The first rule

The first rule of write club is that you do not talk about write club.

The second rule of write club is –

 

Hang on a moment. That’s not the first rule. The first rule for writers is that you must write.

 

You’re a writer because you write, right? It’s what makes you what you are. Of course I understand that many people want to write but haven’t got round to it yet, haven’t found the time – but if they’re not doing it they’re not writers. In the same way that I’m not a rock star or an international cricketer or a lesbian.

 

I sometimes wonder if writing shouldn’t be seen in the same way as a mental illness, or as an addiction like smoking. Antisocial? Check. Habit forming? Most definitely. Somewhat smelly? Well, I don’t want to get too close to you.

 

Writing isn’t something you just do. It’s a compulsion, a dark, dirty secret done furtively on one’s own – often (if I’m to believe what I read) done at night, or in the early hours of the morning when the rest of the family’s asleep. The first time you come to it you might choke over the words, sit despondent and disillusioned in front of a blank screen. But if you get just fifty words down – or one line of poetry, or a spider-diagram of where you’re going – then that’s something you didn’t have beforehand. And the second day is always, always easier.

 

See, that’s the thing. The further you get, the more you do, the more you want to do. The first few sessions are the hardest. Of course, later on you’ll find plot problems and you have days when it’s just not flowing. But in essence, once you’ve started, once you’ve got the scent of a story in your nostrils, stopping becomes much harder than starting.

 

I’m not the most disciplined writer. The average hour-and-a-half session is usually eroded by an unfeasibly large number of coffee-breaks, of washing-up intermissions and the like. You wouldn’t believe how much time I can waste just by deciding what music I’m going to have on. I excuse this idleness by saying that my subconscious needs time to chew things over, which I think is true and is rarely mentioned in ‘how-to’ books.

 

But with the odd exception I write five days a week every week, either before or after work depending on my shift. Every week is pretty much the same: Monday’s a – well, struggle is perhaps too strong a word, but Monday is always my least productive day. Just two days off (I do like to spend some quality time with my partner) and I’ve lost the thread. Takes time to reconnect, to draw back the reins, consult the map and compass. It’s a slow limp forwards. One of the horses has lost a shoe, have to back up slightly realign the traces.

 

But Friday – Friday, on the other hand, can be a great day. Not just because I have the weekend ahead of me but because I’m straight in the zone and know exactly where I’m heading.

 

In theory, at least. It’s never quite that simple, but you get the idea.

 

All of which is why I hate taking time off. I hate finishing a project because I’m floundering for something to give my energies to. All the advice is to rest, or to ‘prove’, a completed project for six months before going over it again, so you can see what’s worked and what hasn’t. You need that time to get out of the flush of elation and have lost the blinkers you need to wear whilst you’re drafting. I’m not so good at that. I’m too eager. I have to force myself to play games and eat chocolate instead of writing. It don’t feel right not to be tapping away. Even a week is too long.

 

Which is why I always have about three projects on the go at once.

 

At the moment I’m busy on the first draft of my new novel, New Gods. That’s all I’m working on right now, chucking out something like 5,000 words a week. In the background I also have Australis to butcher. That’s my next mission. Another run-through of Night Shift is needed, and of course there’s Chivalry. The latter two are so nearly finished it almost hurts. Sometimes it feels like I’m schizophrenic, trying to keep three or four worlds in my head at the same time, each with a different set of characters with different needs and temperaments. And at any moment my priorities can change: a request for a manuscript will send me scampering back to Night Shift. A new idea could rear in my head, as ignorable as Mothra. Very little stability in this writing world of ours.

 

I bloody love it.

 

Because I’m a writer. I write. And the real world never stood a chance.

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