Word counts, naps and blood transfusions. (How to get your book written.)

There are as many writing routines as there are writers. Some lock themselves away from the world until their book is done, slowly going mad, then come out blinking into the sunlight with 200,000 words of rambling nonsense. Others will balance children, pets, spouses and a day job whilst jotting down a few hundred words whenever they get the chance. Most likely this is when they are sat on the pot.

Some like to write using the shiniest new technology whilst others would rather carve it out in stone than pick up an Apple product.

As always, there is no right or wrong way to write, as long as you actually do some writing.

Following on from the idea and the plotting, I’m now going to describe how I went about the meat of the writing business on my three novels.

I wrote Leg It fifteen years ago after taking voluntary redundancy and giving myself a few months breathing space. I was house sitting at the time so didn’t have much in the way of outgoings so I knew I could survive for a while.

I decided to treat it as a proper job and started work at eight each morning sat at the PC on the desk in the corner of the sitting room.  I set myself a daily word count and tried to thrash out as much as I could in the morning. I’m not sure but I think my daily target was 5,000 words. That sounds like a lot and seems very unlikely. Maybe I started with good intentions and drifted to a lower target.

Everything was done on Microsoft Word on the PC until I moved back home. My bedroom and PC were in the loft and as my parents weren’t fans of using central heating during the day so it was that cold I occasionally had to sit in a sleeping bag whilst writing to keep warm. I eventually bought a laptop to give myself options, at the very least the battery would give off some heat.

I still have it now, I’m not sure why but I assume it will one day be in a literature museum alongside Shakespeare’s quill.

Whilst it the public didn’t set eyes on it until 2011, Leg It was completed in nine months. My memory is hazy as to whether that was the first draft or the completed version after my mate critiqued it and told me it was rubbish. I suspect the latter but can’t be certain.

The biggest struggle back then is still around now, albeit to a lesser extent. When you are a writer or ‘trying to be a writer’ as people like to refer to it, you are assumed to be ‘not working’ so are available for every errand, sitting in for parcels, workmen etc. This interrupts any momentum you might have built up and possibly writes off the whole day but you will never be able to explain it to a non writer.

On the plus side, two decorators I encountered made it into Leg It as characters.

The approach to Idle Threats couldn’t be more different. I was working full time and had my own house. In total it took four years to write and edit but it was done sporadically. At my most productive I would come in from work each night, sit at my desk and write until I hit my word count (Usually 1,000 words).  My tea and possibly a glass of wine my reward when I finished.

As with most writers who have day jobs, it is easy to come in knackered and want to eat something and slob in front of the telly. I found a compromise by buying an iPad with a keyboard. My laptop was outdated and useless and I didn’t particularly want to shell out for a new one. Whilst an iPad isn’t ideal, it allowed me to sit on the settee and type away with the Sky Sports News on silent in the background or having some music on.

Music was a regular accompaniment to my writing during Leg It and Idle Threats and less so with Counterbalance. I’ve listened to authors such as Chris Brookmyre and Mark Billingham say they never listen to music when writing as it influences your mood and therefore your writing. I suspect they are right but mine is more a case of falling out of the habit.

Chunks of Idle Threats were written on tour on my various travels. Whether sat on the balcony in Palma or on the lakeside in Ambleside, this obviously has an impact on your mood as well but it can only be positive. ‘Working’ on holiday may seem alien to some but it is very relaxing.

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As Idle Threats was written sporadically, I needed some momentum and I got that by joining Holmeside Writers, a local writing group. It gave me a new found enthusiasm and I set myself targets for getting finished and getting the book out there.

I splashed out on a MacBook and bought Scrivener as mentioned in a previous blog and I really was on my way.

That was until I collapsed on my way to work one morning and ended up in hospital for five days needing a blood transfusion.  This wiped me out for a long time and I possibly ended up two to three months behind schedule.

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Luckily Idle Threats was nearly complete before my unscheduled break so when I was fit again, it didn’t take long to get me over the finish line.

Once Idle Threats was published, I started straight away with Counterbalance. Scrivener’s Project Target tool was a great motivation and each night after work I would sit with my MacBook on my lap (my posh desk and chair unloved in the dining room) and get my daily word count.

My situation changed again when I finally made the plunge and decided to dedicate myself to writing full time. I gave up a well paid job at a company I’d worked with for ten years to live a life of poverty but I couldn’t be happier.

Obviously I now had no excuses and I wrote Counterbalance in record time. I’m trying to treat each day as a working day but the reality is more of a working morning with bursts of activity later in the day or evening.

I have a shower and breakfast and aim to get started around eight and don’t stop until my daily target is reached. This is usually achieved in the morning leaving my time free for my favourite writer’s pastime, the afternoon nap.

On an afternoon I will potter about and do small pieces of work, maybe a short story and various bits of admin. If I feel like it, I may still find myself working during the evening whilst watching the telly and I’ll quite happily do stuff on a weekend. I imagine I probably only work about 30 hours a week but it is very flexible.

I have new distractions now, being flexible with my time I am open to new projects and opportunities. I lost a month earlier in the year to a short story and I attend various networking lunches etc which have proved to be very useful.

One of those led to me being asked to work on the ‘Putting Southwick On The Map’ project which has not only proved to be very interesting in itself but has given me ideas for future projects. There’ll be more about this in a later blog.

And of course there is the blog. It’s only been going a couple of months and it does take up a considerable amount of time. I am enjoying it and I hope you are too.

Finally, for those of you who think writers spend all day watching daytime tv, it is partially true. I guiltily tuned into Come Dine With Me and various other shows and surprisingly found myself enjoying them. The novelty soon wears off and they quickly become annoying to the point where I wouldn’t dream of switching on Channel 4 during the day.

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Feel free to comment on how your writing process looks.


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