In the introduction to last weeks podcast I spoke about how I became stuck whilst writing the second draft of my latest WIP, which has the working title of The Comfort Zone (I already know that will not be the final title). I didn’t have writers block I just knew that I had reached a point in the story where I was writing all of my characters into a corner. I had two choices. I could either throw the entire project into the trash can or go back to the plan. I went to the plan. I’m one of the those people who can think more clearly when they actually have a pen and a paper in front of them. I spent two days going through my original chapter plan/outline and I changed things around, got rid of characters and changed the main characters arc.
I think that this graph by Maureen F.McHugh perfectly encapsulates how torrid the writing process can be.
In a week I’ve written 13,523 words and if you ask me, that’s a lot when a week ago you were literally standing at a junction wondering where on earth you were going to go next.
So here are we. Tomorrow it will be Christmas Eve. I have just wrestled the turkey out of the freezer, it’s quite big (maybe too big). Tomorrow, I will be spending the majority of the day in the kitchen playing music whilst I bake bread, make cakes (If you really must know, I’m making lemon and blueberry drizzle cake with a cream cheese icing and a double chocolate fudge cake), I will roast the gammon ham and then I will stuff the turkey and finally, I will stare at the fridge and wonder what on earth I’m going to eat. Then it will be Christmas Day. I will cook, eat too much and drink too much and then countdown to 2016. I can’t wait.
Now, during those funny days in-between Christmas and New Year I will not be writing a thing. My plan is take up permanent residence on my sofa, watching movies, reading books, eating cheese, pates, Quality Streets, wine, vodka, entertaining, working on my plan to take over the world.
But what about your writing I hear you ask. What about it? I don’t plan to write a bloody word. Why? Well, I’ve been writing all year and the year before that and I need a break from it all. 2015 was a good year for me. I published my first book, The Sisters, and my short story, Renata, appeared in the anthology, No Way Home. I was interviewed on a number of blogs and I interviewed some amazing writers for my own blog, Spectrum Books. In case you didn’t know, Spectrum Books is a site devoted to providing a platform to independent writers, publishers and anyone else who helps the indie writer on their publishing journey.
In addition to interviewing writers there were also book reviews. It’s hard work but I enjoy it. What else was there? Ah. I wrote the first draft of my next book, The Comfort Zone, wrote the first part of my crime fiction novel, wrote another short story and then came up with an idea for a children’s book series, started a manuscript critique service, carried on with my day job as a criminal defence lawyer and had an operation. Now, I come to think of it, the operation and the recovery period was in fact a much needed break as I couldn’t actually sit at my desk for a month.
After I recovered, I went back to work for a whole week until some idiot decided that the best way to leave a bus lane was to reverse, straight into my car. I had whiplash and the return of my favourite back pain, sciatica.
After a week, I went back to work, back to writing, interviewing, reading and then in November I hit the wall. Oh yes, just like running (remember the wall in Run, Fat Boy, Run’?) there is a bloody wall and you can hit that wall hard when you’re writing. Some may call it writers block but I much prefer ‘The Wall.’
I was writing but I wasn’t happy with what I was writing. It wasn’t flowing. My writing felt forced, contrived and most importantly it didn’t sound like me. It was frustrating, it was annoying and then suddenly I had a lightbulb moment. Leave it alone. Just leave it. Stop trying to force it. Close your laptop (well, your WIP) and leave it alone. Have a break. And that dear readers is what I did. It was the beginning of November. I was at the end of a trial and I was stuck on the second draft of ‘The Comfort Zone’ and I left it all alone. I decided to leave it all alone for the rest of the year. (To be fair, there were only two months left). So, what did I do with myself. I carried on with other things, I went to work. I read books, comics, I went to New York for five days.
I came back from New York (sick as a dog with flu) and went back to work. I then counted down the days until Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released. I then almost passed out from anticipation as I waited for those bloody trailers to finish at the IMAX and for that familiar theme tune to begin. I then decided that again, just like when I was six years that I wanted to be a Jedi and I really, really needed a lightsaber and now I’m getting ready for Christmas.
