Sunday, 26 January 2014
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Writing as someone with a full time job and a young family, I can sympathise with anyone engaged in the often fruitless battle for time, solitude and laptop access. Having been on the front line of that particular conflict for some years now, I humbly offer up some suggestions for how it can be achieved. It’s a two-step programme, people. Not complicated!
All of us have a tendency towards multiple interests. Be it origami, fell-running, electronica or shopping; crochet, croquet, cricket or cards – most folk are fitting in a fair amount. I’ve decided not to. I’m a one-hobby guy; an obsessive. I went to my last footy match just over three years ago; played in my last one two years ago (the shame of my miserable performance still haunts me by the way); I’ve never seen Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or The Wire or Prison Break or Lost or Mad Men. Or Eastenders or Corrie or Strictly or X Factor, ever. I do watch a bit of telly – but I’ve become really picky, and whatever I sit down with has to be feeding my thinking somehow or it’s not worth it. I sold my guitar. I’ve cancelled subscriptions, ditched the newspapers and magazines and stopped buying cookery books. I game at a glacial pace in little twenty-minute sections; The Last of Us will take me a year or so to complete given current progress. I skip the gym and the cinema.
Instead, I write. And read, of course. To some, this might sound like some draconian nightmare but I love it; I gets me four hours a week undisturbed and for me that means 2000 words or more. Which means a first draft in three-quarters of a year. Sometimes when I’ve got some time ahead of me, that little devil on my shoulder might say, “To hell with it - let’s watch The Walking Dead!” but I never do because – here’s the thing – I’d rather be writing. Sad, but true.
One drawback: I have next to no idea what anyone is talking about in the staffroom at work. Or in the canteen. Or student common room, café or bus queue. Or anywhere really – it seems to be all about telly. Still, a relatively small price to pay.
Here’s a true story from last week. There’s this scene in Book 2 – forgive me while I outline it: five characters stand in a circle around a dead body in an open-plan space on the first floor of a warehouse building. A minister of her majesty’s government is riding the lift, and is about to enter the room. Furious chaos will ensue.
I was tapping away when I thought – wouldn’t Mr Government Man have some ministers with him? So I stopped and thought and decided no he wouldn’t and carried on. Then as the lift doors opened I thought – wouldn’t the terrified protagonist hide? So I stopped and thought. Then I made a broom cupboard appear and shoved him in it. Then I thought – can he see what’s going on? So I re-position him a bit and carry on. Can he hear what they’re saying? So I stop and think it through, and start writing a half-heard conversation, but it’s not clear enough. Then I think: Government Dude would have ministers with him. Researchers and interns doing his every bidding. So I reverse a bit and put them back in… and then I stop. An hour’s been wasted on this. It’s not working.
If you’ve only got four hours a week my friends, you’d better make them count. Nothing’s worse than making a poor fist of your Sunday session and thinking, Ah well, I’ll fix it next Thursday night. So prepare. Think your scene through over and over again before you fall asleep at night. Check the positions of your actors, the props, the dialogue, the outcomes. Other writers have time to let characters, relationships and themes organically grow – but I haven’t and chances are neither have you. Hothouse your scenes for days beforehand and then write in intense bursts. You’ll never waste time
staring at a blinking cursor again…
One drawback: J will sometimes say to me, “Where are you?” and I’ll come out of some reverie and realise I’ve fallen silent halfway through a conversation. I’ve accidentally travelled to another world and left her behind. Oops.
I won’t lie – I sometimes wish things were different. Log into Twitter and you’d be forgiven for thinking the world is full of people with so much time on their hands. It’s like glimpsing the secret garden. One day I hope to be there too. But I know it’s not going to be any time soon – maybe ever. In the meantime, this is what most of us have – little pockets of opportunity in otherwise frenetic days. Do whatever it takes to grab ‘em.