Happy New Year to you all – and let’s hope 2020 is a more stable, friendly year than the last. Here’s to supporting one another, being kind, and making the difference in small, yet valuable ways.
I always like the start of a new year. For one, I usually feel galvanised into action. It’s also a chance to reflect on the previous year, in terms of what went well, and what could be improved upon.
A brief look back on 2019 – and a very stressful / comedic phone call
One of my highlights of 2019 was getting a literary agent. This was particularly amazing, given that the phone call I had with him couldn’t have been more traumatic. Firstly, the next-door neighbours started playing hip-hop at full volume, literally the moment I answered the phone. Now, I don’t mind Dr Dre, but listening to him when you’re trying to conduct an important phone conversation isn’t my idea of fun.
Then, just as I moved to the hallway to get away from it, the neighbours on the other side started drilling in the wall. I kid you not – this really happened. I desperately moved through the house, only to find that my cat was stalking me, and yowling at the top of his voice. Seriously, that feline can howl.
All good fun, eh? I attempted to scoop up the offending puss, only for him to scramble over my shoulder, dig his claws into my back, and hang off me like a kid on a climbing frame. I then had to reach around to try to prise him off, all while trying to discuss important book matters.
But in spite of this hilarious / painful experience, Greg Messina took a chance on me – which I am exceptionally grateful for. Not to mention my previous publisher Dayna, who put him in touch with me. Now, who knows what 2020 will hold?
Getting the book done – some advice
Getting an agent is an awesome, amazing feeling – but first, that book has to be in tip-top form. This, as any writer will attest, is easier said than done.
I’ve been writing since I was 19 (so, rather a long time then, ahem). During those years, I’ve made pretty much every mistake in the book. However, I’m a great believer in the necessity of making mistakes, in order to get it right in the future.
I’ve developed a way of working that seems effective (or at least for me). Here’s how I do it, just in case it helps anyone else out there.
Commit, commit, commit
Before you do anything, commit to a certain time-frame and stick to it. This needs to be realistic. If you know you can only do 250 words a day, stating that you’ll complete the first draft in a month is unachievable.
Once you’ve made the macro-commitment (e.g. – I’ll get the first draft done in six months / a year), you need to devise some micro-commitments.
These might look like:
- I’m going to write 2000 words this week, divided into four writing sessions (on Mon – Thurs).
- I’m going to go to the library this week to get those useful books, for research purposes.
- I’m going to edit my draft to page 100 by the end of this week.
If you don’t hit the target, don’t sweat it. Just be accountable for it, and roll it over to the next week.
I’m such a fan of planners. To a slightly OTT extent, admittedly. I’ve just treated myself to a Circle planner, and already I love it (no affiliation by the way, I’m just recommending them as they’re good – but not the cheapest).
If you can’t afford a planner, a notepad works just as well. Trust me, back when I was skint, I relied heavily on 99p notebooks!
At the start of each week, I work out my main commitments. These include:
- Cooking, cleaning, washing etc.
- Family time
- Playing with my mad cat
- Taking the kids to various places
After these are all pencilled in, you should have a good idea of what spare time you have left. Mark it in as WRITING TIME. Don’t sacrifice it to doing the garden, polishing the mirrors, or worse still, messing around on social media.
Work out a suitable process
When you’re ready to get started, think about what process suits you best.
For some people, a typical hour spent on their book might look like this:
- Spend twenty minutes re-reading what they wrote last session, and doing light editing.
- Spend twenty minutes writing 300 new words.
- Spend 10 minutes updating their blog.
For others, the whole hour might be dedicated to knocking out as many words as possible, with a view to tackling the editing once the draft is done. That’s my approach. I personally hate editing before I complete the initial draft.
However, that’s just me. It’s important to find out what suits you, and stick to it.
To get the best possible results, organise your work-space. If you’ve done a lot of research, make sure those notes are easy to access. Some writers swear by having mood boards on the wall next to them, to provide inspiration while writing. And of course, make sure you’ve got the basics – a pen and pad for making notes, and plenty of battery life on your laptop.
You might also want to ask your family or housemates not to interrupt you while you’re working. Ditto switching off the internet – nothing’s more distracting than the ping of an email landing in your inbox!
Keep the faith
I like to see the writing process as a mountain range. I say a range (and not a single peak), because there are inevitably lots of high points and low troughs. It also takes hard work and dedication, but there are moments of thrilling highs. Also, that feeling of achievement? Unbeatable!
There will be days when you don’t feel like writing, for whatever reason. Don’t lose the faith if you fail to write for a day, or for a week. We’ve all been there. Just don’t let it stretch too far – as if you’re not moving along that mountain range for a long time, you might end up losing all your endurance and enthusiasm!