The Sprinter and the Marathon Runner
Thursday, 2 August 2018
In writing the first draft of Black Box I tapped into two sides of my writing personality – the sprinter and the marathon runner. With the former, I dashed out 10,000 words for a Literature Works science fiction novel competition, ‘One Giant Write’, a couple of summers ago. The idea had been knocking around in my subconscious, like a billiard ball in zero gravity, for some time. I’d just finished teaching and experienced the giddy weightlessness that comes with having those clamps removed. In a fever dream I wrote the opening chapters of the novel, and without hardly revising them, pressed ‘send’ and by the next day had forgotten about them. As I put it later, it had been a ‘hasty afterthought’. Then a few months later I received notification that I had won the national competition, receiving a £1000 prize, and a chance for my manuscript to be considered by the commissioning editor of Gollancz, Marcus Gipps. All I had to do was write the rest of it! And so I made plans (fortunately the competition had insisted on a synopsis, so I had that at least – although synopses, like snakes, like to slough their skins…). It was time to channel my inner marathon runner. I arranged to go on a two-week writing retreat on the coast of Wester Ross, Scotland. There I holed myself up with coffee, whisky and oatcakes, and set to it. I managed 20,000 words in the fortnight and had successfully ‘jumpstarted’ my novel, and got it into orbit. With 30K under my belt, I was feeling more confident. Time was of the essence, with Marcus waiting to receive my manuscript – and I knew I had to do a minimum of 80,000 for it to be considered by them, and so I decided to undertake the NaNoWriMo challenge, the National Novel Writing Month, which runs every November. The goal of 50K was perfect – as if I managed that then I would make my word count target. Knowing that thousands of people around the world were also taking part was encouraging – each user posts their daily word count, and updates; there are local meet ups, online forums and all kinds of virtual cheerleading – although the real motivation for me was the big prize: a Gollancz contract. So I knuckled down and sucked up the pain, hammering out a minimum of 1.333 words a day, however dismal (and much of it was inevitably sludge) – often I achieved more, and on those giddy days, my daily quota decreased. But then I’d have an ‘off day’, and would have to play catch up with a ‘binge session’. Carrot and stick, or rather: coffee, coffee, type, type, work, work, sleep, sleep, repeat. By the end of November I had reached my target – 80K! I had, officially, a novel. Although I had to do know was make it beautiful. I let my keyboard cool down, printed it off, read it through (as a reader), then read it through again (as an editor), then, cracking knuckles, I set to redrafting it. By mid-January (after a marathon Yuletide stint) I was ready to press send: the moment of truth. It would take months before I got a reply, but I was proud with what I had achieved: within four months I had written a novel. That may seem like all sprint to some, but that second phase felt more like a marathon – a sustained effort over a longer distance which draw upon all of my resources. I glad I kept something in reserve, because the journey, as I discovered, was not over … My increasing interest in running has served me well in that respect – helping to build up my stamina (the staying power which is de rigeur for the ‘long-distance writer’), as well as keeping me healthy, both mentally and physically. You learn to pace yourself, to keep me something back – for that next hill, and the one after that … and, maybe, even a sprint finish.
You can help make this book happen. Please share it, and encourage your followers to share it, too.
Get updates via email
Join 29 other awesome people who subscribe to new posts on this blog.