When not being international jet setter and media sweetheart, Ryan Stark, I have a full time career in IT. Ok, so I am not proud of that but c’est la vie. There are wolves and doors and I have to keep the two apart. The result is that I have to fit my writing around a long day and time is of the essence.
Now, Killing by the Book took an absolute age because I was disorganised, ill-disciplined and generally pretty damn lazy. Add in playing bass for a Rhythm and Blues band and writing took a sad second place. Third if you count work. I was determined not to make the same mistake with The Farm.
So I had to set down some rules. These were the ones I chose from the avalanche of advice on the web:
- It might be enjoyable, you might call it a hobby but don’t kid yourself it isn’t work.
- Find a consistent quiet place to work. For me, it was meeting room 3. Until 8:30am and after 4:30pm it is all mine. Then I can walk downstairs to my desk. On the weekend, I have an office in the box room at home.
- While we’re on consistency, same chair, same music, same coffee/tea/tobacco. Sort of muscle mass memory for the mind.
- Don’t mess around with 10 minutes here or there. It takes up to 40 minutes for the mind to fully switch on to a new theme. Bank the hours and spend them together.
- Get excited about the characters, if you’re in the mood, act out the dialogue, as Charles Dickens used to in his chalet in Rochester. Warn the wife first though.
- In the words of Leon Heywood, don’t push it, don’t force it, let it happen naturally (yep, that old).
- Keep a journal. On-line, on paper, both! Also a paper file of images, photos to help descriptive narrative.
- Use your IT. Ignoring the actual writing software (Storyist), use Clouds to allow you to work anywhere convenient. Use OneNote for, er, notes. Free and brilliant.
- Never be afraid to take a break but try to earn it, although holidays are holidays. Take time away.
Having lengthened my days by a solid hour in the morning and an hour and a half at night, I have completed the manuscript in 19 months start to finish.
But have I finished..?
Does the plot hang together? Does it flow? Are the characters believable? What about spelling, punctuation, grammar, covers, blurb? And suddenly my OCD kicks in and I’m panicking.
So I set about a few more rules:
- Don’t rush the task. Give yourself a week a read at least. First one might take three… if it takes longer, hey, nobody dies, except in chapter two.
- Set down a maximum number of reads-through. You and I both know it will never be finished to your satisfaction but you have to let go. I set 3: a major “get it right”, a medium “read through each storyline for consistency” and a minor “fettle and spell/grammar”.
- The same consistency rules.
- As you edit, keep copies, in case you make a mistake.
- Take breaks, divert yourselves. Write the blurb, work on the covers.
- This is editing not slash and burn. Set a target number of words. If possible edit around 1000-1500 words less because you will invariable add a few nuances.
- If not already in MS Word or another major wordprocessor, export and run a different Grammar/ spell checker. You would be surprised how many repeated words words and wrongs ones their may bee, even after the read through. Exporting changes the line length. These things dive of the screen.
- Know when to stop. Set deadlines. Line up proofreaders so you have to stop.
OK. So how did that go? I have started read three and will dump out to MS Word over the weekend. Proof readers are lined up. Covers are designed and there is only the blurb to go.
Wish me luck.
How about you? Anything you especially do? Rules, rituals, especially good coffee? Let me know. It’s good to share.