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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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…
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…’
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.
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?
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.