Redline it but don’t pop it.

For a long time now, I’ve been thinking that I should explain why it takes me so effing long to write each one of my books and today I’ve been galvanised into it by reading this cracker of a post, here. As well as why it takes me so long to write a book this also brings me onto a subject dear to any writer’s heart; mojo management.

Basically, the premise is that a lot of people are a bit wishy-washy about art and not ‘forcing’ it and use the ‘don’t force it’ line as an excuse to give up and be lazy. He talks about how mood alters your perception and how you can write stuff you think is rubbish only to find, the next day, that it’s not so bad (unfortunately, in my world that process also works in reverse, but I digress).

Now, I get exactly what this fellow means, especially the bit about writing stuff that looks crap and then finding that it’s not so bad. I find reading the first draft of a scene incredibly depressing but I shut my eyes to it and edit. And then somehow, if I put in enough work, it becomes magically transformed and when I read it and think,

“Blimey, I can’t believe I wrote that.” I know it’s time to move onto the next scene.

However, for what it’s worth, I think most of the people talking about not forcing art are actually talking about burning out.

Burn out is way different. Burn out is dangerous. Let me explain.

OK, so, I’m a stay at home Mum with a very lively little 5 year old, elderly parents who aren’t too well and who live a long way away and as the result of a recent traffic accident I currently have to snarf painkillers like smarties. So my life right now features three things in sensurround; worry, constant interruption (welcomed but constant nonetheless) and chemicals.

Hmm… so as you can guess, none of these things are conducive to quality writing outside school hours and none of them make for a lively brain. The chemicals are temporary, so the background is usually just the two things; Mumzilladom and worry about my folks – I’m definitely not the dutiful daughter I always assumed I’d be, which is kind of grim face on.

What I mean is that in anyone’s life there’s a lot going on. Add the odd curve ball, traffic accident at the moment but things like family deaths, organising a surprise party or something like that and it’s easy to find that the heart, not to mention the diary, is too full to create. In my case that’s usually at the point where my mind is so fucking knackered it can’t be arsed to wander.

Trust me on this, I’ve been there and hit the wall and at that point if you don’t step back, you’re going to end up mental. This is not about laziness or procrastination or refusing to start in case we fail, this is about capacity. That’s the point when it’s almost physically painful to write – not at the end of the day, we all feel like that then – but at the beginning.

That’s when you’re in danger of losing the love, of becoming a slave to the addiction as opposed to in love with your characters and addicted to the process. When this happens to me, the only cure is to stop everything, rest my mind and spend a few days/weeks/months, however long it takes putting stuff back in until my mojo returns. It’s entirely natural so if this happens to anyone else, don’t worry, the mojo will return you just have to be patient and wait.

So the big trick, for supreme mojo-management, is never reaching that can’t be arsed to wander point; knowing when to stop spewing out words. There is no option, in times of impending burn out but to sit back and reset.


There’s no harm in redlining your mojo occasionally, except that… hang on… where is the red bit? Oh for heaven’s sake! Trust me to have a car with no red bit. Alright, look, just try to imagine it in OK?

So for me, never getting burn out means writing a bit less but giving it more welly when I do. It’s worth it because when I can’t write, I miss it. There’s no harm redlining your mojo occasionally to, erm, de-carb your chambers (phnark) just don’t keep it there. Burn out is why it’s good plan to have more than one project on the go. Burn out is deeply unpleasant because it leaves you desperate to create, but unable to.

However, burn out should not be confused with laziness. Writing, painting, any art is the most fantastic fun, more than fun, it’s a drug, but it’s also bloody hard work. And frankly, if it isn’t, I suspect you’re doing it wrong.

There are days when writing my book feels like weeing a full sized house brick, except that there are days when I think pissing a housebrick would be easier. What I’m trying to say is that I have never done anything so hard in my entire life. But I can’t let it go. Right now, I’m not writing, but that’s because it’s the holidays and trying to write now is the fastest short cut to burn out there is. I know my limitations and that, I’m afraid, is why I take two, whole, sodding years to write a book. I know, it’s shocking isn’t it?!

Please be patient, K’Barthan three is nearly there but it may well be next April before I can release it.


Filed under General Wittering

10 responses to “Redline it but don’t pop it.

