A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Sarah Naughton: How Do You Write?

I am the Note Queen. No writer in the history of the world (apart from possibly Pliny with his encyclopedia circa 77AD) has written more. I have been responsible for the felling of vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest as I fill page after page with nonsensical ramblings I can never locate when I need them. They are studded with little asterisks and arrows and made-up symbols that only I can understand (and then only rarely). I use different colour ink for notes on different subjects (red for character, green for location, blue for… can’t remember) and then promptly mix them all up, and my handwriting is so appalling only I can read it (and again, only rarely).

Actually it’s not true about the Amazon because I write on the picture references my husband uses for work (so you can set the orangutans on him, not me). They’ve usually got this sort of thing on the back:


Hence the weird looks I get when I hold them up to read from during schools talks.

I have also been known to write notes on: napkins, till receipts, post-its, cheque books, my hand, my son’s homework, Pret bags opened out (these are good – v big and white), paper plates – good for ‘mind maps’ (whatever they are), the reverse side of the label on a can of beans, other people’s books.

These are just some of my notes for a novel set in Celtic Britain that I thought about for several months about but never actually started:


Notes are reassuring. They’re like a little nest you build around yourself to stop yourself falling out of a tree. Bad metaphor. They’re like a big woolly jumper that keeps you warm and snug while the bitter wind of creative insecurity howls around you (marginally better). They bolster me up and make me feel like a proper writer. If I know, for instance, that the Celts made scarlet dye from the shells of cockles then I can… you know… like…write a scene about that… if I need to. Ahem.

The truth is most of them are pointless. And they are as unravelable as a Gordian knot. I have to write notes on my notes. Or rather, I put my notes in a nice plastic file marked ‘Celts notes,’ tuck them in a drawer and forget about them, because the real business of story-structure goes on when I’m swimming, falling asleep, eating my tea, and then I just put the plot plan straight onto my computer.

I love my computer and when I kill one by pouring hot chocolate over it…


…I feel I have lost a friend or faithful dog.

I have a file for my writing ideas and that file is divided up into the various Works In Progress, and in each of these subfiles is the basic plot outline and, on a good day, a chapter by chapter breakdown. I know some writers are freer than this in their planning but I need a solid structure or I just grind to a halt. I always know how and why my stories end and generally most of the stopping places along the way.

So there you go. That’s how I do it, but I’m sure you’ll find your own far more effective method. In the meantime, I’m off to try and work out why I’ve written ‘hippocampus’ on the back of my bus ticket.

SarahNaughtonSarah Naughton
Sarah Naughton’s debut YA thriller, The Hanged Man Rises, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2013. Her second YA novel, The Blood List, is due to come out in early 2014. After a degree in English Literature at UCL she worked as an advertising copywriter for ten years before leaving to have children. Now she mostly writes and sometimes sings nursery rhymes with toddlers at her local library. She lives in central London with her husband and two sons.

2 comments on “Sarah Naughton: How Do You Write?

  1. Isabel Thomas
    March 14, 2014

    Super post Sarah!

  2. bridgeanneartandwriting
    March 15, 2014

    I feel v reassured by this very funny post – I have also written on paper plates and on bus tickets!

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