One Routine Any Aspiring Writers Should Develop

One Routine Any Aspiring Writers Should Develop, guest post by Brian McGilloway

If I had to pick one routine that I think any aspiring crime writer should develop, it would be the habit of writing daily.

One Routine Any Aspiring Writers Should Develop, guest post by Brian McGilloway
I believe writing is both obsession and compulsion. Something drives me to write, compels me to sit at a desk and tell stories, never quite sure whether anyone will want to read them. The problem is that compulsion can come and go. The initial enthusiasm for a new book dissipates after the first few chapters and by the 30000 word mark it’s becoming a slog. It is at that point that you most need to keep at it every single day, chipping away at the narrative. In fact, it’s on the days you least feel like writing that you most need to do so. And often, on those days, you surprise yourself with what you write.

I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think crime fiction depends on forward momentum. Writing every day creates that sense of driving forward, pushing the narrative onwards. It doesn’t matter if what you write is rubbish – first drafts often are. The key thing is that the story has kept moving. The craft of writing really kicks in on the rewrite anyway, once you’ve got the bones of it down on the page. The second draft is a major one – often involving structural changes and certainly requiring a rewrite of the start when you realise that the themes and ideas you thought the book would explore ending up being different from the ones the narrative eventually involved. Writing is a process of discovery for the writer, after all.

Secondly, for me, crime writing requires intricate plotting. Writing everyday helps keep events fresh in your mind as a writer. In fact, it helps feed that obsessive aspect of writing that means you think about the plot and characters constantly, immersing yourself into the world of the story in a way that makes that world all the more authentic when you describe its sights and sounds and textures. Dropping in once a fortnight for half an hour won’t make an immersive experience for either the writer or the reader. Leaving a book longer than that makes it even harder to renter that world.

In a purely practical way, the danger for me in not writing each day of a book’s composition is that if I leave it for a while, I need to re-read the book to remind myself where each plot strand and character had left off. Once you re-read you start seeing the mistakes and the urge is to correct it or redraft it. Doing so means you spend more weeks reworking the same part of the story and another month can pass without the narrative having moved forward an inch. That discovery can be crushing, especially if you are at that midpoint of the story and it appears to be going nowhere fast.

For myself, I work full time as a teacher, so when I get time to write, it’s often no more than an hour a day. Over the course of nine books, I’ve trained myself to use that time wisely. Discipline is needed not to waste time on Facebook or answering emails when you should be writing. In that hour or so, I aim to write a chapter (normally between 1000 – 1500 words). I end each writing session with the end of the chapter because it end on a hook of some sort, which gives me a launching point the next day. I tend to listen to music, often the same piece to get me into the book, almost like a tuning fork sounding the opening note. Hurt/Someone You Know was written to the tuning fork of Family Life by the Blue Nile. Preserve the Dead/The Forgotten Ones was written to Mark Lanegan’s Imitations. Bad Blood was soundtracked by Hans Zimmer and Max Richter.

Ultimately, writing requires determination in spite of everything.  We each find tricks to help us get through it and, by the end of the book you are exhausted and sick at the thought of ever writing again. Yet, the following day, that familiar itch, that compulsion to create, starts anew. And’s that always an exciting moment.

One Routine Any Aspiring Writers Should Develop, guest post by Brian McGilloway
Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lucy Black series, all to be published by Witness. Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children.

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