Chapter Five - Writing Habits24 August 2010
Writing is addictive—the more you write, the more you learn, and the easier it gets. I was interviewed by fellow author and journalist, Sarah Webb, a few years ago. One of the things Sarah mentioned when she was interviewing me was my blog—she was very impressed by the time I put into it, and the length and insights of my entries. As I admitted, while I do it partly to keep in touch with my fans (because I like keeping in touch with them!), I also partly do it for my own sake. Writing is a habit—the more you write, the better you get. Obviously, if you want to tell stories, you’ll learn more writing a story than you will writing in a diary or blog—but diaries and blogs can help. I used to keep a diary when I was younger—in fact, I kept one for YEARS. Then I stopped (which I regret), but after a gap of a few years, my blog became its replacement. I like to keep practising, to sit and type something new most days. I can’t always be working on a new story, but the actual process of writing something new is the core of what being a writer is all about. I’m always afraid of getting rusty if I don’t write anything new for a long time. It’s important to keep practising, to stay in the habit of writing, even if you’re an established writer like me. That’s one of the reasons why I keep a blog and why I often ramble on far more than most other writers do. (The other night I wrote a blog entry that was over 1,500 words—that’s more than most writers write in day when they’re working on a book!!!!)
There’s no magic to writing (except the magic of where words themselves come from, but that’s a mystery common to ALL of us, not just those who make a living out of words; ALL ideas are magical, no matter how well or poorly executed they might be). It’s all about hard work, about pushing yourself and experimenting and growing comfortable with words. Nothing beats getting stuck into a story—that’s where every writer learns the most important lessons, by trial and error. But every bit of writing helps. Whether you keep a diary, a blog, writer poetry ... whatever. if you want to be a writer, you need to WRITE, and that’s a rule which applies as much to me as it does to youngsters just starting out.
HAVE FUN WHEN YOU WRITE.
You’re going to spend a hell of a lot of time by yourself if you choose to become an author. It’s lonely, it’s anti-social. Your friends and family will probably think you’re deluded, and no matter how supportive they might appear, they’ll pretty much all harbour doubts. You’ll have to write lots of bad stories to learn to write good ones, and there will be times when you’re sure you’re wasting your time, that it isn’t going to work out. Nobody in the publishing industry will care about you, and you’ll have to fight hard to stake a place in that very difficult-to-crack world. In short—it can be a miserable bloody time when you’re starting out!! So I think it’s vital that you enjoy the actual writing itself. Don’t worry about the market or impressing people or how you compare to the published authors whose work you admire. Juts have fun with your imagination and write the sort of stories you’d love to read. Go wherever your mind prompts you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. In some ways this will be the most free time of your career—once you start to publish and build up a base of fans, you have to worry about letting them down if you write a story they won’t like, but in the beginning, since nobody is reading your work, you’re 100% free to write whatever you like!!!! If you want to write a 500 page book in rhyming couplets, do it! If you want to pepper your story with wild sex scenes or buckets of gore, go ahead!! (But try not to let your parents or teachers see—most don’t understand the more excessively playful reaches of the writer’s psyche!!!!!) Write stories about your favourite characters or books or films (just don’t try to publish them, for fear you run into legal complications!). Do whatever gives you enjoyment. The publishing and re-writing and editing and fine-tuning will come later, as you develop and grow and learn to focus your vision. In the beginning, just have a blast!
I spent yesterday doing various bits and pieces around my office, filing contracts and royalty reports, putting work-related receipts for the last few months into order, etc. It’s one of the nuisances of being a writer—you have to keep on top of the paperwork side of things. I could hire a secretary or someone to help me out, of course, but there isn’t really that much for them to do, and besides, it’s good to have something other than the writing to focus on from time to time—when I need a breather, I can stay away from the PC but still do a day’s “work”. I’m not great at doing nothing. While I structure my time in such a way that I usually don’t over-work myself on any given day, I always like to have something to focus on when I wake up, a goal to complete, which will let me feel like I’ve spent the day well. It might be something as simple as filing away a few forms, but writing is largely psychological—it’s all about completing small goals and believing that if you meet your target each day and commit a certain amount of words to paper, they’ll add up and become a story or a book. Getting into the habit of achieving your aims every day - no matter how trivial they might be - helps get you into the rhythm of being a writer who gets what he aims for. At least, that’s what works for me!
I hate being inactive on the writing front — the longer I go without working on a first draft of a book, the harder it begins to seem inside my head. Writing is, to a large extent, all about your mentality — no matter how experienced or competent a writer you might be, if you lose confidence, you’re scuppered! The easiest way to work up your confidence, I’ve found, is to keep on writing — as long as you’re doing it, you’re not really thinking about it. It’s a bit like riding a bike — if you just get up and start cycling, you’ll be fine, but if you stop to think about how it’s done, and start analysing what you’ll need to do to make the pedals work and steer it and brake… that way calamity lies!!! Because of the way I work, I spend a lot more time editing than writing new material these days, so it’s common for me to go several months without working on any fresh books. I hate those lulls, because it’s always difficult getting back into the groove when it comes time to create anew again. I’m fine once I sit down and force myself back to the PC, but the anticipation is a killer!!
Back to work on the new book today. I wrote 10 pages, which I was very pleased with, especially as I was tempted to stop at 7. I had some office stuff to deal with today, so I didn’t make as swift progress on the writing front as I normally do. I got to page 7 about the same time that I would normally be getting to page 10. I wanted to stop, especially as I’d come to the end of a chapter, but I forced myself to go on and complete my daily quota. I think that’s essential for any writer — when you write, you work for yourself, and you have to be a son of a b#@ch to work for!!! There are days when you have to force yourself to work, when you have to be tough and not listen to the excuses which you’re trying to fob off on yourself. Every writer knows their comfort zone, the number of pages that they can write on any average day. Whether that’s 20 pages or 10 or 2 or even haf a page is irrelevant. What matters is that you meet your target. If you KNOW you can do a page a day, five days a week, then DO your page every day. It’s very easy to make excuses when you’re working from home — nobody can see and nobody can criticise. But YOU will know if you are slacking, and only a true fool tries to pull the wool over their own eyes!!!
The first rule that must be met for any writer on their road from interested amateur to dedicated professional is to set your goals and then meet them. When you get into the habit of hitting your target every time you site down to write… that’s when you truly start to progress. And if you want to go on writing for years to come and make the most of your ability, it’s something you have to keep on doing, all the way down the line. You need to work hard to become a writer and get on top of your talent, and you need to work almost just as hard to stay there. I know that might sound like a bummer if you’re a young writer who hopes that it will get easier further down the line, and that you’ll be able to coast along in years to come — but the other way of thinking about it is that you hopefully have a lot of time to play with over the course of your life — do you want to spend that time daydreaming and not having anything to show for it, or turning those dreams into stories which you can share with other people and maybe even make a nice living from? Writing is never easy, no matter how many years you put into it, but if you’re a TRUE writer, compelled to get your ideas down on paper, then there’s no better way for you to pass your time, and nothing in this life will give you quite as much satisfaction at being able to churn out the pages even when you’d much rather be lying back, sipping your favourite tipple and watching an episode of your favourite TV show!!!! If you want to write well, you have to work hard. There can be no compromise.