  1. Great post , and great link too MTM. It’s the difference between taking a holiday or having an extended weekend break or actually (like you ma’am)being ill, against sitting at the desk thinking you can’t be arsed that day. It’s astonishing how many proper professional authors agree with that guy. Listen to neil Gaiman sometime, or Stephen King. Even when they haven’t got a specific project on, they still write every day…

    It’s a lesson for us all. Of course, you can set different targets to Maeve Binchey ( 5 pages a day) or this guy at 2000 words: but it’s got to be considered if you want to consider yourself a professional. I’m no slouch I reckon, but I’m in awe of our mate Jim Webster who seems to produce words like there’s no tomorrow…

    • I know what you mean about Jim! The fellow’s on fire. I think ‘professional’ is largely attitude. So if you are just doggedly doing it, whatever your terms, with some kind of plan that’s probably it.



      • It is being professional. I’ve got the agricultural stuff down to first half of the morning at the moment. So this week I’ve got four articles to write, five afternoons visiting someone in hospital (and as I cannot drive yet after my first cataract operation that’s full afternoons), hopefully a trip to a meeting which will take up one of the days (but might produce another article) plus I’ve discovered that someone wants a grave levelling…….
        So the second SF book isn’t going to get anything done to it. But the walking backwards and forwards to the hospital gives me plenty of time to think and chew over plot points and plan scenes or articles in my head
        But frankly, none of this is half as important as bringing up McMini. Seriously I’m waiting for book three, but McMini comes first because he’ll never be five again and if he doesn’t do them now, he’ll never do the things you do when your five.
        So don’t worry about being professional, just carry on doing things right as you are doing 🙂

      • That’s kind of how I see it, Jim. To me, being professional is hard to define but I suppose it’s a case of taking your work seriously, believing it’s worth something… which I do. I’m going to have to up the visits to the old folks, too. If I get McMini into the after school club I reckon I could probably pop down to see them every other Wednesday. Have lunch – which I could take with me – fix anything that has bust and whizz home to pick him up at 6. I might be able to get McOther to collect him on those days, even to give myself a bit of slack with the traffic. That will definitely slow up the writing, although the fourth book will be a breeze after finishing something as ludicrously complicated as the K’Barthan Trilogy!



  2. Wise words. Yet though I know that sometimes taking a break is the only possible way forward if I want to remain (moderately) sane, I don’t like doing it. I think it’s because I’m always afraid that if I stop, I won’t ever start again. That’s the tricky part for me: avoiding burnout without completely losing momentum.

  3. Ah, well. I posted on very nearly the same topic the other day. And my very first comment was from a writer suggesting that I avoid forcing myself to write. She went on to say she’s been working for 13 years on the same book.

    Hmm. I do admire that point of view. But I don’t think I’m ready to adopt it and take it home.

    I’m currently convinced that the trick is to find a trick. I have a “weekly challenge” in progress, and it’s working very well. I have a novel that kept trying to stall out, and in fact it may again so try, but on the other hand I may finally have the puppy licked. (For who wouldn’t want to lick a puppy? Reciprocity is only fair.)

    Thanks for the post. And you’re so right, by way of your mention that people tend to have lives happening, that the only way to produce an abundance of fiction is to give up doing something else. But before we start cutting on either end, maybe we can try to lengthen the log? Er. I mean, perhaps we can find a way to increase our energy levels. Possibly even by silly tricks, like making grandiose claims on a blog.

    At least I hope that works. Otherwise I’ll soon be stuck. And so far I’m having such fun…

    • Absolutely with you on the silly tricks thing David. Because the more other stuff you do, the better the fiction, I find. Let’s face it, we all draw on the memory banks of real life. We may warp it, bend it, model it to fit our needs but basically, if you don’t have experiences to put in, you won’t get anything out. I suppose that goes for life, full stop; the more you cram in, the more you get back!



  4. I think we definitely have to keep the creativity well full, which – as you say – is hard to do when life gets in the way (I hope you feel better soon btw). I try to have different ‘Work’ things to do so, on days when three hours sleep just isn’t enough, I can do those things and still feel productive. Mostly I use those times to catch up on reading – blogs, novels etc. Even if it has to be a novel I’ve read a hundred times, there’s still something to be taken from it. I’m rereading Austen novels at the moment as a break from editing and want to take a red pen to her books! Hehe

    • Good plan. That’s pretty much what I like to try and do. Feeling productive is as important as actually being productive I reckon. It’s all psychology – phnark.



Leave a Reply to A.F.E. Smith Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.