I’ve just got back from World Fantasy Con 2013, which at times felt like that sequence from Moulin Rouge where everybody is stoned on absinthe; not because of the vast amount of alcohol consumed so much as because of the disorientating roulette wheel of social interaction.
In the first ten minutes, I was bagged by what can best be described as a collector of autograph futures. After that, it got surreal. I discussed William the Marshal with Patrick Rothfuss, shook hands with Joe Haldeman (Friend: “Look behind you Martin—hello Joe.” Me: “Holy Shit! Joe Haldeman!”), chatted literary revenge with F Paul Wilson, and had a spectacularly erudite Chinese meal with Darrell Schweitzer and his wife. I also met other swordsfolk, including Adrian Tchaikovsky, and fell in with fellow fans of Viking Metal.
Then, on the sixth day, in the last ten minutes of the last party — the “Dead Dog Party”, which says it all — when I was dead on my feet and in need of food, a friend introduced me to an editor, and I found myself doing the only professional networking I was going to do for the whole con while famished and slightly tipsy.
In between all this, I did talk to a lot of people who were “me”, but five to ten years behind. I cringe a little in hindsight, but it’s hard not to trot out advice. In fairness, I have written three books inside nine months, and am living off my writing, so perhaps some of my thoughts might be useful:
#1 Engage with your health
Being a writer is like being a lobster. You may be too busy working to notice the smell of cooking seafood.
Not only is it hard to write when you are deceased, it’s also hard to write when sickness is sapping your vitality.
A friend of mine calls this simply, “Rule 1 — Don’t Die.”
- Get good habits, sort out existing conditions. Sickness saps storytelling.
#2 Master your life
Being a writer involves sitting and working, not fretting about your relationship or lack of it, or money or health.
Most of the professional writers I met have long, stable marriages, and relationships. Those I know well, have established social circles which are strangely devoid of toxic and time wasting people. Those with day jobs either enjoy their job or else have come to some accommodation with its crapness.
Oh, and those who do live chaotic lives seem rather good at it — however I doubt you fall into this category.
- Fix or make friends with your life. Fretting foils fiction.
#3 Learn to touch type
Writing involves typing. Lots of it.
Yes, I know, most of us type at work. However, it’s that inefficient finger dance that looks like a free-form Highland Fling with fingers whirling around each other to get to the keys. And, I bet you have to stop and look for the right letter from time to time, or backtrack to correct a typo.
Not only does this slow you down, it’s distracting! You need your brain to connect transparently with the screen.
- Learn to touch type. Tinkering takes time from telling your tale.
#4 Make space for writing
Writers write. You need a space to do it in, and that includes space in time; a regular slot that’s yours and you don’t feel guilty about. Justify it the way you’d justify yoga. No angst please!
I drafted my first novel during my lunch break. This meant scurrying out of my office park to a now-defunct biker bar called the Blind Beggar. The coffee was bitter, the music Heavy (didn’t influence the content, no siree…), and I got the writing done. It did, however, kick a hole in my lunchtime social life. That was the price.
Oh and beware the siren song of conventions, writing retreats, workshops, forums and such like. They are all useful, but most take time away from actual writing. And, if you can only write in a log cabin next to a lake, miles from your friends and family, then you are pretty much doomed as a writer.
- Make space for writing. Your novel is your new best friend.
#5 Sort your ergonomics
Spending hours typing is like building a sea wall just in time for the winter storms. Any chink or flaw in your ergonomics — how you sit and type — and the ice water rushes in, washing away your work.
RSI, back problems, eye strain… these are all bloody awful in their own right, but most importantly, they make it hard to write.
Google “typing ergonomics”. Consider a split keyboard. Get a good screen. If in doubt, get your eyes tested.
- Sort your ergonomics. Suffer if you must, but mentally, not physically.
#6 Know what a finished novel looks like
Yes, you must know what a finished novel looks like, how it works. Don’t mistake this for process. How you get there is up to you, but where you arrive needs to be a recognizable literary form.
You need that knowledge in order to see your own work properly. It’s hard to edit or revise without some idea of what you’re aiming to achieve.
- Know what a finished novel looks like. Stories need standards to strive for.
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Once you have done all this, then you are finally equipped to sink into your story, immerse yourself in your imagination. See you on the other side!