Thursday, 31 July 2008

Perils of solitary creativity - things that get you away from your desk

Perhaps one of the oddest things about a writing career is that so-called real life can easily and rudely tear you away from your internal worlds.

Working from home, as most writers do, lays you open to terrible, terrible traps. Now, I have a wonderful partner, who doesn't expect me to spend my time clearing up the domestic disasters my children regularly create, but of course they do have to be done. School holidays tend to upset all regular plans, but outwith these I am very strict on the hours I work. I need to be. My brain offers me a thousand reasons a day to stop doing something I love and go and do something far more boring instead.

Here's a list of things that happen to writers working at home. See if you can work out which I think are genuine reasons for stopping writing.

- the phone rings (friends and family know you're liable to be in)
- the meter man, local religious salesman, postman or lost soul rings your doorbell shattering your train of thought
- the house is terribly untidy and you're unsure if there are enough clean towels to last the weekend
- there's that awfully good programme on the telly that no one else is interested in and would really help your research
- it's sunny and you're feeling down - a good dose of vitamin D would be just the thing
- your professional blog is looking very empty
- you know you absolutely must clean the cooker
- a friend phones to ask for urgent help on a script or essay

And my take on the above -

- the phone is an interrupt device. Unless you have good reason to answer, such as (in my case)fearing  what my wonderful but non-conformist six year old son might have got himself into at school, don't answer. If you don't have a answer service of some kind (and really any professional should have one) if it's urgent they will ring back. Encourage friends and family to contact you by email, so you can answer when you choose and won't get drawn into lengthy conversations at inappropriate times. If you can't bear to turn your mobile off then switch it to silent and let the text messages accumulate until you're ready to read them. If you *have to* answer then keep the conversation short and to the point. Be polite, but tell people when they can reach you and that you are working now. No one expects a surgeon to be up for a chat in the middle of an operation, so why should they expect you to break off from building an entire world? 

- For safety reasons you should have a spy-hole or camera in your door- use it. But even before you get out of your chair to peek consider the fact that the world will not end if you don't open the door. You can opt to give your own meter readings for supplies by phone or email. Religious salesmen and other lost souls you probably don't want to talk to anyway. Expecting a parcel? Then yes, maybe you should check. People coming to the door with serious news are rare, but if you can't rid yourself of the paranoid fear that this is Agent Million or a policeman come to give you terrible tidings then open the door, but keep it brief. Unless it really is startling news then two minutes is your target time from getting up to sitting back down in your chair.

- The untidy house. If you worked in an office you wouldn't be home to do this. Do not confuse working time with trying-to-get-everything-else-done time. There are advantages to working from home - a smartly tidy and overly clean house should not be one unless you are working as a housekeeper.

- That awfully good programme on the telly can be watched at any time. Do you need to watch it now? Will it help you where you are in this manuscript? Unlike fish recordings keep.

- It's sunny and you're feeling down. I consider this a good reason to leave your desk. As a species writers are very prone to depression, and there are days when things genuinely *won't* happen. So on very, very rare occasions when you are enveloped by your own personal black cloud and pursued by the raging dogs of misery quit your desk, go out in the sun, and take the day off. If you often feel like this buy a sunlight lamp or talk to your GP!

- Yes, professional blogs do need to be maintained. Allocate time to write for these. Don't use your creative time. 

- Well, yes, you shouldn't have let your cooker get so filthy, but it's your brain playing tricks on you and trying to get you away from writing that hard scene or finding your way out of a plot tangle. The accomplishment you feel on cleaning the cooker will be nothing compared to the satisfaction you will feel when you get some real work done. Clean the cooker later. Keep a notepad on your desk solely for urgent tasks you suddenly remember when you're writing. Record the task and (unless it's something dire like turning off the gas) let it go until after your writing time. 

- Friends and colleagues in need always deserve consideration as long as you reserve the right to say no. However talented you are others will only take your writing career as seriously as you take it yourself. If you constantly agree to help then your help will be sought constantly and your own work will suffer.

It is certainly true that you can think about your work while you are doing other things. But it is also true you can spend your life having ideas instead of writing. A writer writes. 

Monday, 28 July 2008

Insight into the fate of the perfect submission

Whether you're a writer, an aspiring writer or an avid reader you're probably aware that currently the UK print market is drawing in its horns - and the thing is I can't remember a time since I began writing professionally (back in the 80s when the world could end if your cat pulled the lead out of the back of your PET computer) when the current year hasn't been more tight than the last for the publishing industry. But books still get published. Best sellers, even from the occasionally newbie, fly up the charts and money is still made by publishers and authors alike. The market never stops needing books, but how do you convince a publishing house or an agency your book is the one they really need?

