WRITING FEATURE An IKEA flat-pack meets The Tortoise and the Hare

SCBWI writer Becky Hamilton takes a philosophical view of her writing technique.

One exciting Saturday night, as my husband and I were assembling two identical IKEA chests of drawers (as you do), it occurred to me that the writing process is a bit like flat-pack construction technique meets 'The Tortoise and the Hare'

The tortoise (him), with a cup of tea, toolbox at the ready, parts laid out neatly in order, reads the instructions several times and then begins. By this time, the hare (me) has pretty much finished hers. ‘I win!’ I announce proudly, only to find that the drawers won’t move and ooops the feet are on the top not the bottom.

What has this got to do with writing?

Five years ago, when I decided to write a book for children (having previously only written 30 TV commercials), I was definitely a hare.

‘Hey look! I’ve got an idea and I’ve written a book!’ I announced.

Tumbleweed, when I expected everyone to say ‘Amazing! Let’s get the bidding war started!’

Instead, when editor Vanessa Harbour read my manuscript, she suggested we start the editing process. She took my flat-pack apart and laid the parts out on the floor, telling me to be very careful not to lose anything as it was all very valuable. Then very slowly, bit by bit, she helped me to put it back together, in a way that made it totally mine.

My central character – who is she? What does she want? What does she really need? What's stopping her? What’s at stake? Why do we care? What does she look, smell, sound like? I took her apart and carefully re-assembled her.

We tackled plot and structure. What story am I trying to tell? And how do I want to tell that story? Do the right things happen in the right places? Does it make sense to the reader? Have I written it on the page or is half of it still playing out in my head (it was) making it tricky for the reader to read. After shuffling through a few industry manuals - which are just not my thing, but are invaluable - by the time I got to a tight Three-Act Structure I discovered some parts of my flat-pack were actually missing. Back to IKEA, rummage in Bargain Corner, search the depths of my imagination, add suspense and tension. Fixed.

But no. What about the other characters? Who are they? What do they want, need, look, smell and sound like? And how do they relate to my main character AND the structure? OK. I host a little soirée and get to know them.

By this time my chest of drawers is assembled and working. Time for a read through by my mentor, Imogen Cooper, who encourages me to paint it, put a mirror on top, add stickers, fancy handles and musical-drawer-liners. Finally, it’s no longer a flat-pack but my own unique creation. Even if it took a bit longer than I imagined.

What my journey has taught me is that the hare is fine, but some tortoise is unavoidable and only I can create a finished product that looks, smells and sounds how I want it to, not flat-pack furniture.

Next time I build a book, I’m planning to be a tortoise … but let’s see what happens when I open the box!

Header image by Annalise Batista from Pixaby.

Becky Hamilton’s debut MG novel Bring on the Moodz! is out on submission. She started creating imaginary worlds while growing up on a remote Wiltshire farm. After working as a creative in advertising, she now works in TV, lives in Bath with husband, pre-teen daughters and cats. She loves writing, walking, reading, gardening, camping, family, friends, festivals and parties – not (usually) all at the same time. Graduate of the Golden Egg Academy. @beckyhamiltons

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