Today is the first of a new regular feature – Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating! As the title suggests, it’s all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.
First up for a grilling about his procrastination habits is the fabulous Howard Linskey whose latest crime novel is published this week.
Welcome, Howard! So tell me all about your latest book – The Chosen Ones…
Thanks Steph. Great to be here. ‘The Chosen Ones’ begins when a young woman called Eva wakes inside a large metal box with no idea how she got there. She understands she is being held captive but has no idea why. Investigative journalists, Tom Carney and Helen Norton, team up with Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw to investigate her disappearance and quickly learn that this is not the first time women have been taken but what links Eva to cases from almost two decades earlier and how can they possibly find her?
You can read more about it here: http://www.howardlinskey.co.uk/work#/the-chosen-ones/
How long did The Chosen Ones take to write?
The best part of a year, which is normal for me. I usually start writing a new book in January, just as the editing process draws to a close on the previous one. I’ve then got eight months to turn in a first draft by the end of August that’s usually around 100,000 words or so. My editor and literary agent will read it and send me some notes then I’ll do a second and third draft, or even a fourth before I’m fully happy with it. By the end of the calendar year it’s almost done then the process starts all over again!
What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?
All three! I mostly work from home and aim to begin once my daughter has gone off to school but in reality, I start with coffee, breakfast, the Times newspaper and internet-based distractions, while I sit in the conservatory at the back of our house and enjoy the sunshine, if there is any. I also have to remember to feed the squirrels. Wild ones visit our garden daily and they expect breakfast, to the consternation of our dog. It can be mid-morning by then and I’ll suddenly panic and get down to some actual writing. After a couple of days in the house, I get stir crazy and venture out. There’s a good café in my town and I’ll have lunch there while ‘plotting’, which sounds sinister but I mean it in a book sense. My favourite place to procrastinate though is the pub. Sitting with a pint of bitter and your lap top, writing away in a quiet corner of a pub during the day time feels like playing truant from life. I don’t do it often but when I do my venue of choice is the White Horse in Old Welwyn Village. They even opened up early for me once, so I could be filmed there for the true crime series ‘Written In Blood’. The viewers probably think I’m an alcoholic.
What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?
I do a little bit of planning up-front but I’d be lying if I said it was very detailed and most of this is in my head rather than on pages of notes. In the early stages I like to get some words down and write scenes that are likely to end up in the finished book, hoping that one scene will lead to another. I don’t write chronologically either but do the bits I am in the mood for then curse myself months later, as I wade through thousands of words that are quite literally in the wrong order. I end up putting them together again somehow. I have no idea why I write like this. It makes no sense at all but somehow it works for me and the books are always well received, thankfully.
When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?
Definitely at the beginning. As I race towards a deadline, the procrastination is inevitably replaced by panicked, guilt-ridden bursts of activity, where the word count climbs faster than usual. I used to be a reporter, so I have a journalist’s respect for deadlines and I’ve never missed a single one, which isn’t bad after numerous drafts for eight books.
Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?
I quite like doing the second draft, if I feel like I am going in the right direction. That first hundred thousand words grants you a certain amount of freedom with your writing but there’s always a stage where I start to severely doubt myself and the book. That’s natural and I push on through past it to the finish line. There is always quite a bit to be fixed and I do that with the second draft but by then I will have had some positive feedback from my editor and agent, which spurs me on. By the end of the book, I am sick of the sight of it as I will have been over and over the words countless times and will need several weeks away from it by then. My enthusiasm returns once I see the final copy. It always hits me then that something I dreamed up has been worked on, edited, printed and published until it’s a real book with my name on the cover.
When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?
Reading. I get distracted by research in the early days, so I’ll start with articles on line. I can lose hours doing that and it goes way beyond research that I can actually use. I had to learn a bit about underground bunkers for my new book and started researching them. An article about a bunker could then lead to one about the Cold War then what a bad guy Stalin was and how he almost lost the Second World War? Then, before I know it, I’m reading articles about Hitler’s inner circle and what happened to them all, which has nothing to do with my novel. Cue guilt, panic and a writing frenzy to make up for lost time till I get back on track again.
When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?
Coffee is a necessity, particularly first thing in the morning. I’ve got one of those capsule machines that delivers a small cup of very good coffee with a strong enough kick to wake my brain up. I try and avoid snacks because I have too much of an addictive personality for them. If I put a packet of Hobnobs next to my lap top they would all be gone by the time I’d written a thousand words and there would be chocolatey finger prints on my keyboard. I make sure I have a decent breakfast though and a good lunch, because hunger is too distracting and I have enough distractions already.
And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?
At some point, on publication day or when the box of finished books arrives at my home, I will open a bottle of champagne. I think something that takes a year of very hard work to complete deserves it, don’t you?
Huge thanks to Howard for being a great sport and letting me quiz him about all things procrastination.
Be sure to check out his great new book – THE CHOSEN ONES.
Click on the book cover below to view it on Amazon UK. It’s a bargain at 99p on kindle at the moment…