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In my head, I’m Ian Rankin

The rather sarcastic Stuff Journalists Like website (which, incidentally, would be an awful lot better if the writing was better) sometimes gets a little bit too close for comfort:

Stuff journalists like: writing a book

Buried under nearly every journalist’s notebooks, papers and clips is an idea for a book.

…Unfortunately, a good percentage of these ideas for books will stay just that as journalists are usually burnt out on writing after a full day day of writing for their newspaper, blog, Tumblr and Twitter.

I was looking for something this morning and stumbled across my Book Ideas folder, where I’ve written outlines and in some cases several chapters of four or five different novels. They’re pretty good, I think, largely because only one of them is about a journalist – and he’s only a journalist because it gives me a chance to have him mutilated by gangsters, which is always good. Unless you’re writing a children’s book. But every single one of them has run out of steam, sometimes at the outline stage, sometimes after five or six chapters. The enthusiasm flags and they become Great Big Scary Things That You’ll Never Finish.

Stuff Journalists Like nails the problem: you get brain-dead when you’ve spent all day working, and when you’ve been stuck in front of a screen all day the last thing you want to do after dinner is sit back down in front of a computer again. There are episodes of The Wire to watch! Partners to talk to! Videogames you still haven’t got round to playing! Exercising to do! Magazines to read!

You’d think that the natural ebb and flow of freelancing would be ideal for fiction writing, but it isn’t. That’s partly because work expands to fill the time available, so if you’ve got a spare day then the job you’re doing will magically expand to fill that time, and it’s partly because the time you don’t spend working is spent doing admin, hiding from the taxman, pitching for new work or dicking about on the internet and pretending it’s research.

Which makes me wonder, how do other people do it? Not necessarily writing, but doing anything creative when you’ve got a full time job, a family to feed and a very short block of time before you fall asleep on the sofa? Is it just about determination and willpower, or do you need to manage your “spare” time as ruthlessly as you do your work time? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

12 replies on “In my head, I’m Ian Rankin”

I started freelance journohackulating as a way to fund my “real” writing… Ten years later, I realised it wasn’t working out like that for all the reasons mentioned above.

So – to make myself write a bloody novel (or just a decent body of short stories even) I started an MA in Creative Writing. Now I have people with ostensible authority over me giving me deadlines to write fiction. So far, it’s working. I suppose it would be better to call on internal discipline – but this doesn’t feel like cheating to me.

You do need to manage *all* your time though. Write to do lists for paid work and creative work.

As for watching The Wire (Buffy, Heroes, Terminator, BSG, Lost etc), video games and magazine reading… I just don’t do them anymore. Simple as that. It’s like living in Deadline City, Due In County, The United States of No More Fun.

Also, as previously noted on Twitter, I don’t sleep a great deal.

But, the alternative is arguably just as hard; to live with not doing it. As my favourite fictional mentor said “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

Hey Karl. I can see the appeal of the MA – deadlines are deadlines, and without them *nothing gets done*. At least for me.

I need to get my arse in gear, I think. Without sacrificing The Wire (also in Stuff Journalists Like, heh. That site’s a bit of a missed opportunity – it could be *brilliant*).

A quick tip I forgot. Works for me, might work for you…

I right fiction in long-hand first, with an actual pen and an A4 pad. It helps prevent that sensation of still being at work. Of course, it has to be typed up some time – but doing it that way reduces the screen time a bit.

Yeah, that makes sense. I can’t do longhand at all – RSI means my hand becomes a claw in a matter of minutes, and it really bloody hurts – but I’ve cleared a laptop so it’s just Word. No twitter, no email pings, no RSS updates demanding my attention.

Mind you, it’s a Windows laptop so it’ll still ping me with unnecessary messages every ten seconds or so :)

Karl: is righting fiction easier than writing it? Sounds a bit like editing… ;-)

Gary: you might want to install Linux on that laptop. No unnecessary messages, and installing anything else is so much bloody work you’ll never do it!

Patrick O’Brian wrote his entire oevre with a pen. Couldn’t do it myself.

Course, all writers wrote like that once, but the point about O’Brian is that he was writing long after the invention of the typewriter and his later stuff after the invention of the word-processor too. But he never used them.

You’re write about deadlines, Karl. I think I need to get back to being in a gigging band if I’m ever to right any more music. Wanting to perform at least two new songs at the next gig used to kick us all into gear quite wonderfully.

“You’re *write* about deadlines, Karl. I think I need to get back to being in a gigging band if I’m ever to *right* any more music.”

I see my spelling is catching on. And it’s not even Beer O’ Clock.

Karl, I need to ask for your advice more often. I wrote 2000 words last night in the pub. Admittedly, they may be rubbish words, but it’s still progress :)

>> I wrote 2000 words last night in the pub.

Unfortunately it is all about how everyone in the pub is now his new best friend and he loves them. Repeated. Lots.

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