Sunday, February 3, 2013

Special Guest Sunday- Gerald Hornsby

Hi everyone,

This week, please help me welcome Gerald Hornsby as he discusses how to become a writer.



Writing is tough work. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. I know, we all have this mental image of being a writer, sitting on a stone balcony overlooking a Tuscan or Proven├žal vineyard, a parasol protecting us from the harsh midday sun, typing a few words into a laptop every now and again. A couple of weeks later, the novel is finished, and off it gets sent to the publisher to become (yet) another best seller. Ah, the life.
Cue reality stepping in. Jobs, families, children, social media, even sleep do their best to interfere with our writing tasks. The distractions for writers are worse than they have ever been, and it’s so easy to say to ourselves “I’ll write tomorrow. Definitely.” Then tomorrow comes around, and it’s the same old, same old.
But the key thing here is forcing people to write. The habit of writing every day, once learnt, becomes difficult to unlearn. Consider this: a page of a typical paperback book contains around 250 words. Anyone can write a page of a book a day, can’t they? If you did that for a year, you’ll have written a 90,000 word novel. What were you doing a year ago? Pretty much the same as now? If you’d have made a commitment this time last year, you would have written your book. How good does that sound?

The arithmetic is simple. The practicality is difficult. Finding time in our busy lives is hard, especially if you have a full time job, have children at home, or you’re a carer for someone.

I can type at around 1,000 words an hour if I know what I’m going to write. Allow for some thinking time, and you could say that 500 words in an hour should be straightforward. Writing a page of a novel should take me half an hour.

Read any ‘how-to’ on writing, and they will almost invariably say something like “as an author, you need to have a space to work, and a time when you shut yourself off to write.”

I totally disagree with this. Finding a place in a house full of children and toys and clothes and washing and games consoles is difficult at best. So a lot of writers don’t try. “I don’t have a place where I can write, so I can’t be a writer.”

Nonsense. My most productive period as a writer was when I had a full-time job which took me all over the world, especially driving around the UK and Europe. I wrote in hotel rooms, I wrote in lunch hours, I wrote when I got home before I went to bed, I wrote on trains and planes. You must learn to writer wherever you can.

I remember watching one of those “Building a Dream Home” programmes on TV, and one of the main themes of this particular episode was that the man of the house needed a writing room, overlooking a forest and open countryside, where he could be inspired to write his novel.

After completion, the house had a wonderful room, with a desk and a laptop positioned for the cameras, overlooking the forest and the open countryside. “I can now get on and write my novel,” our man said.
In the catchup 2 years later, the house was still beautiful “Have you managed to write your novel?” the presenter asked. “No, not yet,” was the reply.

You don’t need a special room or house or hut to write. You need a laptop or a notebook and pencil. That’s all.

Stage two of my “How to Write” book addresses the when. “When can I write? I don’t have an hour to myself during the day, what with housework / kids / cooking / working / etc / etc / etc.” And if you look at it from the point of view of ‘needing’ at least an hour or free, uninterrupted time to yourself, you won’t do it. It’s impossible to find that chunk of time during the day for most people.

How to address this? Lesson 2 - learn to write in short stints. Put the kettle on for a cup of tea or coffee, pick up your work in progress, and write. Don’t wait for the ‘muse’ to visit you. Don’t sit there dreaming of how great your novel would be, if only you had time to write it. While the kettle is boiling, write a paragraph. If you’re stuck on your novel, write something else. I always have at least 3 works in progress.
If you don’t feel like writing on one WIP, don’t go and mess about on Facebook or Twitter. Write a blog post, or a short story, or put down into an ideas document that brilliant idea you had while you were down the shops or driving to school or sitting in the bath or walking the dog.

Most of us have clever mobile phones. Find out if there’s a way you can make voice recordings. There are a number of apps around for doing just that, and you can talk into your phone for 20 seconds, and that brilliant story idea is stored until you can transcribe it later.

So, to recap, there is one way you can become a writer. Write! And there are two don’ts.
* Don’t try to create a ‘space’ to write in. Learn to write sitting in front of the TV, in the kitchen, in bed, whilst sitting on a train / bus. During your lunch hour.

* Don’t put off writing until you have a ‘proper’ time to write. Learn to write in short stints. During the news on TV. While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. When you’re waiting outside school to pick the kids up. Set your alarm for 15 minutes early, and write.

You need to actually write something before you can sit on that balcony, overlooking the vineyard. Write a page of your novel today. And the next one tomorrow. This time next year, you’ll have written a novel!
This piece was written over a period of 2 hours, during which time I also walked the dog, prepared and ate lunch, watched a programme on TV, and took the rubbish out to the bin outside. And as I type, this first draft consists of 1058 words. The equivalent of four pages of a novel.


Wow, Gerald, that is something I'm struggling with right now, is trying to train myself to write in little bits and pieces.  I find the easiest way to do that is to keep doing it.  The more often I do it, the less I have to reread what I wrote, and then pick it up after where I left off.  If I write in little chunks constantly, I already know where I left off.  Very inspirational and practical.

Thank you so much for stopping by! 


  1. Thanks for this Sally and Gerald. Absolutely needed this advice as I'm dithering over my writing today, having that weekend to Monday transition.