Is being a full-time author all it’s cracked up to be?

I love writing.

When I’m writing a new book, which is pretty much all of the time, I get obsessed with my characters. I take them to bed with me. I wake up with them too. It’s like having a wife but without the sex. On second thoughts, it’s like having a wife.

I’m so in love with writing but I hate the fact that I have to fit it in around other inconveniences like my day job, life admin and my children. OK, maybe the children aren’t that much of an inconvenience. Give them a bottle of cider and the Xbox and they’re happy.

My day job is such an inconvenience. Would you believe it, I have to be there all day. Whose idea was that?

Work pays the bills, but it doesn’t satisfy my writing addiction. It isn’t where I want to be.

I am seriously considering becoming a full-time author. Admittedly, this wouldn’t be a rational decision. My first book is doing well but it has only been on sale for a month. Never mind paying the mortgage, my income from my writing is barely enough to pay the milkman yet.

But my heart keeps beating faster than my head can shake. Why should I let practicalities like shelter and food stop me from pursuing my dream? They say you’ve got to be single-minded to be an author, right?

I would love to be able to write when I want to write, rather than when the kids are in bed or when the boss isn’t looking. (If my boss is reading this, then obviously the last aside was an example of my ‘creative writing’ skills).

But could I write all day? What would being a full-time author feel like? Would steam surge from my laptop keyboard as I knock out novel after novel? Or would I get bored with my own company, want to murder the daytime radio presenters for endlessly repeating themselves and be off down the pub by lunchtime?

There was only one way to find out.

Last week, I booked the week off work, cleared my diary and packed my boys off on a ski trip to Italy with their school mates. The dog and I had the house to ourselves. My aim was to significantly progress my second book, ‘Six Lies’.

This is how I got on.

Friday

Saw the boys off on their ski-ing trip, went to the pub after work to celebrate my week off and came home via the chip shop. Incapable of writing. Number of words written: 0.

Saturday

I can’t be creative with a hangover. Watched the rugby, checked latest sales figures for Six Months to Get a Life on Amazon and shunned Valentine’s Day in favour of Match of the Day. The FA Cup provided me with all the romance I needed. Number of words written: 0.

Sunday

Went for breakfast in Raynes Park with a friend. We arrived too late for breakfast so had lunch instead. Took the dog for a walk. Cooked a chilli. Checked book sales. Number of words written: 0.

Monday

Wrote during the morning, with short stops for putting the washing on, taking the dog out, eating everything I could find in the fridge and checking for new reviews of my book on Amazon. Got a couple of good lines in, including ‘your forehand is better than your foreplay’. Met another author via twitter. Ended up buying and reading her book. Thoroughly entertaining and highly distracting. A good day, finished off with a few pints in the Earl Beatty with the best man at my wedding. At least I’m still talking to him. Number of words written: 700.

Tuesday

Took the dog to have his balls cut off. His creative juices will never flow again. If it’s any consolation Albus, mine didn’t flow today either. Instead, I read the rest of ‘Being Sarah Chilton’. Very funny. Number of words written: 400, approximately 50 of which were spelt wrongly on account of my errant laptop’s habit of not registering random key impressions. Ggggrrrrrr.

Wednesday

Had to stop the dog licking his wounds all day. Eventually, gave him to my ex and went to meet friends in North London. Number of words written: 27.

Thursday

It is impossible to write with a hangover. Recovered, and went to meet another friend to give him a signed copy of Six Months to Get a Life for him to give away as a raffle prize in his work raffle. Number of words written: 0.

Friday

Started training for this summer’s British Heart Foundation charity London to Brighton walk. Trudged 15 miles through the Surrey countryside, followed by a few pints in the pub. Staggered home (dodgy hamstring / dodgy pint). Number of words written: 400, but they were all drunken emails that I should probably not have sent.

Saturday

The boys came home.

What have I learnt from my experiment? Being a full-time author is going to be good fun, but don’t expect my productivity to go up very much.

Update on Six Months to Get a Life

My debut contemporary fiction / romance novel is keeping me smiling. The reviews have continued to flood in. And as an added bonus, most of them are positive too.

Ten words that keep me writing

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I love dinnertime with my boys. It’s about the only time of day the three of us communicate with each other. Last night’s dialogue was fairly typical as these conversations go.

‘How was school,’ I asked as we sat down to eat.

‘Fine,’ William replied. Joe nodded as he chewed his slow-cooked beef.

‘What was the most exciting thing that happened today?’

‘Nothing,’ Joe offered. William shook his head as he chewed his slow-cooked beef.

‘What are you up to after dinner?’  With both boys now intent on chewing, I decided to continue the one-way conversation by telling them my plans. ‘I’m going to write a blog post sharing the ten words that kept me on the straight and narrow during my writing journey.’

‘God, dad, now that you’ve written a book, you suddenly think you’re Philip Shakespeare,’ Joe exclaimed.

