If there’s one tip I could give new writers, it’s this: make it boring.
This isn’t a reference to the book itself, of course. Boring isn’t what we’re going for here. Rather, I’m talking about the process: how you get from first-paragraph ‘A’ to final-edit ‘Z’.
The Memory was published about a month ago, meaning I’m all done with The Machinery Trilogy. I’ve been thinking about the most common question I get from people who’d like to write a book of their own: where do you find the time?
Starting the writing process can be very daunting. The lengthiest pieces of writing most of us will have completed are things like 2,000-3,000 word essays for school or university, or maybe a lengthier dissertation. In those instances, the writing is often your sole focus, and you have to do it (you don’t have much choice if you want to pass your course). On top of that, you have reference materials to use, and teachers to support you. Writing as a new author is different: most people do it in the evenings or weekends, nobody is forcing you to do it, and you are mainly plucking the raw material from your own mind, alone.
I started writing The Machinery about ten years ago, but it took me a couple of years to hit my stride. This came when I embraced the boring stuff.
When I first started writing, I think I had a certain image in my head: something a bit more romantic than the reality. Not quite writing with a quill in a haze of absinthe, but certainly something more inspiration-driven than the reality: energetic splurges of creativity where I’d be seized by the art for hours at a time. But that didn’t work for me. I found that I wasn’t seized by anything, except hatred of the flashing cursor on an empty page. And while falling into a hypnotic, artistic trance sounds lovely, I found I couldn’t combine that with the 9-5.
I only really started to make progress when I embraced something much less glamorous: routine. Routine has an amazing power. Like a drip of water that wears down a rock over time, a steady routine is the key to success. And it doesn’t need to be onerous. I think I probably spent 20 minutes per day on average working on The Machinery (and just on weekdays – I very rarely looked at it on weekends). It didn’t feel like I was achieving much in each sitting, but over time, it began to add up.
All told, I think it took me two and a half years to write the manuscript that got me my book deal. That wasn’t just 20-minute days: there might have been times when I was waiting for a flight and got out my laptop and added a couple of hundred words, things like that. But those easy little sessions were the bread and butter of the books.
Routine is the key to so many amazing accomplishments that pretty much all of us achieve. Children learn to read and write or count to 100 by routine. They haven’t been electrified by the muse: they’ve just turned up at their desks on time. Athletes train at certain times and for certain periods of time. Granted, they spend more time at it than 20 minutes a day, but so do writers when writing becomes their job.
So that’s the only advice I have: make it easy on yourself by finding a routine that works for you. It’s not very exciting, but it gets books written.