The life of a book

No two books happen in quite the same way. However, people who don’t write, and people who are trying to can have a lot of unhelpful misconceptions about what they, and others, should be doing and how it *should* work. This is true for any creative form, and also for spiritual paths. What we get, is our own journey.

Last summer I started thinking about a book. I had a working title (Her Other Life) since abandoned. It was going to be a Steampunk Time Travel novel. (It isn’t.) I had a few thoughts about characters. Then I moved house, so no actual writing happened.
In the autumn I read Molly Scott Cato’s fascinating book ‘The Bioregional Economy’ and that got me round to thinking more about dystopian futures. A prompt from Theo had me thinking about technology, and some actual technology developments confirmed this for me. Not a word had been written.

I handwrite all of my first drafts for books. However, I’m fussy about my notebooks, because a poor paper quality or a bad cover can be off-putting. I therefore can’t start a project until the right notebook turns up. In October, I found the perfect notebook for a non-fiction project I had also been pondering, so I started work on that one.

About half way through November, with others stacking up their NaNoWriMo counts, I found a nice purple notepad and realised I could start. As I was handwriting, I can’t say anything about word counts. I brought the non-fic book to a point of needing to do something different, so I had space and wrote intensely on the novel. Early December was productive, then the festive period knocked me out.

Around then, I was asked to write twelve short stories for an audio project. I switched over to doing those. No sane author passes up an opportunity to get work out in favour of the unplaced work in progress. Along the way, I also had to spend time touting the new books (Hopeless Maine vol2, and Spirituality without Structure) I had books to review and blogs to write and some business possibilities to chase. I also, outrageously, had some time off.

We’re past the middle of January now, and since Christmas, I have added a single paragraph to the novel. I am entirely untroubled about this. I’ve gone back to the non-fic project, which is more on the boil now, and nearly finished the audio. I’ve just promised to get my attention back on a co-written project. The novel will happen, as and when bits occur to me, fitting in around the rest of life and the more immediately paying gigs. Write one in a month? I don’t think so. Having this drawn out, shambolic approach gives me time to mull and ferment. New influences come in, my ideas grow and develop, and I enjoy the process more. I hate writing books under pressure. Other people thrive on deadlines and writing things to order, but not me. I can write short things to order, but that’s a very different process.

Professional creative people have to be business people. That means balancing the paying gigs against whatever it takes to sustain you creatively. There’s no point writing five novels a year for peanuts if after two years you’ll be so burned out you can’t function. There’s also no point writing epic, self-indulgent books that no one will ever buy. If you’re doing it professionally, you mostly end up cobbling together a strategy based on what’s available and what suits you. No two of us end up with the same way of working, and that’s fine. If you’re doing it as a hobby, it’s a case of balancing it against the rest of your life, in whatever way turns out to make sense.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “The life of a book

  • Iulia Flame

    I find your prose warm and engaging, and welcome the “advice,” as an aspiring writer.

  • Morgan Daimler

    Great blog. There’s definitely no one-seize-fits-all answer to how to write. I think the biggest mistake people make is trying to emulate someone else’s approach to writing thinking that the other person’s method is the key to success. We all have our own individual personalities, and we all have our own individual ways to write successfully – and we should embrace that instead of fighting against it,

    • Nimue Brown

      emulating can be a place to start from, I think – when you’re just getting going and have no idea how to even approach it, a bit of borrowing can be handy, but assuming the method someone else uses will do it for you, is never the best plan. Finding a bunch of people with different approaches and trying a few of them out and adapting from there, is probably the better strategy. There are so many sites out there keen to tout the one true way, the method and approach that will give you a bestseller, and it’s mostly rubbish. Getting bogged down in that just robs people of what makes them unique, and certain guarantees nothing.

  • literaryvittles

    however sporadic your novel writing may be, I look forward to the day you finish it! I also take a long time to mull over things before I write them…often, half the blog post/paper/story is composed in my head before I even put pen to paper.

  • Bruin Silverbear

    I have tried writing books, I am much better at short stories. I have this theory about writing a bunch of short stories that are interwoven in such a way that it can become a complete novel but with all of my other projects commencing, it doesn’t look like I’ll get to it until I win the lotto…However, it is appreciated that some of the issues I have encountered writing are the same as yours…especially the notebooks…I’m strange like that. I can’t tell you the number of journals I have because I buy one for some purpose and can’t bring myself to write in it because I only want “good stuff” going in there. The upside is, now that I am over it, I have a lot of clean paper to use!

    • Nimue Brown

      I have done that as a story writing method, it does work. And also, short stories are awesome, a wonderful and undersung form, that also translate into story telling as live performance if you get the urge…

  • celticchick

    I can relate to this post. I originally set out to write a certain series, but I was pulled into writing something else. I decided to go with the flow and it ended up working out better for me. I think there is something magical about the creative process and for me it’s always best to go with what pulls me in. I don’t do well under deadlines either, especially with a novel. There are so many layers to a novel that it takes many drafts (at least for me) to get it right.

    Best of luck to you with that novel. I’m sure you will finish it when the time is right.


  • Chris

    I’m a reader rather than a writer, but, it was interesting to see one version of a book writing process 🙂 You are a great writer though so I’m positive it will be great when it’s done.

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 )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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: