I get asked a lot – make that all the time – how I’ve managed to make the transition to writing full-time (the holy grail) in such a short time and how I juggle both novels and scripts.
The answer is so straightforward, people assume I’m holding back some part of the magic formula, maybe a Masonic-like handshake that reveals how I make writing pay.
But it really is simple. I write.
All the time.
It is, however, the kind of writing and how you write, that matters.
When I started my writing career in 2015, I sat down for my very first interview with journalist/writer Sue Leonard. She’s not just a terrific champion of Irish writers. She’s a font of wisdom and she gave me the best advice: be flexible. Write in different ways, for different people.
Some people take years to craft the perfect work. I think I read somewhere that Elizabeth is Missing was five years in the making. It went on to be a massive success. It can happen. You can write even just one book in your life and it might take off, make you fabulously wealthy and you can pick and choose what/how you write next.
That, however, is the exception. Most people write one novel a year and most people still don’t earn enough when they’re starting out to turn that one novel a year into a salary. If you don’t have the mega debut bestseller, chances are your advances will climb marginally for each contract. Your name will gradually become more known. Your books will sell. You might get a TV option. You’ll climb the mountain. After four or five years you could be on healthy money and be able to go at it full-time.
But, if you’ve been keeping abreast of helpful pieces on this site, you probably know that very few writers are wealthy people and most writers scribble for the love of it.
Some of us, though, have bills, kids, lives. We want to do what we love all the time and for it to cover the mundane things like – the heating bill. Typing in freezing cold temperatures isn’t as romantic as it looks on TV.
Shortly after I got my first publishing deal, I left work to give writing a proper go. I’d been handed a huge opportunity with a massively respected publishers and I wanted to grab it. My husband had lost his job, we had four kids. I tell people it was like starting a small business, but really, it was like jumping off a cliff.
I had a plan, though.
That first year, I wrote two books. One, part of the series I’d been commissioned for. The second, a standalone thriller. It was a gamble and I sweated but it worked. The publishers loved the standalone. They wanted more.
Straight away, I had a contract for two books a year. The healthy earnings place was still far away, but there was a pinprick of light.
Meanwhile, I was doing all the gigs I was invited to, I was generating ideas for two novels a year, I was active on social media, I was networking – and juggling life.
Then, through that networking, I was lucky enough to meet a lovely producer who needed writers (and I’ve learned – producers always need writers, more below!) I swallowed my fears, the little voice saying ‘only other people do this’ and I pitched her an idea for a show. She wanted it.
It was another opportunity. With absolutely no screen-writing experience – I went online and figured out how to write in Final Draft, the screen-writing tool. Eighteen months later, my first TV show was on air. It wasn’t easy. I put blood and tears into it. But before it even aired, I was approached by another producer who wanted to option my books. When she discovered I could write for screen, she asked me to work on my own adaptations.
By the end of 2018, I’d been offered five different TV shows. Producers need writers and once you’re in – do your job well and it’s a domino effect. Everybody wants you.
Now, if this seems like a dream, let me tell you, it is.
Dreams in real-life, though, take hard, hard work.
I write all day, almost every day. I write fast – I’ve developed a technique of planning everything I write (for novels and scripts) which means when I put pen to paper on actual story, I’m working to a format I’ve set myself. I know the start, middle and end. I read everything. I watch a lot of TV. I go for runs and just . . . think. All of it generates new plots/stories. There are no wasted ideas.
We’ve small children so I don’t have a massive social life and I am home a lot anyway but I’m not exaggerating when I say I am a workaholic. You can’t write two books a year and five pilot episodes and not be a workaholic.
This mean taking calls on my holidays. Writing TV treatments at 11 p.m. Meeting a deadline of 15,000 words in a day, so tired at the end of it my hands almost fall off and my eyes are dry. I’ve sat in playzones with the kids and my computer open mid-chapter (shout-out to my fellow writer Sinead Crowley who started this online author picture club!)
Still sounding dream-like?
It’s tough. It’s tiring. It’s sometimes soul-destroying. You have to have talent. You have to be edit-friendly. You have to practice your craft. You have to get out there and meet people and be interested in others and get a buzz from what you’re doing. You have to make time for yourself and your family. But, if you are willing to work that hard and across writing styles – not only will you be part of a small club – you will really make this writing thing pay.
Plus, you’ll be in the lovely position of adapting your own novels.
(c) Jo Spain
About Six Wicked Reasons:
It’s June 2008 and twenty-one-year-old Adam Lattimer vanishes, presumed dead. The strain of his disappearance breaks his already fragile family.
Ten years later, with his mother deceased and siblings scattered across the globe, Adam turns up unannounced at the family home. His siblings return reluctantly to Spanish Cove, but Adam’s reappearance poses more questions than answers. The past is a tangled web of deceit.
And, as tension builds, it’s apparent somebody has planned murderous revenge for the events of ten years ago.
Order your copy online here.