During the last month while I’ve been gallivanting around showing off about having written a book, people have asked me questions about it. Possibly they felt they had no choice but to ask me questions about it because I kept going on about it and most of these people were British and therefore literally incapable of telling me to shut up about writing a book, being forced instead to smile politely until I went away.
The questions were various but almost all of them could be gathered beneath the main heading of:
How did you write a book?
I’d like to take a moment to clarify that the emphasis of that sentence belongs on the first word. People were asking how I wrote a book. They were not asking “How did you write a book?” or “How did you write a book?” which would have been different (somewhat ruder) questions.
So if you a) are writing a book, b) are thinking about writing a book, c) have read my book and want to know how I wrote it or d) haven’t got anything better to do for the next five minutes until Game of Thrones* starts – this post is for you. It may or may not be useful. These are some of the things that helped ME write MY book. Different things might work for you. If you’re already author and have written a book or maybe even lots of books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it takes to write a book. And I’m not just being polite until you go away.
Before we start, if you’re an aspiring writer you should probably remember that my book is a fantasy and has dragons in it. As such, if you’re hoping for tips that will help you write a very sensible non-fiction book about the applications of quantum physics, this might not be the post for you.
So, let’s get on with it. These are the most important things you need to know, in my opinion, if you want to write a (fiction) book.
1. Don’t grow up.
This one is really very important indeed. I cannot overstate it enough. If you want to write fiction, especially fantasy, you muston no account grow up. Growing up is the very worst thing you could do. You must avoid it at all costs. You are allowed to grow older – in fact, if you have discovered a way to avoid growing older you should really be writing a book about that instead, because it will earn you the most money that any book has earned anybody ever – but you absolutely must not grow up.
Why is this so crucial? Well, consider a garden. When you were a child how much time did you spend thinking about sorting out the car insurance or whether you should change electricity providers instead of looking at a butterfly and wondering if it was from a secret butterfly spy organisation engaged in a centuries-long battle with the more practical but less pretty moth population? Conversely, how much time do you now spend looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden instead of grumpily frowning at the things you now only see as weeds but which once formed a jungle to protect the magical beings that definitely existed from nosy children like yourself? When you rake up leaves, do you remember that they used to be natural flying carpets for gnomes? When you cut the lawn, do you fret about the abundance of dandelions and moss or do you still look for magic toadstools? I could add many more examples, but you see where I’m going with this, right?
I should be very clear that I’m not suggesting you don’t sort out the car insurance or change electricity providers, because that would be irresponsible which is not interchangeable with not having grown up.
How do you know if you’ve grown up? It’s not your fault you had to get a job and pay the bills, is it? Of course not. But that is responsible, not grown up. So if you’re the sort of person who wanders down a country lane at dusk on a summer’s evening still hoping you might stumble across the entrance to Faerie among the cow parsley and foxgloves even though you’re 35 and an accountant, then you’re fine. You haven’t grown up. You’re just responsible.
But what if all you ever think about is sorting out the car insurance and changing electricity suppliers? And maybe folding the laundry and what you have to buy for dinner tonight? If you are concerned that you’ve already grown up without realising and it’s too late, don’t panic. It isn’t. You can still reverse the process. All you have to do is begin wondering about everything again. Wonder what would happen if Mrs Jones next door turned out to be from another dimension that existed in her airing cupboard. Wonder what would happen if your cornflakes became sentient and formed an army to attack you at breakfast tomorrow. Wonder what would happen if you woke up in the other dimension that exists in Mrs Jones’ airing cupboard whilst being attacked by an army of brainy cereal flakes. This doesn’t just apply if you want to write fantasy. The things you wonder will signpost which genre is for you. If you watch the man who lives across the road leave his house and you wonder if he’s smiling because he’s on his way to meet the woman he loves, you might be a romance writer. If you wonder if he’s hiding a body in his freezer and he’s on the run from the FBI, you might be a thriller writer. If you wonder if he’s off to play bridge and solve a gore-free murder with a vicar and an elderly amateur sleuth with a crocheting habit, you might be a murder mystery writer. And if you wonder if he’s really a goblin who’s just eaten the people who really live at that house, you’re a definitely a fantasy writer. Unless you wondered whether there were a lot of bloody intestines involved, in which case you might be a horror writer.