But during my self imposed exodus from writing a strange thing happened. I started to get ideas and I would pick up my giant green notebook and the brown one and the purple one (you get the picture I have a lot of notebooks) and I would jot these ideas down. The ideas came because I had taken the pressure of myself. There are times when we just have to give ourselves a break. Taking a break is not failure, it’s just giving yourself room to breath and to collect your thoughts and to start again.
So, my Christmas gift to you is this. My most important writing tip. Take a break. Don’t feel guilty about it and instead of losing sight of your writing you will actually gain a different perspective. Believe me. It will be a good thing. Like going on holiday without actually checking that your passport is valid, packing a suitcase, going to the airport and actually going on holiday.
Well, enough of me. There is a tin of Quality Streets with my name on it and Clash of the Titans is on the telly and I am now off. Have a Merry, Merry Christmas and I will see you on the other side in 2016. x
So whilst I scrolled though my twitter timeline and procrastinated, I found myself asking the question ‘Is there really an original idea?’
Now, this wasn’t the first time that I have asked myself this question. After writing the first four chapters of my book, Key Positions, it took four complete strangers to read it and confirm that I was definitely not rewriting ‘The Departed’.
Despite the reassurances, the question still remained. Do we ever have an original idea? So, whilst I sat at my desk and pondered, I looked at my bookshelf and saw a book called ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker. In his intro he discussed the comparison between the 1970’s classic film ‘Jaws ‘ and the poem Beowulf. My first thought was Jaws and Beowulf? They’re two completely different things. One is about a sleepy seaside town being attacked by a shark and a man battling that shark. The other is about a village being attacked by a monster and a man battling…Right, Ok, maybe Booker is on to something.
Not only did Booker point out that both plots were similar but that they were also telling the same story of man overcoming the monster. He then goes a little bit further and tells us that there are only seven basic plots.
Overcoming the Monster Rags to Riches The Quest Voyage and Reform Comedy Tragedy Rebirth
Great. Just seven plots. Seven plots that every writer has used. With only seven plots it then becomes blatantly obvious that we don’t have original ideas but as writers we have the ability to craft and create stories around these ideas. We sit at our desks and we plot, and we build our characters. We know how our characters think, what their fears are and whether they hate onions or not.
The book that I’m working on now started life as two books. Book number one was imaginatively called ‘The Brief’ and I came up with the idea whilst I was working on a Saturday morning, as a duty solicitor, at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court. I sat at the back of court, impatiently waiting for my case to be called on when I began to write a court scene. All I knew was that somewhere in this story a character would have to return to a world that they had left behind. Whereas the idea for the second book came after I read one line in a newspaper article more than 10 years ago.
But despite what I thought was a good idea, eight chapters into ‘The Brief’ I got stuck. My ‘original idea’ wasn’t going anywhere. My poor character, Nick, was sitting in his prison cell looking at me with his arms outstretched repeatedly asking ‘J T, what’s going on? What are you doing with me? You had a good idea – now what?’ The second book never got beyond that one line that I read in a newspaper 10 years ago. ‘The Bank of England’s printing works are based in Loughton, Essex’. Then lightening struck and the light bulb switched on. Why not combine the two ideas and ladies and gentlemen ‘KEY POSITIONS’ the novel was born.
No one has an original idea anymore and I’m not going to beat myself up about it. My skill as a writer is my ability to tell a story and I’ve already got an idea for another book. Where did I get the idea from I hear you ask. Well, last week the Amazon deliveryman knocked my door, gave me my parcel and asked if I would accept a parcel on behalf of my neighbour. I said yes and waited for my neighbour to pick it up. Now the plot may not be original. There might be a crime to solve and a murderer to pursue. My protagonist may ride the crest of fame but then have an epic fall of grace. There might be an unspeakable tragedy and lines will be crossed. Nothing really original but I will make sure that it’s a bloody good story. I might even throw in a shark.