'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 3 January 2011

Guest Post - How to Write Books by R.A. Spratt

I am often asked, RA, how do you manage to write books? How do you find the time when you have a toddler to care for, a husband to look after, a house to manage, a vegetable garden to tend, a cat to take to the vet, a goldfish tank to keep ph neutral, as well as television producers badgering you to write scripts? Well the answer is simple – time management.
Lots of important authors like Anthony Trollope, Bryce Courtney and Naomi Campbell manage to keep down full time jobs and still write books. We can’t all be like Jane Austen - independently wealthy, unemployed and living with our Dad. (Really, with no TV or internet to distract her and all those long damp Bath nights to fill, the question is not how did she manage to write such towering works of genius? But rather, why didn’t she write more towering works of genius?)

So if you’re a busy person and you want to write a book, the key is to allocate time in your schedule to writing and stick to it. For example, in my schedule I allocate four 2 hour blocks to writing per week. But now you’re probably thinking – what do I do in one of those two hour blocks? Well I will tell you. Here is exactly what I do when I sit down to work...

Step 1 – Throw husband and child out of the house, with strict instructions not to return for two hours. Have ear plugs ready in case neighbours start using power tools.

Step 2 – Turn on your computer. Thanks to enormously long time it takes Microsoft Vista to load I can use this time either to think hateful things about Bill Gates or making myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen.

Step 3 - Once the computer is on I check all my emails, the news headlines, my facebook page, the items I’m watching on ebay, the hits I’ve had on my website and my bank account.
Step 4 - Open Microsoft Word. By now my coffee is either cold or finished so go to the kitchen and make another one.

Step 5 - Sit down at desk and re-read what I wrote during last writing session. Think despairing that that is a load of rubbish which will take a lot of editing to fix later, but try not to dwell on negativity. If I am brilliant today, perhaps I can cut what I wrote last time. Think about what I am going to write today. Realise I have no idea. Also realise I am very very tired. Realise there is no way I can get anything done when I am this tired. Anything I wrote would be incoherent. Go and take a nap.

Step 4 – 50 minutes later return to computer. Still feel a little tired. Make a cup of coffee. Check emails again (could conceivably have received vitally important emails in last 45 minutes). Look at point where I have to pick up story and realise I have not given any thought about the next stage in plotting. Realise there is no obvious next stage. Think about brilliant plotting I have done in the past and how whatever I do now will not compare. Decide to take bath. There is no way I can concentrate with dirty hair and can multi-task by using bath time to think about plotting.

Step 5 – 30 minutes later, emerge from bath. Hair is clean but forgot to use time to think about plotting. Now feel unpleasantly hot and hungry. Make myself a snack. Sit down at computer. Still have no brilliant ideas. Drastic measures are called for.

Step 6 - Take chair over to pantry. Climb up and look down the back of the highest shelves where unnaturally tall husband often hides chocolate. Find 9 month old block of disgusting chocolate of brand I don’t like and that contains almonds, which I am allergic to.

Step 7 - Sit down at computer, eat one piece of chocolate and start writing. Proceed to systematically devour entire block of allergy-inducing stale chocolate while frantically typing at 100 words per minute. (Computer annoys me enormously because stupid laptop keeps jumping the cursor all over the screen. Not sure why it does this. Think it is something to do with overly sensitive keyboard, but since it’s a laptop can’t replace keyboard).

Step 8 – Just fifteen minutes later finish block of chocolate, feel sick, and want more coffee but realise it will make me feel sicker. Climb up on chair and look for more chocolate. There is none. Curse husband for not hiding more chocolate. Make myself a cup of tea. Do not enjoy it. Not as good as coffee.
Step 9 – Return to computer and keep writing frantically. Starting to get brilliant ideas, dialogue is on a roll! Feel very sick and vision is blurry (wonder if this is an early symptom of type two diabetes), but coming up with some really cracking ideas now. Then - hear husband’s car pull into driveway.

Step 10 - Pray toddler has fallen asleep in car and will not come up the stairs in the next 30 seconds. Type even more frantically. 20 seconds later cheerful voice calls out, “Hello Mummy!” Desperately try to finish typing sentence. Look at clock. Think dark thoughts about husband who returns exactly when I told him to. Greet child. Turn off computer. That’s it. No more writing for the day. Think dark thoughts about lucky JK Rowling who smokes cigarettes. Much easier for cigarette smokers to be writers as it gives them something to do that helps keep them awake. Consider taking up smoking. Realise can’t afford it on what author earns.
And that’s how I write a book. By steadfastly sticking to my routine, after 6 months I will have a fifty thousand word, ten chapter book (and the early symptoms of type two diabetes). [Ed: good to know I'm not alone!]