Writing a book, for me at least, doesn’t start with pen and paper or a blank screen. The book begins with two ingredients:
- An idea.
I have no clue where ideas come from. Stories pop into my head at random. It’s the same for every writer. You can get an idea anywhere at any time. The trick is knowing which ideas could be a good book. In case you’re wondering which is which – an idea that intrigues you but doesn’t involve dressing up the dog, combining any other food stuff with peanut butter, drinking alcohol, or getting your nipples pierced – is generally one of the good ideas.
You also have to be careful about spotting the crazy ideas. These are the ideas you get most excited about, but when you give them even a modicum of scrutiny, you realise that they are in fact crazy. For example, crazy ideas include (a) That literary novel you always wanted to write where none of the characters are happy and nothing happens (b) Anything to do with teenage romance and vampires because you think it might sell (c) writing anything because you think it will sell (d) That literary novel you always wanted to write where a character is dying from a terrible disease, but he doesn’t die in the end so nothing really happens but this is idea is somehow different and way better than the idea at point (a). Or lastly (e) A dystopian fantasy where the world is enslaved by a rich, orange-skinned dictator with weird hair and his demented children who look like villains from an episode of Columbo (that’s just a little too close to home at the minute).
The other great gift in your arsenal is time. Given time, which of your ideas are you still excited about (this does not include fantasies of drowning Donald Trump in a lake of peanut butter).
The book that I’m writing now has taken a long time to come to fruition. I had the idea for this book in 2012, when I was still writing my first novel. At the time I didn’t have an agent or publisher, and I had no idea that I could even get this first book published. Turns out I did get an agent, and publishers.
When all of that happened I put aside that book idea that I’d had in 2012. Now don’t get me wrong, in 2013, when I got my book deal, I needed good ideas. My agent had asked me for a bunch of book proposals so that he could better package book 1. For those of you who don’t know me, my first novel was The Defence and it kick-starts the Eddie Flynn series. My agent wanted some more book ideas for the series, and I came up with four or five proposals. My first deal was for three books – so the publishers needed to know that I had good ideas for the rest of the series.
I’ve now written the second book in the series, The Plea. It was published in the UK this year, and will be out in the US in 2017. I’ve also written next year’s book for the UK, and I’m just tidying it up at the moment as well as writing the new one.
Now, that 2012 idea wasn’t in the list of proposals for my first deal. I didn’t tell anyone about this idea. Why?
There is only one answer, and it’s the honest answer. At the time I knew it was a great idea, but I also knew that I wasn’t yet a good enough writer to be able to write that book.
Writing is hard. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Some books are harder than others, but they all have a level of difficulty. The aim, with any book, is to do justice to the initial idea. You’re attempting to fully realise that idea on paper. Let me tell you now – you won’t be able to do it. Not fully. The best books that I’ve written have been the ones that have gotten closest to that original idea.
If I owned a tweed jacket and had an over-inflated sense of my own importance, I’d tell you that writing is a voyage headed for perfection but the cruel fate of the artist is always to fall short of the ideal.
As I have not yet disappeared up my own ass, I’ll put it in plain English.
The book that’s in your head is always better than the one you’ll actually write. Accept that before you start and you’ll do okay.
Now that you’ve had an idea, and thought about things, how about writing some of them down?
I’ve had my idea. I’ve written some of it down.
I’ll talk about that next week, and I’ll be posting my first word count.
See you then.