Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Saturday 8 June 2013

Blog 400! and Ten Things Every Writer should Know

David Guymer, @WarlordGuymer, my friend and author colleague for the Black Library, who’s a bit of a fan of the Skaven, asked me how I keep coming up with ideas for so many blogs.

First of all, I thought I’d better work out just how many blogs... OK... I know... 400... D’oh! What I mean to say is, it wouldn’t be difficult to write 400 blogs in, say, ten or eleven years, which is one every ten days or so. Any self-respecting blogger could probably manage that, right? Well of course she could.

I’ve written 400 blogs in 490 days, which is one blog or, according to Dr Guymer, one idea every twenty-nine hours and twenty-four minutes. Crikey! I’ve almost impressed myself! I was aiming for a blog a day, and, of course I missed, but not by a mile. Go me!

The truth is, though, that I simply haven’t had 400 ideas. That’s not how blogs work, or, at least, that’s not how my blog works.

I suppose it rather depends on what you think of as an idea.

Yes... My blogs are full of ideas. I’m full of ideas. I’m cursed with that whole mind-never-sleeps thingy that so many of us suffer from. When you ask someone what he's thinking, and he answers, ‘nothing’... How is that even possible? It’s a question I ask often. I always feel deceived. I always feel that whoever it is simply wants to keep something from me or from himself. I always feel that, at best, he is dissembling, and at worst he is lying to me. The truth is, I suppose, that not everyone is thinking all of the time. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t, but I am... It’s as simple as that.

The other thing about the blog is that while I might concede that it is full of ideas, and that there might be as many as 400 of them in these 400 blogs, I’d bet good money that there aren’t 400 different ideas here. I’d bet that I have repeated myself a good deal over the course of the past 490 days, and, when I haven’t repeated myself, I’d bet that I’ve contradicted myself, using the same idea at least twice from two different directions. 

You see, I cheat.

Here’s another secret I’ll let you into... I don’t really set out to think about the blog, or have an actual idea to use in it. There are reasons for this to do with time and work, and having other things to do.

I love the blog, and I’m glad I’m writing it... Some, mostly the husband, would say that I’ve even become quite obsessive about it, because I do that, too, along with the never-stopping-thinking thingy. The blog has simply become the repository for the shit in my head, though. It’s a sort of public journal, a kind of contract with my readers, a collection of my ephemera, a conversation of sorts. 

It’s worth remembering that I live in isolation. I am a writer. I spend hours and hours and hours of every day alone. I live in a small, closed environment, I know very few people, my social circle is tiny. I might go days or even weeks actually speaking to only a handful of you. If I have a thought, a random bit of nonsense, an irritation, an observation, a snark, who do I share it with?

Most of you share these things with the people you live and work with, with the bloke you buy your coffee from, or the woman who sits next to you on the train. Most of you share these things with your partner and children, with the parents you visit or phone on a regular basis, with the siblings you have a drink with on a Friday night. I’m not like that. I share this shit with you guys.

So, to answer the question, I don’t come up with ideas for the blog. I’m all about the WYSIWYG. This is a case of what you see is what you get. I’m shooting the breeze, sharing my shit, and generally doing my thing. If you find ideas in my blogs, that’s pretty cool! Once in a while, I put them there on purpose, but mostly, it’s just me being an open book.


Now, because this is blog 400, and my original manifesto said something about me writing about writing, I decided to do a writerly thing and compile one writer’s list, mine, of writerly things about writing or being a writer, or about being a better writer, or whatever.

Writers do this all the time. Mostly, we talk a lot of silly shit, and, for everything on my list, you’ll find a writer somewhere who will tell you the opposite. Given my success rate in this job, you might want to go and find whoever it is that contradicts me, and follow their list, because it’s almost bound to get you a lot further than mine will get you. Having said that, I suspect mine will give you a lot more fun. 

Here goes.

Ten Things Every Writer should Know

1 - Write! Stop for nothing! He who hesitates is lost! You are not an editor, so do not tinker! You are a writer, so write, fast and urgently! If you heed no other piece of information from this list, heed this. In fact, go away, right now, and write. That’s exactly what I’m tempted to do.

2 - Read. This is a fuel-in, fuel-out game. If you do not read, you will not have words in the tank when it comes to writing. Having said that, when you are writing, do not read fiction, and if you read fiction while writing, steer clear of reading fiction in the genre, style or thematic pool that you’re writing in. Contamination by influence is an embuggerance.

3 - Be exuberant! You have a bigger budget than any film maker on the planet, so use it. Of course, if you don’t need the budget, or want it, use that to your advantage, too.

4 - If the spirit moves, move with it. If you become successful as a writer, there will come a time when you simply have to have the discipline to sit in a chair, more-or-less full-time, and write. It can be done. I do it, the husband does it, and lots of our friends and acquaintances do it. We all still have days when the spirit moves us, and we relish them. We also work for a living just like everyone else, and feel nostalgic for the days when writing was our beloved hobby. So, if writing is still your hobby and your first love, write when the spirit moves, because it’s the best feeling in the World, and one that many an aged, jaded writer regularly hankers after.

5 - Never ignore an idea. Never think you’ll remember an idea, because it was so good you couldn’t possibly forget it. You will forget it! Write it down! Do it now! I still don’t have the kind of discipline the husband has for this. He carries a notebook everywhere and uses it diligently. I do my best, but still lose about a third of the ideas I generate. Thank heavens I generate so many!

6 - Listen to the voices in your head. OK, so I have mental health issues, but this shit is still real. When a character starts talking to you, when you start to hear his voice, that’s the good stuff. Some stories write themselves, too. There’s a reason for that. It isn’t because you’re actually going mad (well, OK, for some of you it might be), it’s because you’ve put in the hours, you’ve got the experience, and you’ve relaxed into the job. Your mind and body know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it. Enjoy! It’s the kind of grown-up, real-writer equivalent of the spirit moving, and it’s heavenly.

7 - Find a way to research that doesn’t swallow up half your life. I know people who should be writers who are, in fact, researchers, and it frustrates the hell out of me. I employ rule number one, and write through, leaving blanks or keywords where I need to look something up or do more research. I research only small amounts of necessary source material, nothing anecdotal or supplementary, and I never, ever immerse myself in research. If you can’t concisely answer your question on a post-it note then you’re asking the wrong question.

8 - Write first for yourself. Write the stories that you would like to read. It doesn’t matter whether you write what you know, or whether it all comes straight out of your imagination, it should appeal to your own senses and sensibilities. If you write what you imagine an audience wants, or, worse still, what you imagine will sell by the shed-load, you’re asking for trouble.

9 - While you are writing, every word belongs to you. Once your work is published, not a single word belongs to you. Every reader is paying your mortgage; he can think whatever the hell he likes about the work that he has paid for, and all that remains for you to do is smile.

10 - Remember, always... The point of the writer is the reader!


  1. Lovely piece, thanks for that :) Might I add, "Use the sexy idea NOW". If you've come up with a gorgeous idea, don't spend all your effort grinding the story towards it - throw it in now! You'll come up with more...

  2. I agree with point two. For me it is not just reading it is also watching TV or movies. I love cyberpunk novels but I can't write one because it always sounds like William Gibson

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