Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing was released last year under the name Slip of the Keyboard. There are several really good essays on writing, and being a writer, in it.
In one of them he says the best time to start a new book is the day after you finish the last one. Now, reading his other essays I don’t think he means you put the pen down one day and pick it up the next. I’ve learnt that putting the pen down is not the end – there are always changes to be made. I reckon the book is finished when the publication date is set, and no-one wants any more changes.
I also don’t think a book is started by just picking up a pen. Personally, as I write historical fiction, I have a lot of research to do for books. Terry Pratchett talks about sitting in the front of the word processor, just day dreaming, thinking, typing a few words, deleting them, thinking about something else, going to find a book about tortoises, looking up a reference, and finishing the day having not written a word. Now I know this process led to the excellent Small Gods, so I don’t consider a second of that wasted.
For me, a book begins with the first idea. But, between actually writing one book and another, I find I’m spending a lot of time researching and reading and following up unusual links and letting my mind wander off on strange tangents. By doing this I’ve already come up with a brilliant way to link two events in my next book, which I didn’t think could be linked, and been inspired to create a few new characters and got a couple of plot twists.
It looks like procrastination. It looks like time wasting. If anyone asked me how much I’ve written I’d have to say ‘well, nothing’. But I am working, and working hard. This is the time that I gather the information together that will feed my book. This is the time that I get the sparks to start my creativity. It’s like I’m charging the battery. This time is as important as the actual writing.
And do read the Terry Pratchett book. He has a lot of interesting things to say. In fact, read any book written by any writer about writing. It’s always reassuring to know that the famous and successful writer go through exactly the same problems and difficulties and joys as the rest of us.