Note: Nowadays getting an agent is not unlike getting a publisher. The process you're liable to go through will look pretty much identical. If you get an agent first then they submit to a publishing house for you and it will go in with a harder sell and further up the chain of command than you can generally achieve as a solo author. In fact many publishers will now no longer read unsolicited manuscripts. (Though this can sometimes be overcome by meeting a publisher in a bar, buying them lots of drinks and getting them to agree to allow you to send in a few pages - and yes, this does still happen. I've done it and so have other writers I know.) However, in any case the first barrier your MS will hit is the submissions reader.

Let's assume you've written the best cover letter, have the most polished manuscript (or have a real go-getter of an agent who's going to do the approach for you)  and have got your work onto the desk of a submission reader. There are now an almost limitless number of factors the hand of fate can employ to determine your destiny. Here are a few examples -

  1. Is your submissions reader (SR) paid solely to read new ms? This is highly unlikely.
  2. Is your SR a senior member of staff, who will have a great deal of sway with the department, but who has less than 10% of there time to spend reading new work (the rest of the time they're either promoting authors and/or books - i.e. have a punishing round of dinners and parties to attend)?
  3. Has your book about the grief felt on the death of a beloved aunt landed in the lap of someone who has just buried a beloved aunt. (Lucky, lucky you.)
  4. Has your book about the beloved aunt landed in the lap of someone whose aunt disinherited them this morning? (Much less lucky you)
  5. Does your SR have a hang-over (from all those parties)?
  6. Is your SR nineteen doing office experience, has little knowledge of the book world and throws up a little in her mouth when she reads about your protagonist octogenarian swinger couple? (Your leading lady sounds just like her grandmother -euw!)
In reality most agents and publishers do their best with submissions, but if your work is going in without invitation and is therefore ending up on the slush pile it may well be read by a very junior member of staff who is learning the market. In all likelihood it will take a long time for anyone to read it - the primary business of both industries is to promote whoever they already have on board, and it is not unheard of for the slush pile to be periodically RTS-ed in order to allow oxygen back into the office. Popular agents and publishers can receive hundreds of manuscripts a day. That's trees worth of paper stacking up day after day after day. (Don't get me started on why everyone doesn't take email submissions.)

But to continue our scenario - it's three months later and you haven't heard a thing. When you're feeling upbeat you imagine your submission is being handed round the department, passed up the line and soon you'll hear that someone wants to talk to you. But when you're feeling down you imagine your submission is a lost leaf in the virtual forrest of submission awaiting your chosen SR. And then there's always the chance it was lost in the post.

So what do you do? After a reasonable length of time do you email? I'd say after three months you were entitled to query. But then what if you query and are told you've made it through the first round? Do you query again in a few months time or do you wait? How do you keep yourself in the mind of a very busy agent or publisher without becoming an annoyance? It's a hard call and one where everyone has to find their own middle ground. 

You have to create the best work you can. You have to believe in it-(don't be British and apologize for being a writer. You have to be clear, straight forward and professional in your dealings with agents and publishers. You have to be proactive without becoming a liability. 

Ultimately, you have to trust your work to speak for itself - and trust the post office to get it there in the first place.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Why e-books should matter to writers

After ranting about the wonder that is e-books it has just occurred to me why most of my friends aren't getting the revolutionary aspect of this technological shift. However, anyone reading this blog should have a good idea. But in case you don't -

The real impact of e-books
Launching a paper book costs a great deal of money. As the reading public tightens its belt publishers are more and more inclined to go with sure things, things in the vein of previous sure things and very occasionally something they believe (often erroneously) will be the next sure thing. People who write good entertaining stories that don't happen to have picked up on what the next sure thing is (recent ones include angst, misery, child murder, terrorism, angst, utter misery and yet more angst) aren't considered to have the cache of a breakthrough novel and therefore don't stand much of a chance of making it into the print market.

But now e-publishers, who can have just as good an eye as a print publisher (often a better and less angst obsessed eye), and who aren't so inhibited by finance, can take risks on new authors. I admit e-publishers are currently coming and going by the hour, but there are some who are staying - some who have been around for years. As e-publishers build up loyalty and reputation for sourcing new good work so the world expands a thousand fold for all those mildly published, yet to be published, those who have sunk to the bottom of the midlist and those who like writing less angst-ridden stories. (Can you tell I'm not a fan of angst? Dear gods, sometimes I just want entertainment from a book! If I want angst I can read my to-do list.)

