Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Guest Blog Post by Pete Johnson

In conjunction with The Vampire Diaries release  Pete has kindly written a guest blog post for NRC. Here Pete talks about the writing side of his life. 

‘How do you make yourself write every day? If I were at home I’d never get started. You must be very disciplined.’

Those are the sort of comments people make when they hear I am a full-time writer.

In truth, I am not disciplined at all.

But I can fool myself that I am. For this ploy to work, I must start writing almost as soon as I wake up.

So I make myself a cup of tea and begin by eight o’clock, at the very latest. But for the first hour I just settle down somewhere with a notepad and pen (younger readers might need to google these up to find out what they are) and think in an easy, relaxed way about what I’m going to write today.

Then, in my dire handwriting I scribble down a few thoughts, or a line or two of dialogue and I carry on like that for an hour. You see, I believe one of the toughest things about writing is having the nerve to start at all. So I am to sneak up on my writing and begin before I’ve even realise it.

There’s something else I must tell you and it’s perhaps the most important tip I can pass on to you.

During that first hour I don’t go back over anything I’ve put down. I just write and write. You see, I believe that nothing kills creativity more – especially when it’s just emerging – than our own critical voice.

This can be crueller and more merciless than anyone else. Well, how often have you started a piece of writing then looked back over the opening lines and thought. ’Oh no, that’s rubbish’ and then put it away and never returned to it.

The truth is, that most first drafts are bad and in my case really, really bad. Or as Elmore Leonard put it. ‘Writing is all re-writing.’ But the vital thing is to begin and get something down on paper.

And during that first hour I usually start to enjoy myself. Often I get really excited about what I’m going to write. And after a brief breakfast (never lasting longer than twenty minutes) I go through my notes and begin properly.

See what I mean about starting without even realising it.

And I’ll write for the rest of the morning, apart from a few eagerly awaited tea breaks. Now I’m especially known for comedies like: ‘How To Train Your Parents’ and ‘Rescuing Dad,’ but I never try and be funny. I think that makes what you write cold and mechanical. Instead, the most important thing for me – especially with comedy – is to hear the characters’ voices.

That’s why I don’t like any noise around me when I’m writing – not even music unfortunately – as that distracts me from listening!

And the very best writing of all is when I don’t seem to be doing anything. It’s almost as if it’s being dictated by someone else. Maybe that sounds a bit mysterious. I suppose it is. But when it happens there’s no high like it.

It happened when I was writing my latest book, ‘The Vampire Hunters.’ This is my attempt to cheer up horror stories. I wanted to combine the spooky and the humorous, with a story about a boy, Marcus, who discovers on his thirteenth birthday his parents are half-vampires and he’s about to start changing into one too.
Marcus isn’t at all pleased by this news. He wants to concentrate on the human part of his life. But his parents keep confronting him with new challenges.

And there’s a scene quite near the start of ‘The Vampire Hunters,’ when Marcus is going off to school and his Dad hands him a little bottle of blood. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

But here’s the thing – that whole piece of writing seemed to be given to me. I merely wrote down what I saw – and heard. And I never changed a word. Of course, other parts of ‘The Vampire Hunters,’ were much, much, tougher.

A first draft takes about seven or eight weeks. The moment I finish a draft I put it away for a few days. Then I aim to read it as if I hadn’t written it. And all through the manuscript I make notes. ‘This is a bit slow.’ ‘Not sharp or funny enough.’ ‘It doesn’t ring true.’ The book is born and fully formed now, so it can take any criticism you might care to throw at it.

During the third, fourth and fifth draft – the criticising keeps on coming. The sixth (usually the final) draft is the one I really enjoy: then usually you’re just polishing and tightening.

The aim – and the dream – I suppose is to write something so fresh and true it feels as if it’s never been written before.

To be honest, you never quite achieve that. Or don’t feel you have. But there are moments when you get close.

And finally there is the day your book is published. That’s still exciting and magical and scary.

But there’s no high to compare with the moment your very first book comes out. I remember that day so vividly. I charged round all the bookshops, spotting my book then, of course, placing it right at the front of all the books on display.

In one shop I suddenly realised I was being observed by an assistant. ‘I suppose,’ said the girl with a weary shake of her head: ‘It’s your book.’

I nodded in a highly shamefaced way.

‘Well don’t worry,’ she said, ‘All writers do that.’

So that’s writers for you: mad egoists, dreamers, entertainers and people who have to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours completely alone – except for all those characters chattering away in their heads.

I'd like to thank Pete for sharing what his days are like, and for the insight into what writers do when they see their books in the shop (for us aspiring writers, we are sitting here thinking 'squee! that could be us!')
You can find out more about Pete on his website.

Click here to enter a competition to win a set of both books! UK only 

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