If all this sounds extremely silly and childish to you and frankly you’ve got better things to do, like jet-washing the patio and cleaning out the fridge, then I’ve got bad news for you. You’ve grown up and apparently you don’t mind. I’m so sorry.
2. Write your ideas down.
This leads on from the famous question often asked of writers: Where do you get your ideas? The answer to that, as you will by now have realised is, I didn’t grow up. The longer answer is, I get them from spending large amounts of my time wondering about alternate universes in airing cupboards because it’s much more interesting than sorting out the car insurance and working out whether to switch electricity suppliers. Writers don’t always want to say that, though, because sometimes people give us funny looks and don’t take us seriously because they believe that at our age we should really be thinking about car insurance. But it is the answer.
So when you’ve mastered not growing up and you wonder about everything and have lots of ideas, you should start writing at least some of them down. Because you WILL forget them. And you might not want to use them until later; maybe not even until years later. And you’ll have had lots more ideas by then, which will have pushed today’s ideas out of your brain. This leads to yet another common question that writers are asked: I have a great idea for a book so how about you write it and we split the profits? There are at least two reasons for the answer to this invariably being something along the lines of ha ha ha ha ha ha, no. The first is that because we’ve spent all our lives being brilliant at not growing up, we have more ideas than we can possibly ever write. We have LOADS of ideas. Because sorting out the car insurance really is very dull indeed. So we’re brimming over with ideas of our own. Of course, your ideas might be much better than mine, but I’ll just have to take that risk. Not least because the other reason I’m not going to write your idea into a book and give you half the proceeds is …
3. It’s hard work.
Oh. Well, now you might be feeling slightly suspicious. Because I’ve just spent several hundred words talking about how you need to sit around thinking about airy-fairy things that are more interesting than car insurance. But I didn’t say that was all you have to do. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is actually writing the book.This is the bit that many aspiring writers don’t like to hear about quite so much as the not growing up bit. Often, aspiring novelists ask How did you write a book? hoping for some magical formula that has yet to be revealed to them that will make writing a book easier. I asked it myself, with the same hope. But eventually, one of two things happens to every writer: a) you realise there isn’t a magic formula and get on with the work and write a book or b) you never write a book.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t mining for blood diamonds or performing neurosurgery. But it does take determination and tenacity. The thing about writing a book is, you have to write a book. You have to write all the words. All of them. Every single one. One by one. There’s no avoiding this. You have to WRITE THE WORDS. Sorry.
So if you want to know the nuts and bolts of how I wrote THE DRAGON IN THE DRAIN, this is how:
I didn’t grow up.
I sorted out the car insurance when I really had to. But I spent more time wondering whether the door between the hall and the living room that we never used when I was a child, and which I always hoped concealed a huge, grand staircase that led to a magical land, really DID conceal a huge, grand staircase that led to a magical land, even though I’ve now seen that door opened. How? Different dimension. Of COURSE.
I got up at 5am every day for weeks and wrote all the words one by one until I had written the book. Which brings me to my last tip …
4. Make time.
If you want to write a book, you have to make the time to write all the words one by one. Again, there’s no getting out of this. Job? Kids? Addiction to watching Game of Thrones*? Need to sort out the car insurance?
You can make all the excuses you like – you just won’t be the person who wrote a book. And no-one else actually cares whether you write one or not. They might be happy for you if you do – they might even buy it. But if you don’t? Well, there are plenty of other books out there for them to read and buy. YOU are the person who cares if you write the book. So write the book. Make time. Or don’t make time, don’t write the book and spend all the time you’re not sorting out the car insurance complaining that you would have written a book if only you’d had the time. It’s up to you.
So. Now you know how I wrote THE DRAGON IN THE DRAIN, and how you can write a book too, if you want to. Of course, as I said earlier, I’m only talking about my personal experience. And for all you know, I might be an unreliable narrator who lives in an alternate universe in Mrs Jones’ airing cupboard. Don’t tell me you didn’t wonder?
Just one final piece of advice when it comes to writing a book:
5. Don’t spend loads of time writing lengthy blog posts about writing a book as procrastination from writing your next book.
Ah. Well, no-one’s perfect.
*If you are an actual child, which you might be since I write for children, STOP WATCHING GAME OF THRONES. It’s not for you. Go outside and get some fresh air. Or if that’s not appropriate, turn your phone/tablet/brain off and go to sleep before your parents realise you’re still awake.