I thought that for my first post of the year I would do a bit of a round up of some of things I’ve learnt about the writing process. I’m not keen on those “These Are The Rules Of Writing, So Listen Up!” posts, so this certainly isn’t one – indeed, the stuff that I’ve come to know about my own way of writing may not apply to you at all – think of it as more of a “Hey chaps, here’s some points I think I should make a note of because you know I’ll only forget otherwise” post.
Write Every Day/Don’t Write Every Day
Yes, I shall start off by being very vague and indecisive! Write Every Day is one of those writing rules that gets bandied around quite a lot, and largely it does indeed make sense; the more you write, the better you get at it. However, I have come to realise that it’s just as important not to beat yourself up if you don’t manage it. Writers have lives too, with day jobs and families, relationships and birthdays and video games, and there are days when you just can’t do it. For example, I have found that I’m pretty terrible at writing at the weekends, but quite good at writing in the mornings before work. So I devote my mornings to stories, and don’t get all guilt laden on a Saturday when I’ve done nothing but sleep and eat toast and push goats off of mountains in Skyrim.
Your Muse is a Flighty Cow
Like every romantic idiot that wore a lot of black jumpers and stared moodily out a lot of windows as a teenager, I do love the idea of a muse; that a winsome, mysterious figure will tap me on the temple on a dreary afternoon and fill my bonce with the greatest idea there has ever been. It’s bollocks though, unfortunately, or at least, it is for me. It’s true that I’ve had the occasional idea drop fully formed into my brain while I’m having a shower or waiting for the bus, but mostly ideas come from thinking a lot, all the time, and writing bits of ideas down and herding them around until they actually work. The key is: don’t wait for your muse. She’s probably off gambolling in the woods somewhere anyway.
Finish It/Or, the 60,000 Word Wall of Pain
I’ve written six books and finished them. With every one of them, I got a sizable chunk of the way in (usually around the 60,000 word mark) and I suddenly found that I violently hated it. Hated everything about it. Hated the characters, didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. Didn’t know or care where the story was going. Worse than that, it was suddenly very clear that everything I’d written up to that point was a massive pile of fetid garbage. How could I have been so deluded to think it was worth writing in the first place? WHY?
This is the dangerous time. It is a demon of writing. The voice that tells you, always at least once during the writing of a book, that you’d be better off scraping the whole thing and starting again.
Do not listen to it. It will say, “Oh hey, what’s this other idea your flighty muse just appeared with? That’s a lot better than this one. Look at it, all shiny and new and not stinking of garbage. And I bet it would be twice as quick to write as well...”
Do not listen! Squash that demon, keep going, and finish. I have written six books, and in truth I probably only really like 3 of them, but everything I’ve ever written to completion has taught me loads and has been invaluable.
Do Not Let Them Taste the Unbaked Cake
Or, resist the temptation to send your first few chapters around to friends to gather their opinions. This is hard, because you might want to know if you’re heading in the right direction, or it might just be that you’re proud of something you’ve done and want to share it, but either way, it’s best not to. Your first draft should be a secret, private thing that only you ever see, so that you’re allowed to make huge mistakes, and the story is entirely yours. Other opinions so early on could change the flavours and make it taste funny.
Because in the end, you can’t please everyone. It’s a terrifying thing, to share your work with the wider world and watch as it raises its eyebrows in a sceptical fashion, but we are word-warriors, book-wranglers, and story-smiths. We can do this. Tell your stories, listen to your characters, and when in doubt, add a three-page long fantasy banquet. That’s what I do (there's even a mini one in The Copper Promise, no honestly, go look...)