5 writing commandments to live by:
Beat the block
I won’t lie to you. There will be days when getting words onto the page feels like you’re scaling Everest in flip-flops. The best technique I learnt to overcome this is the ‘nifty 350 rule’. When you first sit down to write, open your document and bash out 350 words without stopping. Without. Stopping. Some days it’s drivel, other days it’s dynamite. The point is: it forces you to write. Oh, and I always stop in the middle of sentence. Sounds weird, I know, but it works. When I come back to my computer the next day, I don’t have to be ‘creative’. All I have to do is finish the sentence. And by that stage, I’m already writing.
Get out of your own way
My role as a magazine editor is to tweak, sculpt and rewrite. Skills you need to leave at the door when you’re going at your first draft. First drafts are hell. My first-ever paragraph took me two days. Yep, two days. By the end I was on my knees. I turned to a writer friend in despair. She grinned, then quoted Margaret Atwood: ‘If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.’ Atwood is right (about that and so much more!) Get it down, bare bones. Put all the fancy-pants stuff in later.
Always know the line
In Breaking Dead, my fictional newspaper editor’s favourite piece of advice is this: ‘always know the line’. It’s the first thing I learned as a wide-eyed assistant at Harpers Bazaar. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a quick paragraph on the hot new Hollywood trend or a six-page report on female war reporters, if you can’t sum it up in one line, you haven’t nailed the angle. It works for fiction, too. Write your line and stick it where you can see it. Use it to steer yourself home whenever you get lost in the wilderness.
Write the first chapter last
I did this by mistake with Breaking Dead. After a chat with my publisher, we decided the book needed a different opening. It was miles easier to find a way into the story once I’d written the book and the characters and plot were part of me. I wish I’d known that before I agonised over that starter paragraph but, hey, hindsight is golden, right?
Sit down, turn off your notifications and shove in the earplugs. Take whatever steps necessary to block the world out – and show the hell up. I wish there was a magic bullet, but there isn’t. As Antony Burgess famously said, books get written by ‘bums on chairs and pens on paper.’ Yes, it really is that simple.
Corrie Jackson is the author of Breaking Dead, published in eBook 21st April, Twenty7 Books, £4.99.