Back when I was fifteen I wrote my very first novel, all by hand. It took me a month, start to finish—a fact I only know because I put the start and finish dates on the manuscript at the time. By the end of it I had the worst writer’s cramp I’ve ever experienced. My right hand was useless and my arm hurt more or less all the way up to the shoulder.
I knew there must be a better way.
The only computers around at the time were inanimate lumps that took hours to load the simplest of database programs on tape cassette, and then threw up error messages in Klingon. It wasn’t until the Amstrad PCW came along in the mid-1980s that I finally found a work tool I could really use.
I loved my PCW—the odd three-inch diskettes and the green-on-black screen, the lack of a mouse so everything was keyboard controlled, the fact you had to manually install new printers and give them a name. I didn’t realise this meant you were supposed to use the code number of the printer itself. Mine was called Lenny.
Looking back now, it’s remarkable how much but at the same time how little that machine actually did. You could word-process on it, using LocoScript—a program I clung to for years after abandoning my Amstrads. You could merge address lists into template letters for sending out the antique equivalent of an e-newsletter. You could create invoices. And …
… that was about it, really.
No graphics, no photos, no video-clips, no web-surfing—no web, for that matter—no email.
It was just a means of putting words efficiently into a document, fiddling around with the order, spell-checking it, printing it out, and having a back-up copy on disk.
What more do we need?
No, we SO do not need these two little constant time-sucks.
For surviving in today’s business world, we do need computers, laptops and smartphones. Writers have to promote, and network, and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter and all those other online sites. It’s no longer practical—or sensible—to shut ourselves away in an attic and simply write.
But at the same time, the writing is getting constantly squeezed out of the schedule.
Since I started the new book last month, I’ve been trying out a new method of working—new to me, anyway. Well, actually that’s not true. It’s a very OLD method.
I’ve gone back to where I started.
I’ve always made notes about the book I’m working on at the time, but now I’m writing whole scenes or chapters in note form before I lay a finger on my keyboard.
For one thing, there are fewer distractions available on a myPad. It has no wireless modem, no graphics card, and NO solitaire. Got that on my phone, though …
I found what I was doing was writing notes only for part of a scene, then moving to the computer before I’d fully worked out where I was going. Now I write the whole section, doing all my scribbling out and backtracking in pencil first. You might think that I’m making more work for myself—in effect doing everything twice—but I’ve found that getting the kinks out in advance makes the writing flow easier and faster on screen. I’ve gone from 1000-1250 words a day to 2000-3000 and I find I’m back to really enjoying what I’m doing. It all feels like less of a slog.
Besides, the weather was glorious here last week and I could sit out in the garden in shorts and a T-shirt to scribble my notes, then come inside to write them up. Can’t do that this week, unfortunately, as the snow’s back, but it means I’m looking forward to the summer.
As Alexandra Sokoloff mentioned in her Wild Card blog on Tuesday, I’ve been participating in the eBookSwag giveaway this week, together with Alex, Scott Nicholson, Brett Battles, Aiden James and Mel Comley. Three of my Charlie Fox books have been up for grabs—KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one on Monday and Tuesday, FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection yesterday, and FIRST DROP: Charlie Fox book four today and Friday in the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Please download and Like the books if you can, and enter the eBookSwag raffle for a chance to win one of three Kindle Fires, plus gift vouchers. There’s a new chance to enter every day, plus lots of great free books!
The latest MWA anthology, VENGEANCE is out this week in the US and UK, too. I was absolutely delighted to be asked by editor Lee Child to contribute to this fabulous anthology. Read Lee’s introduction to the collection, and an excerpt from my story, Lost And Found.
And calling all flash fiction writers. The Flashbang Flash Fiction competition still has another ten days to run—closing date April 15th. Write 150-word crime story to be entered to win two tickets for this year’s CrimeFest 2012, plus books and other cool stuff.
I’m looking forward to CrimeFest in Bristol next month (May 24th-27th) even more than usual this time. I have two great panels:
- ’Law or Justice: How Does Your Protagonist Choose?’, 11:20-12:10, with Gerard O’Donovan, James Sallis, Andrew Taylor, and moderated by Stanley Trollip, one half of writing duo Michael Stanley.
- I have the honour of moderating ‘Kicking Ass: Spirited Protagonists and Tricky Situations’, 14:50-15:40, with Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Brian McGilloway and Jacqueline Winspear.
Finally, hugely talented US singer/songwriter, Beth Rudetsky has written this amazing original song ‘The Victim Won’t Be Me’ inspired by FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine. I’m stunned by the song, which I think is beautiful, and by the interpretation brought to it by the students of the Vision West Notts Media (Film and TV) course. They’ve done a brilliant job.
So, my question this week, getting back to my original subject, is what distracts you most when you’re supposed to be working, and what methods have you found work best to get you back on track?
This week’s Word of the Week is scrivener’s palsy. Basically, writer’s cramp!