Fran Smith’s Seven Steps to Writing (or not writing)

A handy excuse ready-reckoner. Delete as appropriate.

Writing this blog is, of course, a really good example of step 3.

1          Denial

Who needs more books/blogs/theses/essays/articles/reports anyway? There are way too many bits of writing out there in the world. Why add to them? Save trees; save time; save everyone the trouble of reading it – don’t bother to write it at all! Writing is a horrible slog and my ideas would be better expressed through another medium; opera, perhaps, or fireating.

2          Blame

I could have finished this ten times over if only I hadn’t had children/a partner/a house/a job/a bank account that empties faster than my sink/ difficult parents/ demanding friends/ a drink/ fashion/ interior design/ stationery/ hair-colouring habit to support/ the wrong role models/ my confidence drained away by work/ school/ college/ siblings’/ colleagues’/ success/ failure/ an extended family that loves/ hates/ is indifferent to me/ an unprecedented level of sensitivity making me uniquely vulnerable.

3          Evasion

The fridge needs defrosting. There is marking/ cooking/ proper, serious reading to be done. Friends need to be met. My hair needs cutting. There is a spider in the bath. I have to do some exercise before I turn into a human waterbomb. There is an update thingy on my computer that says it is urgent. The dog looks hungry. That really interesting video on YouTube might give me a writing idea. Children/ grandchildren/ partner need my special attention; they will evaporate immediately if they don’t get it right now. Psychologists agree that it’s more or less a straight progression from parental/ grandparental/ spousal neglect-through-writing to children/ grandchildren/ spouse taking heroin in the gutter. I’ll just do those few things first.


4          Despair

This is a completely hopeless enterprise. Nobody cares. It will be rubbish when it’s finished anyway. Rubbish I have burst blood vessels to perfect, but rubbish all the same. Nobody will read/ publish/ enjoy/ appreciate/ understand it. Many, many writers (proper writers) have said it all before, and infinitely better. We’re all doomed. Why waste your life piling up words? It all comes to nothing in the end.

5          Bogus planning and unnecessary research

What this piece of writing needs is a really thorough plan. It should be a spreadsheet in different colours with hyperlink cross-referencing/ a bullet point list/ a mindmap with symbols/ post-it notes/ a wallchart/ those worksheets they had in that newspaper supplement/ book I lent someone/ a wonderful, innovative combination of all the above. It should be made in one particular kind of beautiful notebook/ software – only that one particular kind is any good, the rest are absolute rubbish. Once the plan is made, it is essential to google/ go to the library and look up/ ask that person I met at that party/ every single detail I may need to mention. This may take me the rest of my life, but at least I will have the best-researched unwritten piece of writing in the history of the universe.

6          Gritty (and aggressively overstated) determination

I am going to finish this if it takes me the rest of my life. I am going to finish it, if nobody ever reads/ publishes/ buys it and instead the entire population despises/ ignores/ vilifies it. I don’t care. If my family/ friends are taken ill, I will write it by their bedside. If I am taken ill, I will write it until my hands become useless and then I will dictate it until my last breath. It just has to be finished. I will get up at 5.30am/ give up chocolate/ exercise/ TV/ reading/ Sunday breakfast/ earning a reasonable living – whatever it takes, but I will, will, will get it finished. OK?

7          Submission

Right. Better get on with it, then.

How about a couple of sequels?

One of the jobs we used to try to avoid, when I worked on a local newspaper, was covering the Afternoon Women’s Guild. They were nice ladies, their cakes were great, but reporting their gentle, well-run meetings wasn’t the kind of journalism most of us keen young reporters had signed up for. We wanted excitement, crime, revelatory investigations, not cakes (even really nice cakes). There wasn’t, to be honest, all that much excitement, crime etc. to be had most Wednesday afternoons in Chalfont St Giles, so one week I went along. That’s how I first saw a real live novelist.

The speaker, I’ll call her Celia, was a writer of romances, and her set piece was the tale of how she came to write her first novel. She did it purely for the money – nothing very unusual there – but what was unusual was that she needed it to get to The Metropolitan Opera in New York, with her sister, to see Gigli, the opera singer they both worshipped. To two pennyless girls in the 1930s it seemed an impossible dream.

But they were determined; they made a plan. They saved every penny and Celia set about writing a novel. She began in high spirits, but soon found it was far more of a labour than she had imagined. Only the hopes of her sister and their passion for the handsome tenor kept her slogging away. Finally it was complete. Exhausted but hopeful, she presented it to a publisher. Yes, he said, he would publish it. Where was the sequel?

Celia nearly fell over at the idea that she was expected to do the whole thing all over again!

Fast forward a few decades and I suddenly know how she felt. I wrote the novel. It took five years. I breathed a sigh of relief. I found an agent – hurrah! At the first meeting the agent said, “Two more, please. I think it should be a trilogy.”

Two more! At the current rate of production that could be 10 years’ work! “Nah!” Say Supporters (a very opinionated crowd) “You’ve got the hang of it now, you can knock out a couple more in no time. Sleep is for wimps and you’ve never done any housework anyway!”(Part of which is true.)

Of course the lady novelist I saw all those years ago did write her sequel, and many more. Her first novel brought in just enough to get the sisters to New York – by ship, it was before easy air travel – and to buy  tickets to see their hero sing. Without funds for outfits, they made their opera gowns from old curtains, and of course it was the night of their lives.

So all I need is a plan, I guess.

Wish me luck.