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Something I get asked often is how I’m so prolific. People query me like I must have some magical solution. But the answer is simple: I sit down and write.

Everybody will have a different methodology as to how they get to that point – do they plan the book out, or do they just write and let the story develop organically? Everybody has to find their own way. What works for me won’t necessarily work for somebody else, and what works for them won’t necessarily work for me.

But what we all share in common is that, at some point, we have to sit down at a computer or laptop, or at a typewriter or a notebook, and we have to write.

That simple.

There’s no magical answers.

And I can guarantee that at some point any or all of the following will happen:

  • you’ll hit an obstacle and won’t know where to go next. For a novel, you’re dealing with around 80,000 words. In no world will those 80,000 words come unhindered. There’ll be plenty of times you’ll stop and think, What comes next?
  • you’ll get bored by your story. Again, it’s 80,000 words. It’ll bore you at times. You’ll be eager to get to some other point, but bored by the journey. (Although a lot of the time, I think the journey is much more compelling.) But being bored doesn’t mean your story is boring. It’s simply hard to keep the engagement through all that writing. It’s like watching a 24-hour-long making-of-a-movie documentary – because that’s what you’re doing: you’re making something. Readers see the finished product. You’re behind the scenes. It’s not always going to be interesting, and you’re not going to be enthusiastic about it all the time.
  • you’ll grow frustrated. For whatever reason. The story’s not working, the characters aren’t working, you think the story’s shit, you think your writing’s shit, you don’t see the point of it all, and so on. Again, you’re dealing with something so big – any or all of these are going to happen.
  • you’ll go the wrong way. You’ll follow a thread that, at some point, you’ll realise isn’t true to the story. One accomplished author told me she got 90,000 words into a new novel, and realised 80,000 of them were wrong. That’s drastic. But wrong turns are going to happen. I don’t mind going the wrong way, because at least then I can dismiss it as an avenue.
  • another project will seem more exciting. New projects are always much more exciting. When they occur to you, you’re hovering right around the inspiration, rather than 30,000 words into a first draft that has started to bore you or frustrate you, so how wouldn’t that be more exciting? It’s untarnished and pure and hasn’t been subjected to any of the states you’re now experiencing – but you will. The exact same thing will happen.

Early as a writer, I experienced all of the above – repeatedly. In the early 2000s, I had lots of unfinished screenplays. Then I made a conscious decision to sit down and finish whatever I started, and if another, more-appealing idea came along, to file it and stick with what I was doing, no matter how much it bored or frustrated me, or how much I doubted myself.

Eventually, what I taught myself through this routine was to accept those states of mind weren’t an indictment on writing, but just natural and occasional thought processes. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re not always in love with the person – sometimes, your partner frustrates you, angers you, bores you, etc. But it doesn’t mean you ditch them because of it. (Well, for most.)

I’ve built up endurance that sees me through just about anything. I know that when I sit down to write something, I will finish it – it’s just a matter of time. As far as this one goes, there’s been lots of wrong turns, lots of questioning what happens next (although I always seem to know what happens in the scene after), but I accept those states as they help me find the trueness and thrust of the story.

None of this is meant to bignote myself. Everything I’m writing might be terrible.

But at least they’re finished terrible things.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I’ve never spoken to Charlaine Harris so, unfortunately, there’ll never be a vampire opera with zombie gerbils.

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When I work on a book, I’ll also work on something else simultaneously.

It won’t be another new book – it’s hard enough keeping track of all the characters, threads, and ideas for one prospective novel, let alone two. I’m always surprised when people say they’re working on two (or more) novels simultaneously. (I don’t count swapping back and forth between projects but never finishing anything.)

The closest I’ll get to working on more than one novel is if I also revise another, but only as long as it’s more so a copyedit revision, rather than a structural edit revision that might require some rewriting. As far as the copyedit goes, I might read a chapter or two (depending on their length) as warm-up for my brain. Then I feel I can flow into my work-in-progress.

Or I could revise a short story, or even write a new short story – the only qualifier here is that I have to be able to finish a draft (either writing something new, or revising an existing draft) in a single sitting, so it’s doesn’t become too much of a distraction. I want to be able to get in, get out, with it having no ongoing impact on my work-in-progress.

Poetry is something else that’s a good sideline – although, sometimes, my ruminations take me deep into the night, because I struggle to find the exact way I want to depict what I’m feeling. But it’s always cathartic, and I’ve written enough poetry now that I’m thinking of either subbing around a collection, or self-publishing it.

Lately, I’ve also been working on screenplays. I wrote screenplays prolifically through the early 2000s and had a couple optioned. I thought they were great. I had this infallible self-belief. Of course, I was an idiot. (There’s a good chance I still am.) Neither option went anywhere. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t.

When I look back at all those old screenplays, they’re grossly overwritten, and the narrative in a few of them is (to put it kindly) contrived. However, some are structurally sound – at least as far as the framework goes. I’ve picked the best of them out and tried to revise. At times this has meant almost rewriting from scratch, and/or fleshing out the story.

Over the last year, I’ve also written a handful of new screenplays. Compared to the 2000s vintage, they work better on every level – the way they’re written, the causality of the narrative, and the solidity of the suspension of disbelief. I’ve discovered I have more confidence writing a screenplay than I do any form of prose.

Screenwriting also provides an interesting contrast to prose. With prose, you get inside a character’s head. You relate what you see and how they feel. You can have an internal monologue driving the narrative. Screenwriting is different. An internal monologue is not going to work – you can translate it as voiceover, but you’re always having to think about what the audience is seeing. It has to be engaging. A character sitting on a couch coming to some slow realisation is not engaging. That has to be represented other ways that is going to hook the audience.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve refocused some of my energy on screenplays and subbed to a variety of international comps (because there’s so many of them), and met with some minor success in placing in a few of them. Some of those places have only been getting through to the next round, where perhaps another two hundred other writers have also gotten through. But I look at that in the context that possibly six or seven hundred people have been culled, so just to survive that is gratifying. As a writer, you hang onto little victories.

One screenplay, a 30-minute satire/pilot entitled ‘Producers’ – about a former shady tax lawyer, now heading a four-person production team trying to raise money for a feature – was a semi-finalist in the Showtime’s Tony Cox Episodic Screenplay (30 Min) Competition, which was flattering. ‘Producers’ was written originally over ten years ago, but has undergone repeated heavy revision and restructuring. To get any recognition is encouragement that I might be doing something – no matter how small – right. Or maybe I’m doing something right in a small way.

It’s been a lot of writing of various forms to juggle throughout the last year, while also working on a new book. Just when I get one of those peripheral commitments out of the way, something else pops up – another competition I want to enter, or a short story submission opportunity where I want to revise. My mind feels spread in different directions, which is not my preferred way of operating – but, at the moment, it feels like I can stay on top of it because at least when I am working on a couple of things, they’re different forms.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

And this is what you do as a writer.

You write.

Submit.

And do it over and over.

 
Last Week’s Lie: My editor, Lucy Bell, and I did not go on a tyre-mauling rampage.