And yes, some writers are already making a living from writing e-books alone. I know a lot of people don't believe this, but it's true. No-one I know in Britain yet, but across the pond they're going great guns.

And ultimately what's good for writers is good for readers. Like everyone else I've wandered into a bookstore and flicked hopelessly through the same-ish summer reads longing to find a 21st Century version of the wonderful (and sadly deceased) Robertson Davies, a new crime series that isn't embedded in blood, forensics and alcohol or a children's read that isn't about fairies or pirates (though a fairy pirate might be worth reading). E-publishing for both publisher and reader is an inexpensive option of experimenting with new writers. This, for me, is the real beauty and promise of the new ethereal world of the e-book.

More in The Independent on Waterstone's decision to sell the sony e-book reader here

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Professional Blogging - using, overuse and neglect

One of the big issues with professional blogging is ensuring that you post often enough to remind people you exist. If you're running a professional blog the chances are you're doing this to increase your profile, boost your market share and generally convince people that they're doing themselves a huge disservice if they don't attend to what you've got to offer.  What is unlikely is that a) you're paid for your blogging time and b)that you don't have a busy life outside the blog.

It's all a matter of balance. I've known (and still know) writers, who will talk  rather like literary fishermen over several pints of beer of their magnus opus, the one great story that will make their fortune and fame. Over the years, I've become far too intimate with some of these stories, most of which had yet to take form in a single inked word. A blog can become rather like this. It can be a place where you indulge in a little trumpet blowing or even innocently spend all your time declaiming your plans. 

There's a lot to be said for putting you intention out into the world. If it's done with serious thought and for-planning then blogging about a project is as much for yourself as it is for your audience. You can use a blog to drawn your line in the sand and say I will do this - ever aware that if your blog is becoming in the least bit popular you'll look a right idiot if you don't do it.

But we all have lives beyond blogging. I've been quiet the last couple of days as I wrestle with a tricky family matter where the old guard have asked me -as one of the young 'uns (they're all in their eighties) - to sort out a difficult family matter. I've had re-allocate my already precious time to cope with this new demand.

In particular I had to choose between returning to this blog and finishing a proposal for a new (and I think) very exciting project. I chose the to finish the proposal. 

It's not a straightforward choice. If a blog is inactive for a few days, especially early on, it is likely to dropped by readers, who assume it has gone the way of other ether musings and faded into disuse. But then if I don't put the work first I'm blogging about blogging - in which case this ceases to be a professional blog and becomes more of a personal journal.

A professional blog is for life not just for Christmas, but it must always be run in parallel, and as a support, to your profession. 

Monday, 14 July 2008

More on e-books

Waterstones has just signed an e-reader deal. Full report in The Independent. 

Professional Blog Writing (part 3) - We are our most annoying words

Most writers are aware of the FOG index. This is a fairly simple formula to discover how readable your text is. Wikipedia has a definition here.  For those adverse to maths Lichfield District council, who obviously pride themselves on clear communication, has an online FOG index checker that claims to be accurate within reasonable limits. Generally you are aiming for a FOG index of no more than twelve if you want your text to be appealing and ten if you're writing for a tabloid.

We all  have favorite turns of phrase. My six year old now launches into imparting all his nuggets of wisdom with the preface 'By the Way', which is remarkably annoying. But then when I'm writing I'm prone to use certain words again and again that would doubtless drive my reader mad if I didn't ruthlessly prune them. A quick search of the net tells me there are relatively cheap programs such as this one that analyze your word patterns. But back in the old days when I was learning to write (and the air was thick with pterodactyls) you had to resort to combing through selected passages of past writing and simply searching for those annoying common words. Here are some of mine. 
  • Just and almost - a suggestion perhaps that my psyche is always on the edge of madness. 
  • Really, quite and actually - intimating I can't quite believe what I'm writing myself? 

Over use of qualifiers is not unusual i.e. my major faults are actually quite common. (The shame!) But also look out for over use of favorite colors. There is nothing more irritating that discovering everything in a short story is 'sea-green' from the heroine's eyes to the color of the sky. Another danger is unusual verbs and obscure words. 

