Distraction, Time off and Philip K Dick

York Kettlebell, my new friend

Writing a novel is one of the hardest things you can do, not to put you off or anything. I know I spend a lot of time persuading you to write every day and keep your hand in, but for some reason that all goes away when I’m working on a long form piece of work. I should write every day on this project but most of the time I don’t. I write a first draft chapter every few days, and I write it in a very short time, probably about an hour and a half or two hours tops. Why do I do that?

For starters although I have a very clear idea of where I’m going with my story my plan is not fully fleshed out. I had to get some ideas and the kind of look and feel down before I went back and arranged it. If you’ve been following my tweets on Twitter you will be aware of my recent tussle with the blueprint. I realised I only had enough material for 30 chapters and my original plan was for 40. So I did the sensible thing and rejigged my plan for 30 chapters. Now it’s all working a LOT more smoothly. Of course I could have downed tools and waited for inspiration to strike and added additional material to pad the hole. But I think padding is the worst thing you can do. Cut your suit to fit the cloth, always.

The reason I started writing before I’d finished my plan, NOT something I recommend that you do by the way, is that I knew what I was going to write and I knew overall what it was going to be like, but I didn’t have my voice very clear in my head. It needed to have a proper shakedown, and so it was now I’ve written four chapters and I’ve got a worked out plan the voice is coming through loud and clear. I actually act out the characters in the privacy of my room, like I’m auditioning actors for the parts of the characters and I ask them to give me an improvisation of how they talk and act. But for some reason my main character wasn’t talking to me and my first chapter was lacklustre.

Wait, voices? Am I hearing voices? Should I up my dosage? No it’s nothing like that. It’s just that when you are writing words for other people’s mouths you sometimes take a while to get in the rhythm, they still sound like you. You know what to say but you are as yet unsure, because you haven’t written enough of them yet, HOW to say it. A tone of voice, mannerisms, overused phrases, prejudices, obsessions and things they are studiously NOT saying… I have a handle on all that now. I can easily go back and redo the first few chapters. But its a rule that you should NEVER if possible go back and rewrite as you go because it takes too darned long to get anywhere. You must forge ahead and fix it later. (Hi Roz!)

The other problem is time to think. I’ve had a lot of distractions and traumas lately, as my friends know, and it’s taken a lot out of me to straighten everything out. I was desperate to get some time alone to think, so for the last week I’ve been shut in my house avoiding calls and interruptions, trying to focus and give my brain room the breathe. Its working too, I’m more relaxed and more focussed, and I have a clear plan of what I want to do.

Also I haven’t had any time off for months what with one thing and another and no time to read. So I’m resting, reading, staring into space and watching films. I’m currently re-reading “The Man In The High Castle” by Philip K Dick, who is the patron saint of this blog, by the way. Also still reading Roz Morris’ “Nail Your Novel” (Hi again Roz!) and Nick Daws’ “The Wealthy Writer”. But also I’m reading a fabulous book by Tim Ferriss called “The Four Hour Body”, after which I’ve put myself on a Slow Carb diet and do carefully worked out exercises three times a week. I’ve been carrying extra weight for years, a common problem with writers and artists due to having to be indoors all the time. So I bought myself a cheap 8Kg kettlebell and now I’m happily doing kettlebell swings and weird stomach exercises on all fours which make you look like a cat throwing up. All good fun while I’m working through a knotty plot problem in my head.

I can’t recommend highly enough some regular exercise or other regular physical distraction when you’re trying to write a novel. But it has to be something you choose, not distractions from outside. You have to have regular time (once a day or every other day) when you do something which is not writing, something physical, which allows your mind to breathe and take stock.

Looking forward to getting most of the first draft done before the end of April, then I can take a break and when I’m ready edit and polish over the summer. In a hammock. WIth a cocktail.

I wish.


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