How long did it take you to write your first book?
My first commercial book was published when I was 18, and I had started it at the age of 15 as part of a school project, so I guess the answer there is the guts of three years. However, my most recent novel – which is a very different, literary/historical beast – took over five years to write. I wrote it as part of my PhD, and did FAR too much research along the way. After I graduated, I spent another two years editing/tidying it up (and removing about half of the research I had shoehorned in). So yes, it was a more of a marathon this time, but it feels all the more satisfying because of it.
What’s your worst procrastinating habit?
Twitter. Laundry. Facebook. Tea. Twitter. Baking. Facebook. Gym. I’m not fussy about HOW I procrastinate, I’m just very very good at it.
How do you stop yourself doing it?
I write out really detailed schedules about how each day will unfold, with allotted timings for writing, exercise, laundry (!) etc. Sometimes they are REALLY specific – my best friend once found me with a precise slot allocated for my ‘tuna melt’ lunch. What can I say – I like a tuna melt!
Do you listen to the interminable Inner Critic? How do you keep him/her quiet?
Endlessly! Also, now that I work as a Creative Writing Lecturer (at the University of Birmingham) I spend my days giving feedback and critiquing new work, so it’s incredibly difficult to keep that side of me quiet when I’m working on my own stuff. I’m not sure I ever really succeed…
Quick tip for aspiring writers?
Just put the words on the bloody page! I think there’s such a temptation to think and plan and research and speculate and imagine and do character sketches and draw plot arcs and basically focus on all the million other things that aren’t actually words on a page. Personally, I think it’s so much easier to work on something when I have it out of my head and down onto paper/up onto a screen. Then the real figuring out can begin…
Ruth Gilligan is an Irish novelist, journalist and academic now living in London. Her fourth book, Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan, was inspired by the history of the Jewish community in Ireland and is published by Atlantic Books. Ruth lectures at the University of Birmingham and contributes regular literary reviews to the Guardian, TLS, Irish Independent and LA Review of Books.