Tag Archives: Writer Bob

Behind the curtain in Oz….

Some of my favourite books about writing

Firstly, apologies to fans of the Emerald City. This is not going to be about Frank L Baum’s fantasy world, nor about God’s Country Down Under. Today is about lifting the curtain that hides the machinery of the Wizard. The books about writing books. More specifically, it’s about “On Writing” by Stephen King. The wizard metaphor came to mind because the books we see on the shelves are the finished article. They glow, from their pristine covers to their polished prose, each word within (hopefully) considered and read many times before publication. These mighty tomes are the wizard, set forth to dazzle us with their brilliance, while behind the curtain, feverishly working to maintain this illusion, is the author.

Authors are real people. They have hopes, dreams, and only twenty four hours in the day. That’s why, for the would-be best selling author, the biggest secret we want to learn is “HOW DO YOU WRITE YOUR BOOKS?” We don’t want to know where ideas come from. We know that, we have so many ideas pounding around our mental jogging track that we can scarcely remember the shopping list. No, we want to know the physical news. When do you write? Do you get up early and work until the day begins? Do you write late at night? Do you have a separate office, or work on a laptop in a cafe?

What we’re asking is “Is there a secret to it? What do you do that I can do to get my book out of my head and onto the page?”

Stephen King may not write your brand of fiction, but I would recommend you take a look at his short story collections (Skeleton Crew, Four Past Midnight, Everything’s Eventual, Full Dark No Stars, Danse Macabre) because he lifts the curtain. Almost more than I loved the stories (he does write MY brand of fiction…) I loved him talking about why he wrote them, how they came to mind. Sometimes it’s the birth story, sometimes it’s the why that story is the way it is, but each explanation tells you about the crafting involved. So when he wrote “On Writing” his book about how he writes and what he thinks about the craft of writing, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Again, I urge you to ignore the voice saying “But I don’t like Stephen King books.” This book is not a gore-fest, it’s about writing, and it’s written by a man who is a phenominally successful author. The first half talks about his life, and that’s important, because a lot of the detail in his books (a lot of the truth, I like to think) comes from his memory. He talks about songs on the radio, he talks very compellingly about being a child in the fifties. So compellingly that I love those portions of “It”, though I grew up twenty years later on a different continent. When you get to the second half of the book  he talks about writing, but he’s talking about REAL writing. He’s not talking about writing the Great American novel, something so literary and metaphysical that the critics cry and schoolchildren will hate you for having to study it. He’s talking about writing books that people buy, love and recommend to their friends.

My secret confession today is that, all too often, I am like Writer Bob : I grab a “How to” book from the library, and sit down, determined to follow the instructions to the letter, ending up with a complete novel/screenplay/knitted model of St Paul’s Cathedral. But the truth is, unless you invest the time and effort, reading the book won’t get it done.

Which are YOUR favourite writing books? When you write your guide to new authors, what’s going to be the biggest tip?

The resolutions will not be televised

Writer Bob likes to party. Alcohol fuels his sensitive creative spirit. Or something.

January is a terrible temptation for writers. It just screams “Fresh start! Here’s a brand new year in which YOU CAN FINALLY FINISH THAT PROJECT!”

But at 2am on New Year’s Day, when Mrs Dim was collecting resolutions from the family, I was careful not to include any specifics. Yes, I want to write another full length play this year. I have an outline for a musical that Steve at TLC is determined will see a final draft. But after ten years as a writer, I am all too aware of the “sprint start” phenomenon of the New Year.


Full of the potential of a New Year, Writer Bob makes his resolutions: “Write my Novel. Find an agent. Go to the gym.” He’s excited, it’s all going to happen this year.


A fortnight in, Writer Bob is struggling. The novel isn’t going well, because there have been loads of people off over Christmas, so work is demanding a lot of his time. Until he finishes the novel, there’s no point in looking for an agent. He doesn’t have time for the gym either. Besides, they’re probably full of idiots trying to lose the weight they gained over Christmas…


As February closes, Writer Bob realises he’s lost his grip on writing. He reapplies himself, drawing up a new timetable. A more realistic timetable. More…flexible. But he’ll definitely be finished by the end of the year. As long as he takes his laptop on that two week holiday. And writes every day when he’s there. THEN he’ll get an agent. Bugger, he forgot to go to the gym again. Perhaps he can join online, then he can just drop in on the way home….Shame he can’t work out online. Isn’t there an app for that yet?


Summer is here, and Bob can tell because the rain is nice and warm. His novel is nagging at him, calling to him while he struggles through his day job, but the weird thing is, as soon as he sits in front of his computer, every brilliant line that occurred to him vanishes. The characters clam up, the plotline fizzles out and he finds himself writing dull, pointless details of events that don’t move the story along. He found the details for an agent that represents an author he admires, but now he’s too scared to call. What’s he going to say to them? “I’ve written part of a story where the hero takes three pages to negotiate the purchase of a second hand car…” . No. The novel needs an overhaul before he calls. To be completely honest, the novel needs a plot and another eighty thousand words. He still hasn’t been to the gym, but last week he did ten sit ups. Well, eight. Alright, five proper ones and a couple that were almost there.


Writer Bob is excited again. He may be kicking his way through the leaves of autumn, but he’s just read THE GREATEST BOOK OF HIS LIFE! It’s all about how to write a novel in just forty three days! Everything is laid out in simple steps! Just follow the steps and you can’t fail! He read the book in a frenzied night, too excited by what he saw to do the mini-tasks at the end of each chapter and the Maxi-Tasks at the end of each section. I mean, obviously, he’s GOING to do them, how could he not? Forty three days, that’s just…well, okay, it’s just this side of Christmas, so he’d better get a move on. Tonight, he’ll sit down tonight and…no, wait, damn, there’s that thing he has to do. Tomorrow. Definitely. The weekend at the latest. Why, in only forty three days he’ll be chatting to an agent about his new novel! He can’t wait! Bob kicks leaves happily as he strolls past the gym. He stops on the way home to buy more beer.


It’s the work Christmas Party. Sorry, the company Winterval Socialisation Event. Bob is almost completely socialised. He’s been leaning against the wall by the bar for the last hour, telling people how this book he read by…you know…er…someone…wrote that book…got made into the film with that actress….you know….yes, just a small one, thank you. Anyway, it’s a great book, given me a real kick up the…I said a small one!No, don’t take it back now, good health! Yeah, I’m really gonna finish that novel now. How long? Well, I’ve been, you know, dipping in and out. We can’t all be full time writers, can we? Need to get out in the fresh air from time to time, get some exercise. What’s that? Yeah, I’ve been meaning to join a gym, why do you ask?

Happy New Year, Writer Bob.