Monday, 14 June 2010

World Cup of Writing

Even if you don't love football, it's hard to avoid it at the moment. The concept of the game, like all the best games, is easy to understand – you score the most goals, you win the game, you win the most games you win the league. Simple. But achieving that is far from easy – a strange mixture of science, talent, hard-work, luck, a huge amount of cash, and some alchemy are required to take a team to the top, the next level, the knock-out stages, or whatever the current goal is – still, you always know what you have to achieve. I sometimes I envy those football managers their clarity of purpose.

Writing a novel requires the same amount of ill-defined ingredients but the goals are not so clear, no-one is there to tell you what the rules are, there is no system by which to gauge your success. People have tried, but no-one is buying it, there is no World Cup of Writing.

No-one can argue who's won a football match, everybody can disagree on whether a book is good or not. We've all struggled to wade through Booker winners, laughed at atrocities on the bestseller lists.

So it's easy to get wishy-washy with writing – you could send this draft out now, or spend another 10 years rewriting it; you could work the synopsis, or crack-on with the WIP, you could churn out a thousand words, or get down the pub to 'gather material.' Or you could just go and watch the World Cup.

The point being, we have to set ourselves goals – they can be small or big, short-term or long-term, but they must be three things: clear, achievable and within our power to attain. Getting published isn't within your control, but getting a scintillating submission pack together is; getting on the bestseller list is not something you can make happen, but writing a story worthy of it is.

Keep the goals simple, keep them sensible, and keep them real – that's the way to win in writing.

Come on, England.


  1. Keeping them sensible and real is the hard part. I think we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to accomplish something unnatural for our own pace on a given day. I love your analogy for the World Cup. Great post, James!


  2. Thanks Marissa - was planning to post part 2 of 'how to write all the time' but it felt weird not to reference such a big sporting event.

  3. Another great post James which has got me thinking. It's all too easy to set ourselves high standards and goals without learning to nurture ourselves in the harsh world of writing. Thanks for your wise words.

  4. Yes, Hem - it's a thin line between challenging and motivating yourself and setting yourself an impossible dream. Not that I'm quite sure where to draw that line - I keep moving the bloody thing!