How long did it take you to write your first book?
I wrote my first novel, The Other Half, in about nine months. I was working as a copywriter at the time three-days-a-week, so that’s much faster than I would write a novel now. The Other Half was published by Orion in 2001, and republished by Picador following the success of One Moment, One Morning (my third novel) in 2012. I thus was afforded a luxury not many authors enjoy: I could re-edit my book with the benefit of hindsight. I slashed 20,000 words from the original, and tried to improve it so it was more ‘show’ and less ‘tell’. I guess what I’m saying is the fact I wrote it so fast showed when I reviewed it. In that initial draft I tended to lay everything on with a trowel and not trust my readers’ intelligence.
What’s your worst procrastinating habit?
I don’t think I procrastinate that much, in all honesty, or not any more. Perhaps it’s that I’m over 50, and I don’t feel I’ve as much time to waste as I did! I tend to be the sort of person who answers emails when they come in and gets tasks and duties over with in the early part of the day. Otherwise I find obligations hang over me, and I hate that feeling. Then again, maybe I’ve always been that way. When I was at university I used irritate my friends by working ‘steadily’ throughout the year. Five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week – that was my aim. How obnoxious of me! I’m surprised anyone befriended me at all.
How do you stop yourself doing it?
These days, one way I keep on top of things is lists. I have a wipe-board above my desk, and I write down everything I have to do on it: groceries we need to buy, ideas for book promotions, blogs I need to write and so on. If it’s not on my list, it doesn’t get done. I failed to write this Q&A on my list, and I completely forgot to do it, so it’s not a fool-proof method, clearly!
Do you listen to the interminable Inner Critic? How do you keep him/her quiet?
I find I need to be in touch with my feelings to write – so initially I have to bury my inner critic. I find having a daily target in terms of a word count is a good way to do this – and, unlike some writers, I aim to write only 500 words a day. The great thing about having a low target is that it’s easy to reach, and often I’ll exceed it and write 1000 words or more. But if it’s only 500, that’s fine, too. Then I have to bring out my inner critic to help with redrafts and feedback from my editor. ‘Slay your darlings’ is what they say, and it’s good advice – it’s important not to be overly precious about your work.
Quick tip for aspiring writers?
Whilst I imagine other authors might say nice encouraging things like ‘try, try again’ and ‘it took so-and-so 30 rejections before their work was accepted and now she’s a best-selling author’, I would say ‘learn to hone your writing’. Edit and re-edit your work so you avoid repetition and clichés. Keep your viewpoints consistent, check your tenses don’t jump about, and take a hatchet to superfluous passages when need be. I get asked to read a lot of stuff – goodness knows what agents and editors get – and a lot of it is lazily written. Would-be novelists should learn to be tough on themselves. There are more tips on my website – you’ll find them here.
Sarah Rayner is the British author of five novels including the international bestseller One Moment, One Morning and the follow-ups The Two Week Wait and Another Night, Another Day, which are also set in Brighton and feature the same characters.
Recently Sarah has published three self-help books: Making Friends with the Menopause and two Making Friends with Anxiety books, one of which includes illustrations for colouring-in. She lives in Brighton with her husband and step-son.
Follow Sarah on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @creativepumpkin
Buy the books here!