We all try to write well, but as writers we do fall in love with certain expressions and words. Sometimes these are because they represent an underlying issue in our psyche (like my I don't believe this myself!). Sometimes it's because those around us overuse certain phrases - in the '80s none of my friends in the computer industry could start a sentence unless they said 'basically' first. - And sometimes it is simply because we have fallen in love with certain words (the more uncommon we perceive them to be the more likely this is.) To a certain extent this is our signature voice, but any voice can become annoying (Basically, By the Way, Didn't you know?). Be aware of your word patterns. 

Being aware of these patterns also helps immeasurably in creating the unique voice of individual characters in fiction. By deliberately assigning a word pattern to a character you can make them jump off a page as easily as if you had put them in dialect.

Friday, 11 July 2008

More on ipod e-book reader

I'm guesting today over on the Lyrical Press blog and talking more about the wonder that is e-books.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

E-books are go!

The world of e-publishing will change tomorrow.

An e-book reader (by William Younts of Fictionwise Inc) for the iphone and ipod touch is here. It uses the standard e-reader format. Suddenly electronic books have  become a whole lot more accessible and a whole lot cooler.

The application is available now from itunes - here. It's FREE.  It won't work until tomorrow when the updates for the iphone and ipod touch are released - and then publishing will become a whole different ball game. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Procrastination versus discipline - harsh realities

Anyone can be an expert in the art of procrastination. 

Today I had a long and useful work conversation. I have substantial notes from it to correct and develop a piece. I've also fed both children, entertained the baby for a bit and explained various house rules yet again to my older son (6) - such as why it's not ok to stuff the pancake you don't like under your chair. I've put on the dishwasher. I've watched a bit of a program I recorded last night. I've dropped a few comments on other blogs (and have obviously been reading other blogs too.) Finally remembered I need breakfast too and cleaned out the microwave. It's not quite 12.30pm and I'm ill with the cold from hell. On the sofa sits my eeepc along with one sheet of paper on which is written the one paragraph I wrote yesterday.

Working from home lays me open to a great deal of temptation.  My house is not, and probably during my lifetime will never be, tidy, but there are always bits I can do. Obviously, the demands of the children are paramount, but the dishwasher would not have wept if I hadn't emptied it until after I've actually done some writing. But would if be different if I was at an office? I could hang around the water cooler, chat to colleagues and take long lunches... And I'd be fired.

As a writer I work for myself. This means I have to cultivate an inner boss, who will remind me when necessary that writing is a real job. It's not to be done between bouts of housework and any other duty I can drag up to be done because I-am-the-one-at-home. It's rather that all that stuff has to be done in-between my writing. It doesn't matter how much (or how little) I make from my writing. If I intend to succeed then I do have to write. (This may seem obvious, but a long time ago, when I was still an amateur,  I once belonged to a writing group where everyone said they were serious about making their writing career and over three months the only one who wrote anything was me. I suspect the other members still meet and talk about when they will write.) 

Today, with the average UK yearly income for a writer being £5,000 (sorry to disappoint), the majority of writers have second jobs. I'm lucky my second job is being a mother, but I will argue (and argue quite viciously) that it's at least as demanding, if not more so, than most other occupations. (You also cannot leave your children at the office - and no matter how very, very much you love them, - there will always be moments when you wish you could.) So if you want to be a writer, amateur, professional or best selling, you need to carve out your time for writing, and when you are in those hours of the day, unless there is a real crisis (and weeping dishwashers don't count) then you will write, plot, or in some concrete way move forward your writing career.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Inspiration - the gaining of

Inspiration is a mysterious beast. Whether you believe it hails from the touch of Odin's Mead or a sudden synergy of experience  inspiration is the highlight of creating. 

By now only people living in the remotest of locations won't have heard the story of how the first Harry Potter novel unfolded for JK Rowling while she was traveling on a train. In my imagination this has inspired a small army of aspiring authors to take to the rails clutching notebooks and laptops hoping that lightening with strike twice in the same place.

And if it has, I don't think they would be going that far wrong. Below I'm going to list key actions that really kick my brain into gear. If you're lucky they might work for you. I'm talking specifically about writing, but most of the ideas below will work for inspirations seekers of all kinds.

- do something different
Doing something away from your normal routine forces your brain out if its normal thinking patterns. If you can go outside your comfort zone even better. You stop repeating your life and start constructing it. This cannot help but change your perspective.

-carry a notebook and a pen at all times
I know! I know! Every writing course since the beginning of time labors this point. But do you? Don't count on your memory to retain the glittering gold of the moment.

