One Terrific Lie


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.