A lot of the time, I don’t. That’s been the truth for a little while and it’s something I’ve finally turned around recently, having tried and failed with a few projects since I finished Deadlines in 2014. In fact, 2015 was a year of frustration with regards to longer projects. The only satisfactory writing project that I did was a story that was published in a True Detective anthology called ‘Walk Hand In Hand Into Extinction’, featuring preachers and child murder in the Deep South.
So when I was first asked to write this piece for the Pigeonhole last year, I could have written it, but it would have felt like a lie. Writing a piece called ‘How I Write’ while I wasn’t really writing anything successfully would have felt like a 14-year-old me writing an educational pamphlet about ‘How To Speak To Girls With Confidence’.
I started a few projects. They were ambitious, but faltered. An attempted new-take on vampires and a time travel epic are projects that I hope to revisit someday.
The problem I had with both of them is that I had the setups, characters and basic outline. But I didn’t have a full plot, and I struggled. If you’re reading Deadlines, you’ll hopefully note that it’s pretty densely plotted and carefully structured. I made the mistake of trying to start without having more of a road map of where I was going. Predictably, I got lost, with no idea which turn I needed to take next.
Some people can start without planning ahead too far. I’d hoped that would work for me, but it didn’t. I need to work out the whole thing more in advance before I can make any meaningful progress. I still leave myself enough space to surprise myself with ideas, but the basic beginning, middle and end remained the same. (As an example, Deadlines started coming together when I realised there was a major event at the end of Stave 8 – without it, I’d have struggled to get there at all).
As you can probably imagine, this got me down. Down, down, dooby-dooby down down down. I realised that I needed to make some changes.
My day-job in business marketing had become all-encompassing in terms of my brain-space, which wasn’t helping. I was tired all the time and growing more frustrated. While I was achieving well professionally, I wasn’t artistically satisfied.
So I quit.
Not in one day or anything, but I transitioned out and started freelancing for a while. It was a scary move, as I’d become comfortable. But I knew I needed to put writing first.
Once I started doing that, I realised I needed to fall in love with storytelling again. I’d become so occupied with the nuts and bolts that I needed to take a couple of steps back. Look at the whole picture.
I started going to the cinema regularly again and I started reading more. Not only that, I started reading some of the kinds of books, magazines and articles that I’d have been likely to read when I was in my teens and first passionate about writing.
For me, this started in horror and crime. It started with a love of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, moving on to The Exorcist, Stephen King and All The President’s Men. And I rediscovered my fascination with the dark subject of serial killers. And before I knew it, I had a new idea floating around in my head that wouldn’t go away.
Once I had that, I knew I had to research. I had to find out how real the story I was telling actually was. But I was, for the first time since I started writing Deadlines back in 2012, excited.
And before long, I was back writing. Back to the soundtracks that I listen to when I write (and each book always has its own soundtrack – this new one will likely have a lot of Ennio Morricone) and back to the late nights, early mornings and snatched half-hours whenever I can during my lunch.
Because that’s how I write. Deep down. I find not just the interest, but I find the excitement. And once I have that, it carries me through, because now I have a story I just have to tell.
So, to take this from a personal story to some hopefully more general and useful points:
- You have to put writing first. Everything else you do is about supporting the writing.
- You have to be in love with stories. If that’s difficult, remind yourself why you fell in love with stories in the first place. Immerse yourself in the movies, books and stories that you love.
- Sometimes, you’ll get blocked. And it’s scary. But the only way that you can get out of that hole is to build your way out with stories and words. You won’t get out of it by not writing. At some point, you’re going to just have to sit down and do the fucking work.
- You need your roadmap. It doesn’t need to be exact, but you may find it more difficult to write a scene if you don’t know what’s going to happen in it.
- Some people say ‘write what you know’. I’d amend that slightly. Write what you love.
- Talk to people. You’re not alone. Lots of us are writing and struggling and writing and struggling and sometimes talking to other people who know what it’s like is euphoric.
- Believe in yourself. Because you can do it. And you can keep doing it. Nobody else is going to tell your stories for you.
Other than that, it’s on you. Good luck. Fall in love. And then do the fucking work, because nobody else will.
Chris’s book Deadlines will be launched on the 13th July as a DISAPPEARING BOOK, to learn more click here.