- write something different
Switch genres, if only for an hour or two. Be really brave and switch forms. Writing a play requires a very different way of thinking to working on a novel.

- explain where you're stuck (for a new idea or on a plot point) to someone else
This is best done with a quiet friend (or cat). The act of talking aloud changes your brain processes, and simply having to explain your reasoning will show up strengths and weaknesses in your plot. (Cats are particularly good at making you justify yourself. It's in their nature to be aloof.) But you're not looking for extensive feed-back.  Other people's ideas are often destructive to emerging ideas, so in desperate circumstances (if your friends are of the loquacious variety and you have no cat) you could always use a plant pot. Although having someone point out huge misconceptions/plot holes is as useful as it is painful.

- accept that you need fallow time
Creatives are like fields. Sometimes your soil is exhausted. You need to step back and rejoin the human race for a while. Maybe it will be hours. Maybe weeks. Perhaps even longer. But you cannot force good ideas.

- think about turning the music off
For some people music is inspirational for others like myself it's distracting. Music affects mood and if it's not in harmony with what you're writing then it's not helpful. Although music will work for some, it's rarely good for you to split your attention. 

- read other people
This post was inspired by reading about Fiona Glass' Archimedes moment.

-accept sometimes your brilliant inspiration isn't quite right and will need further development
All of this is brought to you while I wait for my very kind, patient and lovely BBC radio producer to phone and explain why the latest version of my play (which I thought was very inspired) isn't quite right yet.

Creating A Professional Blog Part 2- Credibility

It's not exactly as if there is a shortage of blogs out here, but how do you establish yourself as a blog that can be trusted more than the bloke down the pub?

A long time ago, there used to be a term 'the authority of print' and people really did believe what they read in the the newspapers. Nowadays there have been enough newspaper scandals to convince the general public that things are not always what they seem. My personal watershed came when I was working on a Sunday paper during the first Gulf war and there was a frantic search for 'an expert' to comment on what was then an unprecedented situation. TV news, with the publicly exposed different coverage of various US channels in particular, has lost a lot of its weight. Possibly radio, particularly the BBC world service, retains some credibility, but blogs? Most of them are way, way down the information feeding chain. 

However our thirst for information is greater today than ever. Information has become more tradable than a spy's whisper during the Cold War. There's a huge daunting body of facts out there that for many people is simply overwhelming. So first of all when you're establishing a professional blog of any kind endeavor to the best of your ability to ensure that at your time of writing any facts are accurate and any opinions you offer are founded on reasonable research. It doesn't matter if your blog is well known at this stage or not. Once your blog is out there it is out there and there's no going back. Remember the best way to be regarded as an expert is to offer information that is generally found to be correct.

Make your blog readable. The world of the blogger is not an academic one. This isn't the place for you to parade your superior knowledge of adverbs or show how you could star on the BBC word lovers' show, Call My Bluff. It's a world most often read by readers, who are taking a break, sneaking a quick google search when their boss isn't looking, and for a great many looking for entertainment. It's easy to google facts, but to make someone read your blog regularly you're going to have to give them something that is as great a pleasure to read as you can offer.

Tell readers how you know what you do. This comes after readability because you can be the most informed person in the world and still be thoroughly inaccessible. If you're an author like me you quote some of your publications. You drop into your writing how you used to work on international papers. You mention the thirty odd short stories (some of them very odd) you've had published. And of course, you promote your up and coming products, because ultimately the reason you're writing your blog is promotion.

You may be writing to establish yourself as an expert, to help publicize your work, your creations or even your political opinions, but this isn't why people read you until you become very, very famous. Promotion is a side effect of a blog. It's the side effect you might desperately want, but ultimately people turn to blogs for entertainment and information that helps them. Offer your readers useful links when you can. Make it personal in a way that allows them to trust you. For example if you're a writer writing to writers or a mother writing to mothers,  emphasize with the very real struggles and challenges these particular occupations land you in. Don't be an all-knowing, all-seeing guru. Offer up the mistakes you've made and share what you learnt. Showing your humanity and a capability to laugh at yourself are endearing traits.

And at this point I should offer a personal story about myself. However, another key issue in establishing credibility, and one that is linked to loyalty too, is not to go on too long. Be assured then that I do poke fun at myself on Write Forward and please drop by any time.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Creating a Professional Blog Part 1 - tag lines and audience

The only point of having a professional blog is if you can get people to read it. But before you get down to the nitty gritty of google analytics and traffic flow promotion, you need to work out who you are trying to reach and why. Then along with your smart and witty title you need a few words of explanation that sums it all up - a really stunning tag line.

