Lishman said what I sort of already knew – stick to one genre. I don’t, of course, having written everything from YA to fantasy, action/thriller, books about teaching, and kitchen-sink-realism short stories.
But lately I’ve mainly been writing either YA novels or high-concept thrillers (though the most recent YA was also a fantasy story, of sorts), so maybe after two decades of scattergun writing, it’s boiling down to a couple of things.
I’m taken by the idea of writing short, contemporary, realistic, thrillers. And I’m thinking TV series rather than movie, so a series of 80-page novellas rather than a 300+ page novel.
I have an idea that I’m working on.
I was supposed to be having a rest from storytelling but I just can’t stop…
I often talk about how to write, but the main thing, I think, is to create a routine. You can’t just write when you feel like it, because there’ll be other things that feel better at any particular time, and you’ll never get round to it. So if you want to write, create a routine.
There are other things too: flight-time is massively important – the more you write the better you get at it; the proverbial ten thousand hours does no harm. And finish what you start. Everything you complete, even if it is bad, is a step higher up the ladder towards producing something worth reading.
It helps if you’re an avid reader; I don’t think you can write if you’re not also a full-time reader and can count your reading time in many multiples of ten of thousands of hours. It’s part of your flight-time.
Writing a story is a strange thing. From a few disparate events, from transient moments or an overheard name or phrase, I create characters and places and a brand new story which didn’t exist before I created it, and even in the creation is still being created, being moulded, being redrafted, until it reaches something like real.
It’s a leap of faith too: firstly and, to me, most importantly, that it will work. That is will be any good. Secondly that anyone will enjoy reading it.
And there’s a whole level of something approaching arrogance, or maybe blind faith if I want to be a bit charitable. Just the feeling, the inclination that I can do it. That I can make things up, that I can write thousands of words, and that they will work together to create a story.
But mainly writing is something I do because I am compelled to. I get up at five every morning, drive to a nearby MacDonalds, buy myself a coffee, and I write for two hours. I just write.
I’m extremely right-brained, which means I tend to understand things from the outside in – I like to know context and purpose, say, before you introduce me to the details – and sometimes I never get far enough in to really understand.
Also, I think in metaphors and analogies.
On the flip side I’m not so constrained as many people are, in terms of what I dare think or do. My natural state of mind is on the edge of chaos, which is not unusual in itself, but it’s a place where I’m very comfortable, which is, I think, unusual. I’m sure there are millions of potentially great writers out there who will never write a single story because their lives run on rails and writing is away off in a place where the rails don’t run, or they won’t step outside of the constraints of the role that society has given them, or maybe they’d be embarrassed to even declare an interest in becoming a writer.
For me, it’s simple: I’m an adequate writer, but I dare to do it.
My ability to write short stories arrived fully formed, one day in early July, 1997. They’re good my short stories, they’ve been good since I began, and the best of them are really really good. I would happily put them up against anyone else’s – Poe, Saki, Mansfield – not better or worse, but equal.
Writing novels is another matter. I struggle. Mostly because I don’t have the time. But it’s not just time, writing novels is something I have to work at. And I do work at it, each one is better than the last, the flow gets easier to maintain, but it’s never easy.
Two years after giving up the day-job, which was teaching English, I find myself still doing the day-job and teaching English. Feels a bit like Hotel California, I’ve checked out but I haven’t left.
Speaking to the Count today and when I asked his advice on the whole topic of work, income and creativity, he did his usual thing of bouncing my question back to me.
And of course he’s right, I know the answer. I know. exactly what to do. But I’ll be doing it without any support or safety net, knowing that only absolute commitment can even get me halfway to where I want to be, and anything beyond that is not guaranteed.
But as Neff often says in situations like this, ‘C’Mon!’