Bringing your A-game

If you’re writing the third and possibly final draft there’s no excuse for not giving it your all. The question is, does that mean only working on it when you feel a hundred percent well, comfortable and generally on top of your game?

Today I’m writing this with a cold when I’d normally be on that third draft of The Captured. It’s easy, then, to make excuses for not really feeling up to it. It could be that you’re just feeling fed up for having missed the only bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy February day; a whole multitude of reasons for being less than a hundred percent focused on the work. (And, BTW, I hate it when people talk about giving something 110 or more percent, as there’s no sense of any maximum effort. OK, rant over.)

There’s plenty of advice out there on writing fiction in general, about ploughing on even when the muse is not there. But this (though hardly ever stated) seems to refer to that first creative stage, when just getting those words down is a achievement and never mind the quality. Not that I’d ever set myself a word-count goal – that’s a tyranny of the self, treating it like some feat of endurance. If someone has set a deadline, a contract with money involved, then maybe. No hard and fast rules otherwise.

I guess many writers have realized that on their third draft they haven’t been completely focused, and so they do a fourth, or a fifth…. But why waste the time if your not giving it your A-game?


Appeal of the Apocalyptic

I’ve always been attracted to apocalyptic themes in fiction; these stories have resonance going back millennia, most notably Noah’s Ark and the great flood, whose origin pre-dates the Bible to ancient Mesopotamia. This idea of some great force eradicating all of existence represents humanity’s anxiety of some grand punishment for its sins; but also there are those (especially of the religious persuasion) who find a certain appeal in the notion that all will be wiped out except perhaps for a select few, who then rebuild and repopulate the land. This has also been a common theme in dystopian/ post-apocalyptic fiction. There is even an aesthetic appeal in post-nuclear landscapes, commonly featured in games: Chernobyl from STALKER; the eerie beauty of Half-Life 2, or the headily atmospheric Metro (based on a novel) with its corroded and rotting remnants of civilisation.

Although I’ve not actually read those ancient stories or many of the modern equivalents I did write a story – a novel Time Over – on a similar theme, in which planet Earth is faced with annihilation. Being science fiction it is set centuries in the future; the reason for the impending doom is not made entirely clear but suffice to say that an alien race has taken issue with humans and created the ultimate weapon to wipe out all sentient or technologically advanced life, evinced by a spreading wave that erases millions of years from star systems in its path.  Meanwhile the people of Earth just go about their business oblivious to what’s heading towards them. Those few that are aware of the threat are persuaded to remain silent. But if they did try to tell the people, who would believe them?

So if we are faced with some catastrophe of biblical proportions and can do nothing about it, is it worth worrying?

Time Over is free to download:

My website:

Is any character type off limits?

The short answer is yes, as far as I’m concerned. A successful and talented enough writer could write from the point of view of the most despicable character and be praised for it. Being a big name in literary fiction affords you that freedom.

Myself, on the other hand, would avoid writing a first person narrative of, say, a sociopath. Certainly anything more than a few thousand words would become unbearable. I wrote one short story about someone who planned to commit an atrocity, and doing so in the first person made it a more interesting if not powerful narrative than how the idea originally came to me. But it felt risky, making it seem personal.

Few people nowadays at least under the age of 50 would have any qualms about playing a game from the viewpoint of a killer, even if that character is a brutal drug-dealing gangster. Although I’ve played many a 1st person shooter I haven’t played the GTA games but I can see the appeal: it’s a chance to be transgressive in a controlled and safe way. Maybe it’s even a safe outlet for that darker inner self. The same could be said for those who write crime or horror fiction; it’s perhaps a truism that they are considered to be the nicest and most well adjusted people.

Yet I always harbour a concern that writing through the eyes of a warped or nasty character would somehow reflect back on me as an author. After all, they say write about what you know, which often gets interpreted as write about what you have experienced. And of course, we don’t live in a bubble; life must have some influences that come through in the work. But if actors can play at being bad without the consequences then why not writers? OK, slightly different: an actor interprets and channels someone else’s work rather than creates it.

Well, one piece of advice i’ve taken is don’t let your creativity be thwarted by what others might think.