I'm in the middle of developing this blog,  scratching my head over google analytics, collecting reciprocal links, links that reflect my current research and links I think all aspiring authors should read. 

And there you have it. This is what my tag line needs to say. I decided when I set up this blog it wouldn't simply be about what goes on in my head as an author - fascinating and odd though that is - but it would also be of interest to other writers. I'm not simply writing this blog for people who I hope will read my work, but for people who want to write, are writing or are meaning to write someday themselves. I am passionate about writing. It defines me. I am also passionate about it as an activity and keen to promote it in all its forms. I have an underlying belief that for relationships on a personal and a global scale to prosper we have to listen to each other. Spoken words are all too often lost in the wind. The considered written word can change everything.

And back to the lighter side...

I did come up with the snappy tag line 'Musings of a Crimson Tea-Cat'. This relates to my endless consumption of tea, that I often wear a crimson robe when I'm writing and that I like cats. It's memorable, but not informative. And while it might increase the flow of cat lovers to my site, it is also more likely to suggest that I am a mad cat lady rather than an author. On a personal journal it would be fine, but here it's largely irrelevant. It's a title better reserved for a short story. (Even if I could have added 'spitting out hairballs of wisdom'. It's all too easy for me to get carried away with these things.)

Another idea was 'A girl, a mac and an imagination create'. The Mac part is relevant. I'm a strong supporter of the mighty Apple in its many forms as an excellent aid to creativity. But the title doesn't make it clear if this is a journal of a high school student or a published author, let alone touching on the issue of author resource.

'Components of a working author' is currently the strongest contender. It's not quite right, but it's informative while still being intriguing enough to click on. It states I'm an author and suggests I'm going to write about the ins and outs of authoring. It addresses both the issue of building a fan base and supporting other authors. 

I could have waited until I got the tag line perfect before launching this blog, but Write Forward is about going forward, writing on, developing work as an organic process. If you wait until an idea is perfect in your head you will never write it. Once you have material you can work with it. 

I'll be interspersing the Creating an Author Blog posts among other musings. So far on my list to do are establishing credibility, the art of reciprocal links, increasing traffic flow and ( hopefully one day) understanding google analytics. Please feel free to tell me about your glorious tag lines in comments (free promotion, folks), suggest a better one for me or raise any other issues that you think should be addressed in the Creating an Author Blog spin-off!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Starting Out

A few months ago a friend gave me a tip that a publisher was looking for some new weekender writers. Now, in case you don't know, a weekender is a stand alone novel about 50,000 words in length and something you (can you guess?) read at the weekend to forget the horrors of the office. It needs to be light and compulsive; in short a perfect bite of escapism. With my recent foray into epublishing with two romances (one urban fantasy Make Me One with Everything, one supernatural romance Appointment with the Past) appearing with Lyrical Press  in November, it has dawned on me that I am capable of writing the shorter novel. However, when I queried about the publisher about 'the tip' I discovered they are not looking for romance. What a challenge.

I spent a couple of months thinking about this - certainly, longer than I had intended. Admittedly, while I published a post on why writers should have babies, it is also true that babies eat your writing time. At best they do it with a goo and a gurgle. At worst - well, in case you're about to eat soon I'll spare you. So let's just say there can be days, sometime weeks when you can't get to a keyboard. This isn't always a bad thing.

Yes, in a perfect world I would write everyday at a set time, but when I'm thinking about a new idea sometimes not being able to write is a godsend. It's all too easy too kill an idea by exposing before it is ready. Never, never, tell a friend what you're working on until an idea is established both in your mind and on your hard disc. The innocent, but searching questions of friends, will kill many an idea on the vine.

When a new idea pops into my mind it has problems, often lots of problems. Mulling it over, making the odd note until I am desperate to get to the keyboard, if it's a good idea, gives it a life of its own. It matures in my brain and gets to the point where it's pushing to be born. And if you let it out at that moment there ain't no stopping it. (Ask any woman who's been in labour.) 

I'm not suggesting for a moment that this formed idea with be perfect. It will need (again with the baby simile) to be nurtured, schooled and generally tended. Personally, I will often write an opening (which may or may not make it into the final version), then construct a plot outline and then day by day start winding out the text. As I'm writing ideas will often pop up in the unlikeliest of places which may mean a rethink or an edit of the outline. It's an organic process with the chicken and the egg constantly vie-ing for first place.

But this is how I start. How about you?