Writing: Real Life v Fiction

Full-time employee by day, aspiring novelist by night? Then you’ve come to the right article, my friend! That’s how every author who ever nabbed a publishing deal started out. Yup, even your absolute favourites. I’m talking the real heavyweights.

Charles Dickens? Factory worker. Douglas Adams cleaned chicken sheds. JD Salinger became Entertainment Director onboard a cruise liner. Stephen King worked as a High School Janitor. J.K. Rowling, unemployed. The one thing they have in common, aside from craving to escape into writing, is how these experiences became invaluable research. And research becomes stories. Even cleaning chicken sheds. (Probably).

Not necessarily literally, I admit, but factory conditions informed Dickens’ work. Adams’ Dimension-quenching thirst would’ve found plenty of scope in the coop. I’m guessing Salinger met a lot of Phonies in Showbiz. While King gave himself goosebumps, patrolling empty school corridors. J.K. daydreamed her way out of what she described as, ‘being as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,’ creating Harry Potter on the train from Manchester to King’s Cross.

The good news is, fictional life can fit around practical demands. If you want to write, it might skip the To-Do list. When you need to write, you’ll be fully onboard. There’s always going to be a thousand matters baying for your attention. So, if you’re still in with this writing thing, you either take a seat and do the work, or pick up someone else’s bestseller. And if that last option weighs heavily on your story-telling heart, let’s make this happen, at once!

You’ll need determination long before a literary agent will initially work for nothing, except sheer belief in your work. And it requires discipline to offer a beginning, middle and satisfying ending, to a story waiting to be told. So, let’s do what all dreamers do, and make a list:

1. Be Prepared.
Be prepared to make your first priority a notepad and a pen. Don’t leave home, work, or bed, without them. Inspiration is all around. That punch-line you blurted out. The way someone pronounces, ‘Yugoslavia’. The colour of Boredom. Get as ephemeral or literal as you like, but write it down. Because you’re a writer, remember? It’s not 9-to5. It’s stride-in-your-step, adrenaline-jolting devotion!

Between You and Me: Check that notepad is tantalisingly empty, and the pen actually works before you get too attached to a brainwave.

2. Time on your Side.
Writers tend to fall into either early-morning or late-night camps. That’s because our brains wonderfully surrender all traces of reality when we’re pre- or post-dreaming. Marian Keyes set her alarm ahead of the office to complete her first novel. Jay McInerney kept cosying up to the keyboard way past the midnight hour. No matter which option hits the mark, make it a date.

Friendly Advice: When circumstances don’t allow, don’t beat yourself up. Keep jotting down ideas, and know you’ll make it up to your manuscript with that ream of words waiting in the wings.

3. Plan, plan, plan!
I’d like to be one of those streamlined, linear-types, writing at stealth from beginning to end, but guess what? Doesn’t happen. I know where I’m going. I’ve a pretty good idea why we’re going there, but midway is about as far as I get, plot-wise. Then it’s time to iron-out the initial plan. If you’re armed with a water-tight synopsis, I look on in awe, but I need to submerge in the writing before emerging with a first draft.

Lesson Learned: If something isn’t working, it’s because it doesn’t work. Move on. Re-think. Re-write. No re-grets.

4. Prioritise.
As nice it would be to flounce off to the nearest vestibule and retire from all responsibility, it is first things first. Your mind can’t wander beneath a cloud of chores or deadlines. Pin them down. Get them done. Then consider yourself free to focus.

Working Lunch: Make the most of any break. Walk. Think. Be alone. Listen to your characters. Trust your instincts. Jot thoughts down in that notepad you carry these days.

5. Bite the Best Bits.
There’s no point setting aside time, staring at a screen, wondering where to find a word count. Sometimes you have to take it by surprise. Don’t think of it as a book. Start with that ending you can’t wait to write, or the big reveal you know has to happen. Pick out the pralines and throw away the toffees! Why not? It’s your work. Kill off that character before they’re introduced in chapter eight, you absolute maverick! Look in the rearview, and you’ll find a picnic trail of plot development.

Novel Navigation: Make sure there’s batteries in the torch. In other words, map each scene in your synopsis as you go. See that shard of light up ahead? That’s the ending, compadre.

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