Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Back to school

My son went back to school today and I went back to my desk to put in the first full day for a while. I hear a lot of macho stuff from writers (of both sexes) about how they work every day including/except Christmas Day as though their work was some kind of religious vocation.

Well I am proud to say that I don't. I don't always put my work first. Writing is a huge part of my life, but my wife and my son come first. That was true when I was an illustrator and it's still true. There are a lot of great writers who were failures when it came to being friends or fathers or husbands.

It is true to say that writing is one of those activities that needs to be done regularly. The engine needs to be kept running for the process to run smoothly. Otherwise you waste so much time just getting back into the necessary frame of mind needed.

A lot of my writing goes on in my head and leaves no trace. A lot goes on in notebooks, where I will scribble down alternative endings for a story or play about with some element that is getting in the way.

You do have to make yourselves available to write - available to the possibility of writing would be more truthful. But there is not always a correlation between effort and output. Sometimes the harder you work, the less you produce. Sometimes the words come so easily I start to worry that I am remembering them from my own (or someone else's) work.

A great deal of the process of writing - at the beginning and end of a book - is work that is vitally important but is concerned with either the shape of the book or the tiny details that will make a book shine (or not). A writer can (or certainly should in my opinion) spend days returning to a sentence or a paragraph, tweaking it and coaxing it into a thing of beauty.

This might result in thirty rather than three thousand words, but if they are the right ones, that is more than enough.


  1. Great advice. I find myself returning to sentences over and over, and sometimes worry it's the wrong approach. So thanks for making it feel OK!

  2. OK in moderation, I suppose I should say. It is no fun at all to read writing that has been so honed it has lost any spark or immediacy. We have to know when to stop!

    I suppose the truth is, there is no right and wrong in writing. The method can be as eccentric or as straightforward as you like - the reader only cares about the finished thing. But I do think that over time you get a sense of what kind of music your own writing is making and when you have hit a bum note.

    Sometimes a sentence will make perfect sense but will simply sound wrong. Even if it only sounds wrong to you - or maybe because it only sounds wrong to you - it probably needs changing.