Advice for writers
When I was twenty-one had a crummy telesales job (I quit on day three – went out for cigarettes and never came back). One of the guys was an actor in his fifties. He asked me what I really wanted to do with my life. “Writer,” I said, without hesitation. “How much are you writing every day?” he asked. “Uhh. I’m not working on anything at the moment,” I admitted. “Then you’ll never be a writer.” He was absolutely right. Like anything in life, if you want it you have to go out and grab it. It takes years of work, and the sooner you start then the sooner you will reach your goals. And you have to make sacrifices – nothing is for free.
The only way to get writing is to have the discipline to sit yourself down to do it. You must plan ahead. I have little sympathy for those who are struck by writer’s block. If you’re blocked, it’s because you haven’t sat down and planned your story properly. It’s either that or your story isn’t believable or compelling to your conscious mind, so your subconscious mind has given up working on it. I faced that a few years ago with a novel when I was some 30,000 words into it. I realised that I simply didn’t believe in the characters at a subconscious level. They would have worked well as protagonists in an early Iain Banks novel, but they didn’t sit well in what purported to be a more realistic world. I feel terrible about having left those characters stranded in that story, but until my subconscious works something out then they remain preserved in aspic.
As with just about anything, the secret is to form good habits and to never let excuses get in the way. This is something I learnt from running. I schedule time for myself to sit down for a set number of hours with no distractions and just a blank page. I sit and plan the story. It is the hardest part of writing. Once you have the story, all you have to do is to write it down. Never make the excuse that you’re too tired, or having nothing to write. Some of my best writing days have been when I thought I was exhausted, both physically and creatively.
So I have three pieces of advice. Number one is to get writing. If you’re not writing that novel now, when the hell are you going to start? Number two is to plan ahead – know what you’re going to write. Know what your beginning, middle and end are. It helps to park the car pointing downhill at the end of your writing day – i.e. to know what your next paragraph will be, so you can get an immediate bump-start. Number three is to get strong and believable characters. Strong characters will show you how they complete that journey, and take you along for the ride. Weak characters simply can’t carry you.
Dr. How and the Illegal Aliens
by Mark Speed
Doctor How’s famous megalomaniac brother Doctor Who sold his fictional life story to the BBC half a century ago, painting himself as a lone hero. Disillusioned, their four cousins dropped out. For fifty years, Doctor How has held the line against the forces of darkness and stupidity. And he’s not that happy, since you ask.
Illegal aliens try to hack How’s Spectrel (TARDIS is a very rude word where he comes from), just as he suspects his estranged cousin Where has been compromised. When reports come in of mysterious attacks by alien creatures, Doctor How has to rely on his new companion Kevin, a petty criminal from south London, and Trinity, a morphing super-predator, as he counters this threat to humanity’s existence. Bungling agents from MI16, long desperate to capture the Time Keeper’s technology, hamper How’s efforts to combat the alien menace. Can Doctor How keep ahead of MI16, save Where and combat the alien threat?
Read an excerpt:
There was a red telephone box on the pavement outside. The light inside was bright – so bright that Kevin couldn’t see in – and yet the light didn’t illuminate the area immediately around it. Even the black letters of the backlit TELEPHONE sign were indistinct due to the brightness of the light behind them. The obtrusiveness of the light made it difficult to see what was beyond it. As he walked slowly past Where’s black cab, he noticed that the telephone box was not reflected in its windows or polished paintwork. Thoughts of vampires crept through his imagination.
“Doctor?” he called.
“What now? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Once he’d skirted around the phone box, Kevin could see that the Doctor was somewhat stretched. He was standing on the bonnet of the cab, with the tip of one finger on its badge and the other touching the crown symbol above the TELEPHONE sign, which was at the very limit of his reach.
“It’d be a lot easier and faster if I could put my whole hand on both of them,” he said.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing, lad?”
“Um. Is it kinda like when you have to jump-start a car with another one?”
“Yes, it’s kinda like that,” the Doctor panted. “And before you point it out in your own wonderfully literal way, yes: I’m kinda like a time-travelling breakdown recovery service.” He paused to catch his breath again, and winced. “And I can tell you it’s not particularly pleasant being the wiring. Thankfully, Where’s Spectrel should shortly recover enough to be able to take a transdimensional feed off mine. Ouch!”
Mark Speed has been writing novels since he was fifteen. His comedy writing has appeared in newspapers as diverse as the London Evening Standard and The Sun, and been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. He performed his solo comedy, The End of the World Show, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 and 2012. He is currently working on the five-volume Doctor How series.
Amongst other postgraduate and professional qualifications, he has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from City University, London. In 1995 a chiropractor told him he’d never run again. Sensibly, he gave up chiropractors, runs every day and has completed several marathons and a couple of Olympic-length triathlons.
NLP founder Dr Richard Bandler called him a ‘polarity responder’.
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