‘William,’ I corrected.

‘What,’ said William.

Silence is indeed sometimes golden.

Since I’ve been writing, I have been surprised at the amount of people who have asked me for tips.  I’m hoping they aren’t after my advice on who’s going to win the 3.40 at Cheltenham. My knowledge of horse-racing is pretty much on a par with my eldest son’s knowledge of The Bard.

I hope they aren’t after tips on how to construct the perfect sentence either. I wouldn’t know a split infinitive from a misplaced modifier, or a conjunction from a conjunctivitis. My English teacher once wrote ‘at least you are good at maths,’ on my end of year school report.

I readily admit that I’m no expert on writing, but I am the world’s leading expert on my writing process. So I am going to share the ten key words that I pinned on my office wall at a very early stage in my writing journey. They won’t tell you how to write, but they do tell you how I stayed on track whilst writing my first novel. I would hazard a guess that most writers will have a similar list somewhere, even if it’s kept in their head rather than on their wall.

  • Focus

What’s your goal? Mine was to write a great novel, one that people would want to read. It wasn’t to chat to people endlessly on Facebook or Twitter. It was to write. Those dreaded personality tests tell me that I am a completer-finisher so maybe the focus bit comes naturally to me. Or maybe I’m just selfish in pursuit of my goals.

  • Belief

I have always dreamt of being an author. Dreams aren’t enough though. You need to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself then your readers will notice. Writing is a lonely pursuit. You don’t get instant feedback on your work. You have the occasional bad day. You are likely to give up if you don’t have a deep-seated belief in your own ability. My belief in my ability might prove to be misplaced, but the important thing to me when I’m writing the book is that I have such a belief.

  • Passion

If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, then a) you won’t make time for it; and b) your readers won’t be convinced when they read it. Being passionate about the process of writing isn’t enough. You must be passionate about what you have to say when you write. There were days when I knew I still had my passion for writing but wasn’t passionate about the chapter I was writing. More often than not, that told me that I needed to re-work something within my novel. It didn’t put me off though. I just saw it as part of the process.

  • Pride

I told myself that if I’m not proud of what I produce then it isn’t good enough to share with an audience. Some writers constantly share draft chapters with their peers. I didn’t. This was partly because I didn’t know any other authors when I was writing Six months…, but it was also because I am my own harshest critic.

  • Flex.

As a project manager by profession, I always have a plan. When I wrote Six Months to Get a Life, I started with an outline structure. Very quickly that structure began to constrain me, so I wrote ‘flex’ on the wall and ditched the structure. From then on, I planned a little, wrote some, re-planned, wrote, received a thorough edit, re-planned, re-wrote, added, took away, finished, re-read, rejigged, reread, dotted I’s, had it proofed, crossed T’s, re-read, added commas and ultimately pressed ‘send’.

  • Smile

For me, this was one of the most important words I kept coming back to when writing Six Months… Writing about divorce and single-parenthood had the potential to be a dour process. If the writing process wasn’t making me smile then it wouldn’t make a reader smile. Unless it’s a physics textbook, a book is meant to be enjoyed. If I wasn’t smiling at least occasionally when I was writing, then my little finger on my right hand started getting fidgety with the delete key.

  • Breathe

Sometimes, when the writing wasn’t flowing or when it was flowing but it was just uninspiring, I would force myself to switch my laptop off and go for a run, walk the dog or even try and initiate a conversation with the boys. I would do anything other than write. Usually a break was what I needed. Forgetting about my work for a while would recharge my creative juices, such as they were…

  • Perspective

My writing might feel like the be-all and end-all for me, but it isn’t. Really it isn’t. OK, if truth be told, I struggled with this one. I am ever so slightly addicted to writing. When things aren’t going right, I am grumpy. I often found myself looking at the word ‘perspective’ and thinking ‘it’s easy for you to say…’

  • Learn.

All authors will want to learn. Some go on expensive courses and week-long retreats. Those activities may work. I wouldn’t know; I didn’t try them. I learn most from my mistakes. The simple truth for me is the more I write, the more I improve. I was so determined to be focussed that I didn’t spend hours reading others’ thoughts on how to write. Some might say I should have…I did learn a massive amount from my editor so I am not completely relying on my own experiences.

  • Celebrate

Just seeing the word on the wall would spur me on towards my goal. ‘Think of the launch party,’ I would tell myself on the odd occasion that the motivation to write wasn’t there. And what a launch party it was too.

What words would you pin on your wall to keep you on track?

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Six Months to Get a Life: update

After a sedate start, sales of my debut rom-com / contemporary fiction / ‘lad-lit’ / ‘chick-lit’ novel have picked up. It was actually No.1 in some obscure category on Amazon on Monday.

Reviews have been coming in thick and fast, and they have been overwhelmingly generous too.

I have some promotions planned for late February and March, and a couple of radio interviews will air then too, so fingers crossed. Belief.