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How not to serial 6


This is the sixth excerpt from David Armstrong's wry and entertaining How not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author

6. Discipline - and inspiration

If you, really are a writer, you'll be like the' person who' plays squash or football because that's what he loves to do. Same with the writing: it's often hard, but it's often great too. It really is; it's about as good as it gets. David Beckham gets paid millions for playing for Manchester United. But if he got nothing at all, l can tell you, he'd still be playing football. Think of it that way. It's the only way to do it.

I write almost every day. Not only do I recognise the need for the discipline of doing it, but frankly, if I'm not writing, I don't feel 'whole'. To put it another way, I might be miserable when I'm doing it, but I'm definitely miserable when I'm not.

How often have I approached my work with trepidation, unsure of where I am going, lacking confidence in what has gone before, only to emerge from the study a few hours later with the smug tiredness that is one of the best sensations that I ever get: I've done a few pages more, completed a chapter, or begun a new one, like breaking new ground in the same way that you might turn the earth for spring planting. It's a very good feeling.

You need to have belief, and the best way of maintaining that belief is by driving through with the project. There will be all sorts of problems, all sorts of voices telling you not to go on. You are too tired; the idea is flawed and shallow; the prose is dead; the dialogue worse; there are too many books in the world already, and some of them are very, very good.

Everything's against you. Everything's telling you not to do it. But if you're a writer, a real writer, i.e. someone who writes, you still do it. If you're lucky, the characters will start to live, the dialogue begin to spark and the prose sweeten.

When I'm writing a book, I'm like a dog with a bone. I have something that no one else has, and no one can take that something from me. It's a fine secret, and I'm driven. I write the first drafts in a gush. It's gobbledygook, and it flies onto the screen. If I'm writing longhand, it's illegible and unintelligible to anyone but me. There are deletions and arrows and asterisks all over the sheets; if it's on the screen, it's almost incomprehensible, with words that barely resemble the words that they are, so quickly are my fingers flying over the keyboard, my mind racing much faster than those fingers can keep up. It doesn't matter. It's exciting, and it's happening. Fifty, sixty, seventy per cent of it will never see the light of day. Most of it will end up in the bin or erased from the screen.

But it's there, it's a first draft, and without it, you have nothing. With it, like a chunk of undressed stone, I can work it. I can chip and hone and polish and reject and, at the end of it all, I'll have my book. It's long, it's quite ridiculously inefficient, and it's tiring, but it's also the only way that I have found that I can do it. And that's why that first draft, for me, for most of us, whether we're the fliers or the page-a-day' creepers, is so important.

So: How long does it take to write a book? Well, the first one took me forty years. It might sound facetious, but in a way, it's true. That first book gathers into it so much that has been mulling and accruing for all of those years that who's to say what has gone into it?

Since then, they've been a deal quicker. If things go well, they take me only about a year now.


Tips and summary:

Try and write every day; be regular, it'll pay dividends.


The next excerpt from How not to Write a Novel will be in the October Magazine.



About How Not to Write a Novel

The first excerpt
The second excerpt
The third excerpt
The fourth excerpt
The fifth excerpt
The sixth excerpt
The seventh excerpt
The eighth excerpt
The ninth excerpt
The tenth excerpt
The eleventh excerpt
The twelfth excerpt


© David Armstrong 2003

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