That Whole Writing Thing

I haven’t blogged for – well, far too long, basically. So I thought I’d try to start it up again. Since I last blogged, I’ve had a wonderful year of writing – and now releasing – the sequel to The Diamond Thief, The Ruby Airship. It came out a couple of weeks ago, and can be found here. Woo hoo! Great cover, right?

Now, of course, I’ve moved on to writing other things.

Yesterday, I had what I would call an exceptionally good day of writing. It was one of those days where everything seemed to flow, what I wrote came out exactly as I had imagined it in my head (this doesn’t happen often) and I was genuinely happy with just about everything I wrote (this happens even less often). It was one of those days where I kept going back to the words that had flipped themselves out of my fingers from some unknown well in an often inaccessible part of myself and asking, ‘Why can’t I write like that every day? Where did that come from?’

None of it is saleable. The first piece was a short story that I wrote as a present for a friend, based on two characters from her favourite television series. (Yes, it was fanfiction. No, there wasn’t any sex in it.) The second was a question and answer interview for my US publisher. I don’t usually like doing interviews of any sort, but I had fun with this one. The third was the write-up of a power tool-based encounter I had with one of my elderly neighbours in our village, Major Jim. In between all three I made plot-based revision notes on my current WiP manuscript.

To be fair, the notes and second and third pieces mentioned above weren’t a waste of time, since the Q&A was a marketing thing that’s part of the job, and Major Jim… Well, he really should be a character in a book anyway. In fact, the whole village should be in a book, and there is the basis of one floating around in my head. So that could be classed as… making notes.

But the first thing, that little piece of f-word tomfoolery – yeah, there was no point to that at all, other than that it made me happy to write it and it made my friend (and the 200+ other people that have apparently read it since I posted it yesterday… oh how wonderful if they’d all paid just 25p to do so, that’d be the petrol bill for next week) happy to read it.

Last week I was at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. It was wonderful fun – I did four great school visits to primary schools and I met loads of lovely and extremely talented fellow authors. I also had chance to meet people from my publishing house that I hadn’t met before. I have trouble doing these sorts of events on all levels. Part of that is experience, as I haven’t done many of them yet, and part of it, particularly the part that requires me to interact with my peers – is a lack of confidence. I always feel out of my depth and as if I shouldn’t be there, because at any moment someone’s going to realise their mistake and call me out on it. “You’re not a real author! You’re just a lucky idiot! Go away this instant!” That sort of thing.

Anyway, during one such group encounter, I overheard one of the other authors say that, as a professional, it didn’t do to ever write anything for free. This is absolutely true – that is the difference between a professional and an amateur. I have close writer friends whom I admire and strive to emulate who say exactly the same thing. Hearing it this time around, though, at the end of a year where for the first time ever, my only job has been as a writer, really struck a nerve with me. I think probably because, despite the fact that now it really does matter whether I sell stuff or not as I don’t have any other way of earning a living, I’ve realised that I’m never going to be able to stop myself writing for free. I’m never going to grow out of being an amateur.

I write constantly, whether or not I actually get it all down on paper and whether or not there’s any prospect of getting paid for it. Oftentimes, what I write when I’m not getting paid for it makes me happier than what I write when I am. I write because I am not myself when I don’t. I write because there is genuinely nothing that makes me happier than when I’ve written something that I know is good, whether or not it’s going to pay a bill and whether or not I should be embarrassed to admit that I wrote it at all.

I write. I just… write. I wish I could be more disciplined, but I can’t. I wonder whether, in twenty years’ time, I will look back at my younger self and regret my lack of discipline? I can hear at least one writer friend yelling ‘YES!’ at this screen. I’m not sure that knowing that makes any difference, in any case. I’m not sure I know how to write differently without losing the spark that makes me occasionally look at my words and think, “Yes. I can do this. I really can.”

Oh, and just in case anyone’s interested, here’s the power tools-based encounter I had with Major Jim. The only thing you need to know is that besides writing stuff, I have a tendency towards making things out of other things that most people would consider rubbish…

As I’m standing in our sunny front garden, struggling to deconstruct my pallet with a handsaw and a claw hammer, Major Jim strolls past. He’s no doubt on his way to the Post Office, which, if I haven’t told you before, is open two mornings a week, 9-12am, for gossip, pensions and even, very occasionally, stamps. 
“Hello, Jim,” I say.
“What are you doing now, lass?” he asks.
“Just trying to take this pallet apart.”
“I’ve got a sledgehammer.”
“Thanks, but I want to use the wood.” I show him the Rosebud-style sledge that we’ve had lying about for the past year. “I’m going to turn this into a vegetable rack.”
Inevitably, he looks at me as if I’m a nutter. “I’ve got a chainsaw,” he offers.
I shake my head. “I’ll probably chop my legs off if you let me loose with a chainsaw.”
“Ah well,” he says, strolling on, “I’ll leave you to it.”
About twenty minutes later he’s heading the other way again. “How are you getting on?” He asks. “Are you winning?”
“I’m getting there,” I say, even though I’m obviously not.
“What I have got is a jigsaw,” he says. “If you cut there and there all the way along, you’ll have ten 12-inch planks. Would they be big enough?”
“Probably,” I say.
“Right, wait there,” he says.He appears five minutes later with a hand-held Bosch jigsaw. Then this 85-year-old veteran and honorary Mountie proceeds to kneel on the hard pebbles of our front yard and starts sawing up this stupid pallet. I have visions of him having a heart-attack right there and then.
“Jim, please don’t – let me do it,” I beg.
“I’ll just do these two, then you can have a go. Watch.”
So I do. Then I help him get to his feet and he watches me do two more.
“There you go, lass, you’ve got it. I’ll leave you to it now.”
He disappears home again. Ten minutes later I hear him shout across the road from his front door. He’s found me a piece of wood he thinks I should use as a frame.
“Mark me, though – come winter you’ll wish you’d just kept the sledge,” he says, vanishing back indoors.





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