The secret of my success


I would like to lose a bit of weight. I watch what I eat (so I don’t drop it) and I think about exercising. What I lack is the commitment. Crisps are just too tasty, damn it.

But there is one area of my life in which I have fostered an attitude that is reaping rewards. And that is with regard to my writing.

It’s no good calling yourself a writer if you don’t write. You might have ideas in your head. You may even have abandoned stories in a drawer or in a file somewhere on your hard drive, and you think you’ll get around to finishing it some day. Then your imagination jump cuts to the publication of your masterwork and you’re signing books for a queue of admiring readers and being interviewed on the telly and on Radio 4. You might even be invited to talk about the work of others late on Friday nights on BBC 2…

Ah, it’s great to be a writer…

But not if you don’t write.

Last year, I adopted a new approach – or rather resurrected one – and I haven’t looked back.

Years back, in the mists of time, I worked as a Drama teacher in a secondary school. Every year, during the glorious six-week break that makes teachers the envy of the rest of the country, I would write a show that would be the next year’s school production. I knew that as soon as term began in September, I would need to hold auditions and start rehearsals, and so the deadline was non-negotiable. There is nothing like the ticking clock to get the words flowing.

Now I’m no longer a teacher (thank goodness!) I have turned my efforts to novel-writing. I had one book that I’d keep going back to, spend a couple of days on, and then there was always something else that got in the way. I wasn’t devoting the time the story deserved. I didn’t have the discipline.

Then, I was inspired to start a new book. This one I was determined to finish, and to finish it before I could distract myself with other ideas. I set myself a daily target of 2,000 words (some authors set the bar higher) and I got into the habit of getting the words done first thing (after coffee, of course). The rest of the day, I’d keep ideas ticking over. I had an exercise book in which I’d keep a daily tally of my wordcount and also notes to myself: things I needed to change, to add, to take out; facts I needed to research; questions about characters and plot; so the next day I would always have a starting point.

By the end of the month, I had 60,000 words and had reached the end of the story. Some stories take longer, but it’s a decent size for a first novel.  Then began the process of editing.  While I worked on that, I sent a draft out to some friends to see if they could spot plot-holes, inconsistencies or those glaring typos that are invisible to the typist.

I managed to get a publisher to put it online as one of those new-fangled e-books and it’s now collecting 5-star reviews on Amazon.

A month later, I was itching to start my second.  I stuck to the same process.  And again with the third, and the fourth…

I try to give myself a month off between books.  A chance to read books by others.  But I find ideas keep coming.  It is like I have exercised my writing muscles to the extent that they crave to be used.  Book five is well under way, and I’m scribbling ideas for six, seven and eight…

I feel I can legitimately call myself a writer at last. Two thousand words every day including Bank Holidays. And if I absolutely have to miss a day, I make sure to catch up the shortfall over the next couple of days.


Pass the crisps.



Filed under On Writing

4 responses to “The secret of my success

  1. My discipline issues aren’t with the writing, its with staying on story. I have a hard time keeping the other ideas at bay no matter what I seem to do. I’m currently approaching the imagined halfway point of my second manuscript and all of a sudden the ideas are coming at me again. I’m putting them to paper but they just beg to be fleshed out.

    At this rate, I know there is only one thing for me to do. Kill the ideas. Put them away in a mental shelf and lock them away. Whatever it takes I need to do it; I will not go on to my third without finishing my second. Not like I did with my first.

    Thanks for posting.

    • williamstafford

      I know exactly what you mean. I’ve got notes scribbled down, or stored in my phone, so I don’t forget them, but I try not to think about them too much. It’s like having dinner but forcing yourself to eat just one course at a time. Or something.

      • More like a nibble of a course in a ten course meal where the waiter forgets what course you’re on and keeps sending you food and you never get full because the portions are too small.

        Its a never-ending flood of food ideas all wanting to be more than tasted. Grr! Focus, that’s what I need, focus.

  2. Great blog! Thanks for the inspiration on the self-discipline it takes to be a writer (and not just “say” you’re one!).

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