too. The car's the other place I have brainwaves. I repeat the words like a mantra until I reach my destination for fear of forgetting them (which I often do anyway). A friend suggested I use a dictaphone. But on the rare occasion that I remember to turn it on before I start my journey, the only thing I end up recording is bad karaoke. Inspiration it seems has stage fright, and only appears if the dictaphone is off.

It's interesting to hear you are also a planner outside of your writing. It's always baffled me how I can have such contrasting sides to my personality, and yet it seems to work for me. It's good to know that I'm not alone ;)
Another excellent blog post, Susanna. It's lovely to hear about other people's writing rules, as they almost always give me some ideas about improving my own methods. Elaina, some of your rules sound very similar to mine (always having a notebook to hand for ideas at inconvenient moments particularly), but taking photographs is something I hadn't thought of as an aid to description. I shall definitely be doing that from now on so thank you.
Now there's an idea, Jen - the waterproof writing board! We should patent that and make our fortunes. I'm glad you recognised yourself in Elaina's points. Something that has emerged from this series is how much writers have in common. Thanks for commenting.
Such a delightful interview, Elaina. And Susanna, I'm glad you're continuing this 'writing rules' series.

I chuckled at various points, especially as I often gets my best ideas in the shower. Is there a waterproof writing board to hang on the shower wall?! I also nodded in recognition as despite being a planner in every other aspect of my life, I too am much more fluid in my writing life.

Thanks for sharing, Elaina.
Thanks Jan, you are so right. It would be lovely if inspiration stuck on cue, ie in daylight hours. Good luck with novel 2
Hi Louise, thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. I do seem to be an enigma with my contrasting approaches, don't I? Thanks for your good wishes.
Hi, Louise. Nice to have you back here again. I'm glad you enjoyed Elaina's post. Yes, her approaches to her day job and her writing make an interesting contrast. Thanks for commenting.
I'm not a writer, but I love these It Works For Me articles. It is interesting to know what makes authors tick. I enjoyed rule 2. Fascinating to think that Elaina has to be so precise and organised in her profession, yet she likes to go with the flow when she is writing. Good luck with your writing, Elaina.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jan. It's always good to hear from you. I'm so pleased you enjoyed Elaina's blog. I think it will strike a chord with lots of writers. I love the thought of you jumping out of bed early to reach for your trusty notebook. During the cold nights we have been having recently, maybe you should keep the notebook by the bed!
It was good to read your five rules, Elaina, and I can relate to all of them. Number one was particularly familiar. Just lately I've been thinking through scenes for novel two when I wake up. One morning, my husband wanted to know why I'd suddenly jumped out of bed and rushed to get my note-book! If only we could plan when inspiration will strike. 🙂 Thank you, Sue, for arranging another in your interesting series of posts. X
Thanks for welcoming me to your blog Susanna - I've enjoyed hearing from all your guests in the writing rules series and it was lovely to be able to join in. Elaina x