TIM’S TOP WRITING TIP: Get the novel written before even pushing publishing options. Get it polished, have something you are proud of. Read the two books above I’ve mentioned. Get in touch with me and other authors for help and encouragement. And read a lot.
Why do you write? I write because I have exciting stories to tell, ideas that float around my head until I’ve put them into print. I write to share these worlds, trusting others will eventually see what I see. It’s also good to have something that releases the stress, that allows you to be yourself and writing, for me, is that thing. It helps the rest of my life go on a little smoother – of course, writing also opens yourself up to all kinds of other pressures, but I’ll ignore them blissfully at the moment.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m only a part-time writer at the moment, so I guess it’s easier to answer that question with the other business stuff I do – I guess I’d be doing more of that. Truth be told, I only became (a part-time) writer by moving abroad nearly seven years ago. I’m a church leader and moved to St Petersburg (the Russian one) and then Tallinn (Estonia) where my family is now very happily based. This all keeps us very busy.
So if I didn’t have the space for writing, I guess I’d be doing all these things a little more – but maybe just a little more stressed.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It was different things at different stages – the first challenge was certainly actually getting the novel written. I knew what I was seeing in my head was a great world with a strong plot. Ideas are not hard for me. The challenge (for all my books actually) is, can I get what I see down onto paper? Can I do the premise justice?
Sadly, having a finished book (yes, getting edits and covers etc is challenging, if you want it done correctly that is!) is not the end of the journey – it’s hardly even the mid point. Actually getting it out there (publication, firstly, but even beyond that) is a huge challenge. It might be the best story ever written, but if no one knows about it, nothing will change.
You need a lot of self drive and self belief, plus the support of a loving family around you goes a long way.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Until recently I’d certainly say writing. Last year shows this. I finished the first draft of The Last Prophet in January 2014. I then went straight into the editing process (don’t do this, I now know!). By September, I was bored. I hadn’t created anything in nine months, just changed and edited stuff as it came back from my team. In September, I’d planned to set time aside to write novel number three. I’d planned well and in just 13 writing days (over about seven weeks) I’d written the first draft of The Tablet – it flowed out of me. I’d missed creating so much it kind of landed on the page like a dam breaking.
By this January, a year on, I realised that in the last 12 months, I had just those 13 days of actual free flowing writing – the rest was just editing and publication issues. Ironically, even as a part-time ‘writer’, actual writing happens all too infrequently.
—the worst? It’s a very lonely path at times. Actually breaking through (I’ve seen relative ‘success’ at times) only pushes you far beyond your friendship circles. Friends who read your books tend to say nice things. Total strangers can (and do!) say anything!
It’s especially hard for the debut novel, as you’ve no point of reference and sharing your work for the first time with the world is a scary process, there’s no denying it.
Through the bad reviews (I’ve got far more good reviews, I should add, from total strangers too!) I realised that some people just like to be mean. All my favorite books by writers I could only dream of being half as successful as, have bad reviews. One-star reviews for books I absolutely loved reading. It just goes to show, you can never please everyone. So having a full range of reviews (as my debut novel Cherry Picking now has) only goes to show you’ve truly hit the mass market.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Knowing the ultimate publishing route I took, I’d have gone straight for that option had I known it at the time. Something I also did (and have seen others too doing) is rushing the process to get that first novel out. It meant too many mistakes (even though I had a team of proofreaders etc) got through and it just looks bad. These were corrected, but whilst I wouldn’t say wait until it’s perfect (it never will be) I would say don’t rush it until you are sure it’s up to standard for general reading by others.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? There’s the advice I’ve picked up on the way (which I can see is asked next, so I’ll add it there). That would have been nice to know earlier on than I did.
I don’t know if I set out to become an author – I wrote and that led to writing which in time led to a finished first draft (at long last!) which opened further doors. Looking back, I see the process now. But I guess I set out in the first place with the goal being to write the story down completely that I’d been acting out in my head.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ll say two pieces, the first got me flowing right at the beginning of my writing career (before this time it was just a hobby I fitted around life). In his excellent book Your Writing Coach, Jurgen Wolff lists a number of reasons why people stop writing and I connected with most of them. The biggest one told me that you should write the first draft without reading it through, just write it, get it onto paper before you read it through. Before then, I’d been editing on the go – it left me with seven polished chapters but how could I start chapter eight, it just wasn’t up to standard – so I had stopped, until I read this life giving advice.
The second has helped me recently – from another brilliant writing book, this time by Stephen King – On Writing. I have the best quotes from his book next to my writing desk – this one I like particularly: “You can’t please all the readers all of the time; you can’t even please some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”