Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.
16. Your thoughts on… how to get the words down
There really is only one answer to this, and it’s the one no writer — wannabe, professional or otherwise — wants to hear:
Sit up at your desk, turn on your computer, open that document and write.
Grab a notebook, pull it over your lap, put the pen to the paper and write.
Grab your phone, turn it on, open that notepad app and write.
Most writers have day jobs, especially — but not limited to —those who aren’t published yet. The last thing we want to do when we get home from work is to sit back in front of the computer screen and do more work. I don’t have the time! you’ll hear us cry. I’m too busy! Too tired! I’m not in the mood! I don’t know what’s going to happen next! I’m not inspired!
Sadly, no amount of excuses is going to change this sad and sorry fact:
Writing is a verb. You can only achieve it by doing it.
Uninterrupted writing sessions are great, but they’re also super rare. I can’t afford to sit and wait for time to materialise (there are always cats to feed, meals to cook, clothes to wash etc.) so I have to carve time out for myself. I kid you not, I have legitimately produced approximately 100,000 words over the course of a single year just by forcing myself to write for at least half an hour every evening — not even every evening, just whenever I can. Sometimes that means going to bed a bit later than I’d like, or waiting to catch up on a favourite TV show. If I’m getting the words down and progressing through my story, then I’m one step closer to achieving my dreams. That makes it all worth it.
Terry Pratchett wrote whole books this way, forcing himself to write 400 words every day before he went to bed. I prefer to work by time rather than word count because I’m super slow, but whatever works for you.
At the same time it’s important to take days off when you burn yourself out. If the well runs dry to the point you actually hate your book and you are mere seconds away from pressing the delete button (been there, totally guilty)… take a break! Go for a walk. Watch some TV. Play a video game. Just make sure you do eventually go back to your book and continue from where you left off. Everything makes so much more sense after you’ve taken some time to recharge and refill your creative well.
17. Unseen Footage: Write a short scene that fits into your book but won’t make the final cut
The following scene is the opening of my planned John novella — something I want to write upon completion of The Mayor when I hand it over to K.F. Goodacre for preliminary editing and take a bit of a break. Though events that take place within this novella are key to the formation of John’s character (and thus important for me to know as a writer), it is not my intention to submit it for publication. Enjoy!
The pirates corralled John and the rest of the crew into a shivering, bloody huddle on the main deck, forcing them to their knees and trailing guns against their heads. Some, like John, had their hands bound behind their backs. Others less fortunate — men too wounded, weak or dazed to stand and fight — the pirates seemed content to let well alone. Where on earth would they go, surrounded and outnumbered as they were? The wooden planks of the deck were slippery and wet, scarlet and sodden with blood.
It took John a few moments to realise the insistent rhythmic clattering in his head was the sound of his own teeth. Chattering and shivering from the cold settling over his bones, he tugged at his bonds and quailed at the sight of so many strangers — so many pitiless, colourfully-dressed men leering and jeering over the railings. One of the pirates made a show of tugging the rings off a dismembered, bloody hand, laughing as he threw it back at the original owner’s head, whose face had turned the colour of bilge water. Dark shadows bruised the skin beneath the man’s fever-bright eyes. John had no doubt the man would be dead within hours.
“Enough!” bellowed a voice from the quarterdeck, and immediately the pirates fell into ominous silence.
John’s bowels turned to water as the captain descended the stairs and appeared directly in front of him. Beetle-black eyes deep-set in a scarred and leathery face narrowed to pin-pricks, scrutinising his prize.
“Good afternoon, Gentlemen,” he grinned, baring an array of multicoloured teeth, few of which John imagined to be his own. “My name is Captain Rourke Marks of the Hoopoe, which is this rather fine looking vessel you see lashed to the side of your skiff here. Pray tell, which one of you gentlemen calls himself Captain? We have matters of great importance to discuss he and I, and I’ve no wish to dally. I’m afraid I’m in rather a hurry…”
John scrambled sideways as Marks reached down and grabbed one of his fellow sailors, hauling the man up by the scruff of the neck in front of the prize-crew and pressing a pistol to the back of his head.
“Three… two… one.”
Everyone jumped as the gun exploded, fresh blood and brains spraying all over the deck. John watched, horrified as the sailor crumpled to his knees, a ragged gaping wound where his eye had been. As the dead man’s body slumped sideways, Marks reached forward for another victim, and though he too struggled and protested, the pirate held him up before the crowd as though he were no more than a sack of potatoes. Drawing a second loaded pistol from his belt — John counted six in total — he pressed the barrel against the man’s brow and grinned that wicked grin.
Another explosion. More blood sprayed across the deck, and John flinched as this time some of it splashed across his face, hot and staining the corner his vision red. When Marks reached for him and near-yanked his arm out of its socket, he felt a sense of unreality sweep over, as though he’d stepped outside of his own body, watching everything unfold from a distance. He became aware of every sound and sensation; the broad expanse of the the pirate’s barrel chest against his back, the rotten-meat on his breath—
The cold metal promise of a gun pressed against his head.
Every hair along the back of John’s neck rose as he felt Marks let out a breath of satisfaction behind his ear. His eyes widened at the sight of Reed pushing himself awkwardly to his feet, struggling under the weight of his leg, which was bloody and shaking, the material of his breeches soaked through from the slash of an errant pirate sword.
John gasped as Marks kicked out the back of his legs, taking all the weight off his feet. He hung limp at the pirate’s side, that iron-grip upon the crook of his arm not budging a single inch. Lowering the pistol, Marks kept it cocked, finger resting on the trigger.
“How nice of you to speak up, Captain…?”
“Reed, Sir. Hogarth Reed. Of the Mystic Rosa.”
“The Mystic Rosa? What the hell kind of shit name is that?”
“Well it weren’t me that named her—”
“Oh, nevermind, nevermind. The keys, Reed. Where are they? I seen what you’re carrying in your ledgers.”
“Keys? Keys to wh—?”
“To the cargo hold, you cretin, where else? Why? Do you think I meant keys to your God damned heart?”
“No, of course not, I—”
“Well? Speak up then! Quickly, quickly, I ain’t got all day.”
When Reed continued to hesitate, Marks growled, firing a single shot in the other captain’s direction, causing the him to yelp and throw his arms up above his head. The bullet ricocheted off the mast, narrowly missing a member of Marks’ own crew. One of the pirates up on the forecastle laughed.
Marks hauled John back up to his feet who struggled as he did so, shrinking away from the pirate’s foul breath, dizzy with the fear and stink of it. He froze as once again he felt the muzzle of a fourth gun against his temple, knowing it was all but a hair’s breadth away from going off in the pirate’s hand if he so much as moved an inch.
“Next time, Captain Reed, I won’t miss. Now. Tell me. Where’re the God damned keys?”
~ ‘Rourke Marks’, extract from Untitled Novella (Copyright © S.E. Berrow 2018)
18. Your writing habits
I’ve answered this question before in a previous challenge (click here to view). Not much has changed, except I now write in my parents’ study instead of my own (because I moved out of my flat).
I also now make use of the wonderful Forest app to track my output. Instead of simply timing 30 minute time slots on my phone, I grow trees instead, where each tree represents 30 minutes of uninterrupted time — the tree dies if you leave the Forest app i.e. if you check or use your phone! It’s a good way of eliminating distractions. Sadly it won’t stop cats from walking all over your keyboard…