Keeping going

One of the hardest things an author faces day to day is actually finding the time and the inclination to write.

When I was lucky enough to meet up with some of the authors from “Killer Women” at the Agatha Christie Festival a few years ago, I was, so far, unpublished, and I asked them, as any aspiring author would – what I needed to do to get an agent and get published, and they said, without missing a beat “You need to finish your book”.

By this point I already had four totally finished novels – so the advice wasn’t quite what I was looking for – but it just goes to show – this is where most aspiring authors fall down.  That initial “ideas to paper” stage.

Getting all the words down onto paper (or rather into word on a PC) is a challenge for most authors.  I’ve got countless works on my computer which only get to chapter three and stall.  This isn’t because they aren’t good stories, but merely because life got in the way, and I just never felt the pull of that particular novel to finish it off.

So how do you cope with this challenge day to day as a writer?  I don’t know whether this is harder for me as I receive regular writing commissions and so, with deadlines looming I simply HAVE to write murder mystery games in my waking hours – and therefore when I get back to my PC at home and look at the book on the go I feel somewhat jaded by the whole writing process, or whether it’s easier – because I’ve already developed the much needed habit of just writing whether I feel like it or not.

Many people would tell you not to wait for the muse – but just to write.  Others will tell you not to spend time writing if you aren’t in the mood as you’ll just delete it all the next day.  The question is – which approach is right?  I think it’s hard to tell.  I think it really boils down to what works best for you – so long as you are aware there will come a point (there will – trust me) where you will get to the middle of your book, where the “fun” of the start, and the “pull” of the end are both missing, and it feels like you are going nowhere.  (It kicks in around 25,000 or 30,000 words – just in case you’re wondering…)

At this point – I would say… write.  You have to write through it.  It might be garbage, but get your ideas on paper.  You have plenty of time to edit later (usually 6 months to 9 months minimum!)

So how do I, personally, get through this particular mental block point?  Well it’s usually at this point I start chapter plotting.  I have the overall plot in my head (or on paper) already, but when I hit this point I start putting short sentences into the chapters.

e.g. “Chapter 12 – Jess and Simon meet”

This gives me a pointer for each chapter, and I just work through the entire “book” to the endgame putting in these one liners, so that I can start feeling the tug of the end.  Sometimes I’ll flesh out a paragraph, or even write a chapter totally out of sequence so I work out where i need to add in plot points earlier in the plot, sometimes as I write I’ll add in another chapter as I realise something else is needed.

It’s also usually a good idea to simple READ everything in your book to date.  Sometimes that’ll give you the impetus for the next chapter.

I will say, it’s usually at this point I also allow myself to get distracted.  I write blogs (yes… you know where I’m at now don’t you…) try out short story competitions, screenplays, anything to get the creative juices flowing again.  Sometimes once you’ve taken your mind off the hook and worked on something else for a bit – the impetus comes back and you’re raring to go again on your original book.

Some authors always have 2 books on the go at once.  So that they can move between books as the muse takes them.  It’s not a bad plan if you can do it without getting confused, and also you don’t hit “mid point” on both at the same time.  I suppose as I write creatively at work – I have that system already in place.

The mind is a wonderful thing, it’ll recconnect to your characters and plot if you give it time, and sometimes the worst thing you can do is focus focus focus on how little you’re writing day to day.  Feel free to give yourself a holiday, a few lie ins.  Read a couple of your favourite authors, meet up with some local writers for a chat.  If you can, and feel able, try giving your part written manuscript to someone who can encourage you.  (IMPORTANT – don’t give it to a critic at this point… as they’ll tell you everything you’ve done wrong and the joy of the writing process will dissappear instantly! – A good constructive critic is always essential to the writing process – but at the END – not when you’ve hit a mental block!)

If you can – try and do something your characters in the book are doing at the point you’ve got stuck.  Obviously not murdering someone… but if they’re going out for coffee / a walk / engaging in some active pursuit / visiting a particular area – see if you can do the same – that may well give you the basis to continue the story.

One last thing to consider… are you stuck because you’ve got bored?  If you’re bored – then ask yourself will your readers be too?  If so – think of something totally out of the blue to throw at your characters at this point.  Shake it up a bit – throw them a curve ball.  It’ll make it spicier for you as a writer – but the readers might also enjoy it – and it might well give you the motivation to keep going.