Thursday, 3 July 2014

D is for...Discipline by Annie Burrows

Annie Burrows is writing a series of short articles about the things she's learned since becoming a published writer.  And presenting them in alphabetical form, for some obscure reason known only to herself.  This month she's reached the letter D... 

I get a variety of responses from people when I tell them what I do for a living.  From those who are thrilled, saying they have never met an author before, to those who roll their eyes and say, "Oh really?  I wouldn't mind writing a book, if only I had the time."
My answer - If you want to write a book you have to make the time.
It isn't easy.  When I first decided to write, I had to start making Difficult choices about how to spend my time.  Not only "free" time, either.  I deliberately chose jobs that wouldn't tax me too much, so that when I did have "free" time I wasn't so drained that my mind wouldn't function.

This meant taking reception work, cleaning jobs, or driving jobs, so that even when I was on the clock for someone else, my mind could still keep working over plot points.  Then, when I did get home, and had fed the family, and generally tidied up after them, I could go and write down what I'd been Dreaming up all day (when I should have been answering the phone/unloading cartons of sweets/stocking up shelves with greetings cards). 

 Some of my best ideas have come to me while I've been stuck in traffic jams on the M56 with nothing to look at but the tailgate of the lorry in front of me.
(Trucks to the right of me, trucks to the I am stuck in the middle of the queue...with apologies to Stealer's Wheel)

D also stands for Determination.  It took me over ten years from deciding I could write a book (ok - rather in the manner of those people who annoy me so much now by assuming it is easy) to actually getting a publishing contract.  And during those years I went through a huge spectrum of feelings about my ambition.  From belief and hope, to despair and self-loathing.  There were times I couldn't even walk into a bookshop, and see all those titles sneering at me from the shelves by people who'd managed to do what I couldn't.  It simply hurt too much.

Eventually, I went on a writing course (what - didn't I do that first?  No.  I was just as deluded as all those other people who assume they could just sit down and write a bestseller without any training at all.)  By then I was starting to wonder if I was flogging a dead horse.  What if I really didn't have what it took to be a published author?  Was there a good reason why all I was getting was rejection slips?  I finally decided to fork out some of the money I'd earned delivering sweets to village post offices, to go along to my local college and see if I could learn anything from a qualified teacher of writing.

And then, if I got yet another rejection I decided I would send my next manuscript to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writer's Scheme.  Because I discovered that they would have a published novelist read my work and actually tell me what they thought of it (unlike publishers, who were just sending back standard rejection letters which gave me no clue where I was going wrong.)

You can see where I'm going with this - even after ten years I just wasn't prepared to give up.  I was going to do whatever it took to see one of my own books on the shelves of W.H.Smith with all those others.

Well - going on the writing course did the trick (so my tutor said).  Mid way through my second term, Mills & Boon finally showed some interest in a manuscript they'd had so long I was sure they must have forgotten all about it.  Eventually it got accepted.
So I never needed to send anything to the New Writers Scheme after all.
But at least I had a plan B.
And if plan B had failed, you can be sure I'd have thought up a plan C, then a D, then...

(And yes, you may have spotted several other things in this article that begin with D - each of which a writer needs.  Which D do you find you need the most?)

Annie's latest book, Portrait of a Scandal, is available from Amazon UK

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