I’m back from the US! I had an amazing, incredibly productive time. Here’s the short version: wrote 27K, brilliant writing retreat, hung out with my agents, editors and a heap of great authors, ate everything in the whole of America, here is a picture of my office on retreat:
I’ll talk more about my trip later, but for now, here’s some book-writing wisdom.
How do you write a book that works? Today, I’m here to tell you.
That’s right, there’s an answer. Of course, nobody ever shares it, because then we’d have nothing left to blog about. But today, I’m breaking my silence. Here’s the deal:
- Outline your story in advance, so you know where it’s going and don’t take any false turns.
- Work up your plot as you go, so your creativity isn’t stifled.
- Take as many writing classes as you can, learn from a pro.
- Remember you don’t need classes to write your own story, don’t be tied down by external advice.
- Listen to music.
- Write in silence.
- Write every day, without fail, rain, hail or shine.
- Don’t force it, take it as it comes.
- Write your draft the whole way through, don’t stop to polish as you go.
- Read through what you’ve written. Pause, prune, consider.
See where I’m going with this? I was being untruthful about that whole one answer thing. There are no rules. You can write a book any way you like, and if you round up a bunch of authors, half of them will swear one of these rules is the golden one. This isn’t just a post about walking your own path, though.
It’s a post about excuses.
You don’t need anything in particular to write a book, apart from something to write with, and something to write on. Add an idea, and you’re good to go. Yes, of course you should study craft, work to improve and continue to challenge yourself. But you don’t need your special music. You don’t need to set aside a whole day to outline before you can get started (except you never have a day), and you don’t need your lucky tea, candle or warm-up routine. Often, when we insist there’s a particular process to be followed, we’re really making excuses about why we’re not doing anything.
I know I’ve wasted time trying to make my square peg fit into round holes. Trying to do things other people’s way, because I believed there was just one right way, and thinking it was hard because writing’s supposed to be hard. Now, that’s not wrong—of course it’s hard. But I can’t escape the feeling a lot of us make it harder than we need to, by listening to a bunch of rules that don’t match our circumstances.
I’m just going to say it. Even if J.K. Rowling says it’s super important to her process, it’s not a rule. If Neil Gaiman says using only purple pens is integral to his process, you should check it out, but it’s not a rule.
You don’t need to wait until the right month to query, putting it off even though you’re ready. You don’t need to outline if it feels wrong and uncomfortable, or follow anyone’s wisdom. Of course, I’m not saying you should ignore the wealth of fantastic information available to you. I’m just saying that, in the words of a famous pirate, they’re more like guidelines, really.
Do walk your own path. Listen to all the great advice out there, but don’t let it hamstring you. Don’t get yourself so tangled up trying to follow rules that you don’t make any forward process. Don’t use the lack of something that’s supposedly an essential to stop you doing something, anything. Work out what works for you, have courage, and stick to it. You’ll be rewarded.