Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Shit or Bust

I’m fascinated by other writers’ processes: how, where, when, what they write. I don’t know that every single writer has a unique way of doing things, after all, what we’re actually doing is sitting at a machine, keying in, and there are, surely, only so many ways to skin a cat.

I’m also fascinated by what makes a successful writer and whether process has anything to do with that. Is it possible to plot a graph that shows the optimum in work-related habits? I doubt it. Writers are people, and creative people, at that, so it’s hard to see where maths has anything to do with it. I wish it did, though. I wish there was a formula for doing well at this game.
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” - Sam Goldwyn
It has to be true, doesn’t it? I’ve never met a lazy, successful person.
When asked about writing, and it might surprise you to know that I am asked, regularly, about writing, despite my meagre output of published work, to date... When I’m asked about writing, I have a set of answers ready, but they aren’t mine. I give advice that I don’t follow, knowing full-well that it is very sound, logical advice, and that it should work.
I tell people who ask about writing that they should read a lot and write a lot. I tell them that they should try to write something every day. I have never, ever done this. I’ve always been a reader, but since finishing my English degree, I have only ever read intermittently. I can literally go months without reading a book. I can also read half-a-dozen books in a week, when I’m in the mood.
Writing is the same. It took me a long time to begin to write, but once I had begun, I tackled the job relentlessly, but intermittently. I’ve written five books in three years, which is pretty good going, by anybody’s standards, but the actual writing was crammed into a few scant months of that time. 
Part of me wishes that I could write five hundred or a thousand words a day, every day, for three months or six months, and then spend another six months revising. Part of me wishes that I was the sort of person who could happily spend two or three hours a day researching a project over several months before beginning. I just can’t do it.
I wonder if it’s too late to learn to do it. I’d dearly love to make a success of writing; I’m just a little fearful that I’m going about it all the wrong way. Maybe my ‘shit or bust’ instinct just isn’t the way to go. 
Right now, it’s all I have, so I’m going with it. That won’t stop me giving good advice though, especially when it isn’t my own.


  1. It's actually a relief, reading this entry.

    I've been out there, consuming as much advice about writing as I can find, and I would've borrowed much of the same advice you've given. I know writers who work full-time and writers who grab hours before or after the day job and I'm not yet set in that routine, and it's nice to know that the routine doesn't define the writer. I could do with writing a lot more, to be certain, but building up a guilt about not writing anything today or yesterday isn't something I need.

    Writing every day, and having that discipline, is almost certainly better advice than not writing/having, but if framing it in my head as building up to a month of relentless activity followed by a quiet spell feels better and gets the thing actually written, I may feel less of a dilettante.