The Things That Get in the Way!

I forgot: wanting to dance, but not being allowed because of a bad ankle!

I forgot: wanting to dance, but not being allowed because of a bad ankle!

When the words are flying, writing novels is the best job in the world. Authors live other people’s lives for them. We imagine our own worlds, invent horrible situations and throw our characters (victims) into them. All just to entertain readers.

But sometimes the work doesn’t go so well. All writers have their own pet hates and annoyances, but let’s be sensible. It’s not all the noise of the guy down the road demolishing his wall, or the wailing cat in the yard that’s driving the dogs potty, or the fact that every time you sit down a deliveryman knocks to ask if you’ll take in these parcels for next door, because they’re out at work …

Pardon me?

I’m at work too, you know. Just because I happen to be staring out of the window doesn’t mean I’m not concentrating. Honest.

But what really is frustrating to me?

First it has to be the sudden arrival of a book I wrote a while ago, with a deadline of ten days, asking me to go through a line-by-line commentary by an editor who’s taken four months to look at it. Or it’s back from a copyeditor, or perhaps the arrival of a proof. All of them tend to land on my desk with (perhaps) one day’s warning. Very commonly they’ll materialise at the beginning of a holiday, as editors and others clear theirs for their own holidays, so that they can gallivant off to the Greek islands or Majorca with a clear mind.

The impact of that on the writer is devastating.

Writers tend not to sit at home and daydream without purpose. I write three books a year now, and as soon as one book is complete, I crack on with the next. All authors have other projects to work on. We aren’t on holiday, we’re self-employed.

Any interruption has a disproportionate effect on writers. For example a little while ago a man stopped outside, saw me through my window and asked for directions to a house up the road. I like helping people. I do, really. But he just cost me about forty five minutes. I had an entire scene in my head and was just starting it. I know what to put in, but the fine details are all gone. I have to start again.

In terms of publishing, I started writing my latest book in January. However, in the same month I had three books come back to be proofed, because each of them was being reissued (Act of Vengeance, No One Can Hear You Scream and For the Love of Old Bones). In February I had edits on a book which I’m collaborating on, plus the copyedit of the book for later in the year. In March I had the proofs of Rebellion’s Message (30th April – order your copy now), and for Easter I had the proofs of Blood of the Innocents. This is fine. But all I really, really want is peace to crack on with the next book.

That probably sums me up. I don’t want edits and comments, all I want is to do the fun part, writing new ideas, new people, new situations. The nitty-gritty of editing and correcting doesn’t do anything for me. Nor do the other things.

Writing is a job. That means coping with bureaucracy at all levels. But I detest forms. Tax Returns are a hateful invention of the devil, as far as I’m concerned. I have here an expense claim that I should have filled out weeks ago – but it’s so painful!

And yet chasing money is a constant preoccupation. Sometimes an author is asked to join in on a festival or give a talk. It’s good for an author to get out, but it is appalling to then spend weeks or months having to demand money (worst case took nearly six months). It’s bad enough going to an event and losing days of work because of writing the speech, travelling, and then having to try to get back into the same mindset as when writing the book before, but then to lose days of concentration because of chasing a bad payer is a dreadful pain. However, people baulk when they hear that an author needs to be paid.

Hearing from friends that I really should have been watching Game of Thrones, playing the latest computer game, or going out and seeing the latest film, rankles. I write three books a year, and the thought of getting involved in the latest preoccupation not only doesn’t appeal, there is also no time for it. My working day is split into chunks of time. I have them set into my day in the same way that a businessman will have his meeting agreed and fixed in his diary. My time blocks are allocated to writing, walking the dogs (which is when I read and reply to emails, organise my twitter messages, look at Facebook etc, as well as reading the books I have to review or check for research), preparing food for my family, and working again. There is no spare time.

But people turn up to chat, because they can see that I’m in (like the house-seeking delivery man). Some are good and ask if I have a moment. Well, yes, I do. But if people drop in, I am polite and will offer them a coffee or cup of tea. And that means I lose an hour or so. I may usher them through the door after twenty minutes, but it will still take over half an hour to read myself back into my scene and start writing productively again.

Deadlines. Yes, all writers hate deadlines. Yes, many, like me, quite like the fact that it means there is a date to aim for, but we all still hate them. (Yes, I’ve heard the Richard Adams quote about loving them and the whooshing sound they make as they shoot past, but that was a witty comment, not a true statement). Deadlines are terrifying, scary predictions of future failure.

Fun at the Pace Egging Play. Another fun thing!  Thanks to Shirley Denford for the photo

Fun at the Pace Egging Play. Another fun thing! Thanks to Shirley Denford for the photo

And that is the biggest horror of all, of course. The ever-present fear of an utter, abject failure. Everyone in creative arts is a salesman. We all have to work with the weight of potential failure dangling over us, waiting to fall. All authors are precisely as good as the last book, just as a salesman is only as good as his last month’s sales figures. I don’t deny that it’s a good incentive to produce the best work possible, but it is a heavy weight to bear all year.

Other pet hates?

Top is the appearance of a book that I haven’t heard of, by a writer I don’t know, on a subject I’m not interested in, from a publisher who just wants me to read it and review it.

It takes hours to read and review books. I have a horrible feeling of guilt when I don’t look through these books, because as a writer I know how hard it is to get any sort of mention by other authors or in the media, but then again, I don’t have the time to spend reading a book in detail, précis-ing it and writing a fair review. So lots of books stay on my guilty TBR pile.

Then there are coffee machines that break; computers that fail; cars that park outside my office and block my drive for no reason and without asking; cats using my garden as a toilet (usually owned by the most vocal complainers of dog owners who don’t clean up); I detest superb weather outside while I’m inside shivering in the cold; literary festivals, local groups and professional organisations who ask me to turn up to talk and then get grumpy when I mention expenses or a fee; garden walls that collapse into the road and having to hire dry-stone-wallers; sons who will kick a football around in their bedroom (over my head) while I’m trying to work … There are many more.

Fortunately, there are many upsides, too. The review books that arrive that I know will be a joy to read; the parcel of books from PostScript Books or Oxbow Books, which promise  hours of joy and research; the invitations to lovely libraries where I can meet existing fans and chat to prospective fans; the walks with the dogs while I’m thinking up a new story or a new scene; the appearance of a new pen, dedicated to me (yes, I get smug); the collaboration with other writers – yes, there is a lot to be glad about. I could go on for a long time.

However I have a book to write.

Have a great week!

4 Responses to “The Things That Get in the Way!”
  1. Bet you were glad to get that off your chest! You know, the picture of the Morris Men up top does rather look as if they are all levitating. Sorry your ankle’s still giving you gip. And I would love to write more, but I haven’t time because of the simple truth of something you wrote in this post. This: “Deadlines are terrifying, scary predictions of future failure.”

    Despite learning to write fast and write lots, and building my writerly discipline, deadlines still sneak up and wallop me over the back of the head whilst emitting blood-curdling laughter. “You expect me to give up?” I say. “No, Mr. Hackney,” says Dr. Deadline, the evil master criminal, “I expect you to FAIL!”

    Right, back to it. Good luck!


  2. Lindsey Russell says:

    You need to replace the glass in your window with the kind you can see out but passers by can’t see in.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: