My Novel Writing Habits, by Anthony Riches
The creative process is a bit of a strange thing for yours truly. I’m the sort of writer who writes to empty the cistern of words that build up in his head, then waits for it to fill up again (often overnight) as the subconscious does its thing and invents the next bit of plot. I never have that (I guess) luxurious feeling of having the whole book plotted out to the last twist in my head – I’m far more likely to sit back and slap my forehead when I’m 9/10ths of the way through a story, with the revelation that should have been blindingly obvious from very early on. I am, on the whole, a bit slow on the uptake, although I usually get there in the end. Of course those revelations tend to require something of a re-write to make the twist/revelation/thingamajiggy make sense, and for the reader to be able to either spot it from the breadcrumbs I lay for them or, if they’re like me, to slap their foreheads as they realise what it was I ‘had in mind all the way through the book’ but was too mean to share with them. My daily progress, when I’m at it full time, tends to be of the 1,500-2,000 words a day variety, which is OK but hardly stunning, as I sit, scratch my head and generally noodle off into la-la land for portions of the day.
Sometimes the muse bats me round the head, says ‘you have been a good boy, Tony Riches, so here’s a juicy idea to play with’, and, like all those sci-fi moments in the films when the spaceship goes to ‘jump speed/warp/circumventing the laws of physics drive power’, my mind leaps into frenetic word on word action as if it’s been cattle prodded. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…
Case in point. I sat down to write on Saturday morning after the first few days in my new job (I have to work for a living you know, I have a house full of children and dogs to feed), musing on an idea that you and I shall call ‘The Centurion’ for the time being, regarding a character in the Empire series. Intrigued by this line of thought, I put fingers to keyboard in a tentative manner – and dropped 6,938 shiny new words out of my brain (and I’m still surprised and gratified by that number, having just gone back to check it) in about five hours. Now, to be honest, I did spend the rest of the weekend working on it – editing, tweaking… gloating… mostly gloating – but the creative process was done in an afternoon. To put it in context, if I could write at that speed routinely I could absolutely nail a novel in three weeks, no sweat. Which I clearly cannot. Where it came from, I have no idea. Should I be getting on with book eight, rather than mucking around with side projects? Yes I should. Could I have resisted it’s siren call, once the seed was planted by something I read about a certain year in history? Not likely.
So, 7,000 words of standalone short story now sit proudly in my Dropbox account. Those words don’t easily fit into book eight, so their value to the ongoing process is low. I am prouder of the result than you can imagine. I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it. That’s not actually the point of today’s observations on writing (it’s mainly gloating, as it happens). The point (or the question) is this:
I write full time on occasion, for weeks or even months, while prospective employers look at my cv and laugh. I average 1,500 words a day, do a lot of dog walking and cooking, and generally have a lovely, relaxed time.
I then get a job, in London, involving two hours travel a day and ten hours of fairly intense thinking, on subjects a million miles away from ancient Rome. At the end of the first week, I bang out 7,000 words in an afternoon. Some weird accelerated subconscious creative process seems to be at work, beneath the surface of all that professionally focused thought. Question: I would like to ‘retire’ to a life of full time writing – but, if I can afford to do so, should I?
Anthony Riches’s author website: www.anthonyriches.com
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