A short guide to writing fiction based on my own experiences of writing over the last five years.
So, here we go. How do you write 180,000 words in less than three months?
My basic approach to writing is something like this:
I know, it doesn’t say very much. There are so many intangibles involved in writing fiction that it’s impossible to write a complete guide and expect it to work al the time for everybody. You need to be in love with the story, the characters, you need to be able to commit yourself to it without all kinds of niggling limiting thoughts produced by the mind.
This is, nevertheless, how I go about the practical side of writing.
The first line is probably the hardest part of any book. It’s the most important too, if only because the first few lines are the ones that have to pull readers in. They also have to pull you in.
I generally don’t start writing until I get hit with that first line. That’s a lot of carefully Not Thinking About The First line. These things always show up when you stop trying to find them – rather like car keys.
Once you have a first line, the trick is to keep going. You need a second, and a third, and a fourth. It’s pointless sitting over the first line and trying to make it perfect. You’ll never get past it. For a first draft, you need to be carried along by the pleasure of the story, not expecting to edit every sentence as you go.
When I’m writing Amnar books, I stay with the story. That’s the first priority in writing, to keep the story going, playing around with it as I go along.
It’s the same principle for everything you really want to do. If you really, really want to do it, you have to make time, rather than try to find it. I do contracts for a living, so most of the day I’m out of the house elsewhere consulting on client sites.
While I do take breaks between contracts to write, most of the books I’ve written were done while I had to work elsewhere during the day. The books have mostly been completed by working for two or three hours each night, which was all I could spare.
I’m lucky, in that I don’t have a family pestering for my time. Many writers – very determined writers – manage to complete their work while caring for children and managing households. My brother is a musician, and has to hold down a full-time job, caring for his two kids, and making sure he gets to do gigs and write songs is still a piority. It can be done, but you have to be committed to it.
I’m not one of those people who goes in for expensive writing software. I’ve been using an Apple Mac for the last five and a half years to write Amnar books. I use Word for Mac, and I tend to keep each chapter in a separate file.
This can be really annoying when it comes to doing submissions, but it’s very useful for writing the books themselves. For a start, Amnar books are too big for one file, but it’s also easy to find chapters if I need to look at just one.
I write in chapter order, rather than doing the bits I want to write first. I don’t generally work to a strict plan – at least, nothing that’s written down. I often write notes that I want to follow for each chapter, but I keep it as flexible as possible.
If I decide to add new chapters or themes in, it’s pretty easy to do, since each chapter has its own file.
For the most part, if I decide to move chapters around or add new ones, I’ll keep old chapters and unused writing. I’ve even kept old versions of entire books, when I go through the editing stage. I find it useful, just in case I need them or want to go back to older versions.
I have this thing about where I write. If working at my desk isn’t helping, then I’ll take the laptop and go elsewhere. It’s a neat trick for finding a new space to inspire.
Most of Amnar: The Awakening was written in my bedroom. I was on a tough contract and often didn’t get home until late at night, so I just took the laptop upstairs to work before bedtime.
I usually write one chapter a day, which is about 3000-3500 words. If I can’t find the right words, and I don’t have the next stage ready in my mind yet, then I wait until it comes to me.
In all practical ways, this is what it takes. More than anything else, it’s about commitment, and persistence. To some degree, it’s also important to learn to trust yourself and your own writing process, rather than thinking that there’s one way to do it that’s ‘right’. Finding your own ideal process and practices is really the key to getting it all done.