I’m in the midst of planning and writing a book at the moment, and it occurred to me it might be interesting to write a post on how I go about doing that exactly. Then I thought about how this has been progressing for the last fortnight or so (a brief summary): fill up a notebook with notes, break out Excel and make a spreadsheet, start a new notebook, write the first chapter, adjust the spreadsheet, make more notes, write a few more chapters, admit that I’m no longer paying attention to the spreadsheet, abandon it, buy a pin-board, re-arrange the structure of the book, re-write the first chapter, fill another notebook… and so on. This, if I’m being polite, exuberant approach to starting a book is both difficult to record sensibly and of little use to man or beasties, so I thought I’d take a more nebulous look at the things I personally need to be a writer.
Books, lots of ‘em. You can’t be a writer without reading, and more to the point, why would you want to? I will come out and say it: I don’t trust people who don’t read books – if nothing else, what on earth will I talk to them about? (By books I also mean comics, poetry, etc. Stories, we need our stories).
Books are as essential as breathing, and I don’t remember a time when I have been more than a couple of hours without one – and that is a scary, panicky time, when I’m not sure what to read next and my natural inability to make a decision comes into play.
Aside from feeding our souls and making us into the clever humans we are, good stories stretch our imaginations and give us new words to play with; they take us around the back of things and show us new angles. And crucially it boils up the urge to tell stories too. Let my story be with these stories; they nurtured it and fed it, after all.
There is a school of thought that reading bad books (whatever your definition of that may be) is also useful because they can show you what not to do, but goodness me, who has the time for books that leave a bad taste in your head? Not me – I would be forever conscious that every page turned of a bad book is a page of a wonderful book I’m missing. This is why the Kindle sample feature is so bloody useful. And while we’re here and talking about how important books are, you can take it as read that I said that libraries are really fucking important. Okay? Okay.
I’m not, actually, someone who believes that you need a “room of one’s own” because this isn’t necessarily practical for everyone and assumes you’re not living squeezed into a Victorian terrace converted into flats with a cat, eighteen teddy bears and a sprawling collection of retro games consoles.
What I’m talking about really is “head space”, which is handy because you should be carrying that about with you everywhere. It’s a space to daydream in and build worlds in, and sometimes it does necessitate that you go and sit somewhere by yourself for a spell. I quite like to do this in cafes, often affecting a pensive, reflective expression if I’m feeling my art student roots, or just recently I have taken the more drastic measure of shutting myself in the bedroom for an hour, away from TV, phone, cat, Lego, X-Box and crucially, internet. Sometimes – and this is true – I pick a few books off the shelves and scatter them around the duvet, just so I can gaze on them and think “What would George Double R’d Martin do?” (kill some people) or just as a handy reminder of what it is I am trying to achieve here.
There’s no avoiding it. Books take a little while to write. Generally, they don’t happen overnight. In fact, if you draw back a little and look at the writer as a whole they always take years; years of accumulated experience – not just writing, but life – and years of getting the words out and beating them into shape. And it can take a while for the words to start behaving themselves, too. It’s something I had no clue about when I cheerfully started writing my first book, Bad Apple Bone – I had no clue that actually, my first book might not be that good. That it might take a few more books (and a few more years) before I started writing stuff that I would happily let other people read. I’m not sure how I’d have felt about it if I’d known, because every book is your precious baby, particularly when you’re writing the buggers. I don’t think I would have stopped though, because I’d found a thing that made me happy and put my soul at ease, and that’s worth a few years of anyone’s life.
So, books, space, and time. The building blocks, from my point of view, of a writer. It pleases me because it feels rather SF, like it’s something Douglas Adams would approve of, or even the Doctor. Timey-wimey, spacey-wacey, booky-wooky… maybe not. But you get my point.