(In)Frequently Asked Questions
How did you get your first paid writing job?
I was 22 years old and living in Los Angeles. My best friend was the Fashion Director for California Apparel News. She brought me to work with as her assistant. I spent a lot of time packing and unpacking boxes. She knew I wanted to be a writer and put in a good word with the editor. One day the editor asked if I would like to cover a fashion event that was happening that afternoon in Hollywood. I told him I was too busy packing boxes. Ha! I may or may not have performed a high kick. I was given one instruction: 'Interview anyone famous'.
With no experience, no journalistic qualifications, and no idea how to go up to famous people and interview them, I went for it, winged it and, thank God, it all worked out. I covered the event, wrote the article, had it published and no one complained. It all started from there.
How do you start to write a book?
A good place to start is with an idea. Often I have lots of ideas but it's taken me a while to realise that just because you have an idea doesn't mean it's a good one.
Writing a book is like getting into a long term relationship. You really want to make sure you're getting involved with the right one. You have to love the idea enough to want to spend a significant amount of time with because writing a book can take years. Otherwise you find may find yourself half way in only to realise you picked a dud. This has happened to me on several occasions and breaking up is awful. Hang on, what were we talking about?
Before I start writing I will first spend some time with my idea. I do this by research and immersing myself in the experience. Once I'm confident this is the idea for me, I begin planning our future together. I take some flip chart paper and a bunch of post it notes and map out all the sections, chapters and points I want to write. Once I have a sense of the story and my kitchen wall is entirely covered in Post Its, that's how I know I'm ready to begin writing.
For the ideas I don't end up going with, I thank them and kindly send them on their way. 'Look you're a great idea and I'm sure you'll make another writer very happy but you're just not the idea for me.' If one idea isn't right I trust there's an even a better idea waiting just around the corner. Sometimes you just have to be patient. I never begin a book until I'm absolutely head-over-heels in love. With the idea, that is.
Do you have a writing routine?
Yes. Although I'm constantly refining it and I fall out of it on a regular basis. My writing routine begins with coffee. That's the part I'm 100% consistent with but after that it's anyone's guess what will or will not happen.
I also start the day with some form of exercise, preferably in the company of other people. As a writer, when you spend so much time alone it's important to include some human interaction in the mix. If I'm keeping to my routine then around 10am I'll lock myself away to write and only come out for food and water. If I'm not keeping to my routine I will be doing anything else.
Also, I always plan my week ahead so I know what I'm writing. I'm always working on three books at a time - writing one, editing one and promoting one. I have a daily word count of 1000 words so once I've achieved that I can get to working on the other projects. I find I need to have a variety of projects on the go to keep things interesting.
How do you deal with writer's block?
I take a sledgehammer and start breaking shit. Nah just kidding. I always try to keep the pen or my hand moving even if that's just to write, 'This is complete bullshit. I don't know what I'm writing. This sucks. I really don't want to be writing right now. What is this story about anyway?' This often helps.
If I'm really stuck and I can't even write crap then I'll stop what I'm doing and go and do something else for a while. This might be taking a walk or a nap or a extra cookie from the cookie jar. Whatever it is, sometimes a complete break is what you need to come back to the page refreshed and ready to start anew. The absolute worst thing you can do is give yourself a hard time. Slow and easy wins this particular race.
Something else I've recently learned to do is to strip everything back to the basics. I have a daily word count quota of 1000. There have been days when I don't make it. This can be demotivating and I will end up not writing for a few days in which case it becomes a lot harder to get back into the habit of writing. When this happens I start with a word count of 100 words, which is achievable. Once I've written 100 words I'm more likely to get to 500 words. It then becomes a lot easier to get back to that 1000-plus word count.
Keep in mind, I always write the story first and edit later. The first words are not necessarily the words that end up in the final manuscript but you have to start somewhere. I like to get the entire story on the page and then I have something to work with.
How would you describe your writing style?
Brilliant, exceptional, intellectual, witty, sage, sophisticated, enlightened. But y'know, I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or anything. Honestly? I like to write in a way that is natural, light and conversational. I write as I talk. I think I do, anyway. I also enjoy reading these kinds of books.
What advice do you have for people who want to become writers?
Well, the obvious answer would be 'if you want to write then you have to write.' But we've all that before and we know it doesn't always work. How many times have you wanted to write something and then gone off and done something else? Exactly. This advice is useless
Therefore my advice is if you write, first master the art of not writing. Become a master at everything but writing. Then, at some point, you will either bore yourself into writing or there'll be nothing else to do but write. I only became the committed and disciplined writer I am today by first mastering the art of laziness, procrastination and avoidance. When I became so bored by my excuses eventually I just sat down and started writing and I haven't stopped. Nor do I intend to.
Of course you could just take the simpler and faster route and just start writing. Either way, to be a writer at some point you have to sit down and do the work. There's just no getting around this little detail. Once you do, however, you'll find there is so much pleasure and joy that comes from writing on a regular basis that you will want to keep writing and you'll start looking forward to the time you spend writing. As I once heard author Annie Burrows say, 'writing is a glorious, glorious luxury'. Although personally, it's both a luxury and a necessity.