Time Management: The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Book by Leeanne O’Donnell

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Leeanne ODonnell (c) Kevin Murphy

Leeanne O'Donnell

How to write a book: the nuts and bolts of it all.

On a day that you have set aside for writing – when you have the house to yourself and no other work scheduled, this is how to proceed.

First empty the dishwasher, wipe the kitchen surfaces, feed the dog, if it’s summer have a quick look to see what’s growing in the garden, pull a few weeds, consider cutting the grass, if it’s winter think about ordering more firewood, check the leaking gutter. Return to the house and pop on a wash, check the direct debit date on the electricity bill, wonder about Arts Council grants, feed the cat, book the car in for a service, make a cup of tea in your favourite mug.  Call your sister to see how your uncle is, scramble some eggs for an early lunch. Leave the eggy saucepan soaking because you have a book to write. Now walk the dog.

Got it ?

Do none of this. On days that you are actually going to progress towards the completion of an actual book that might exist in the real world and have real readers, it is vital that you do NONE of this.

Do this instead. Sit somewhere where you can see a slice of blue sky, where the natural world around you can inspire you. Listen to the birds, allow your mind to open to inspiration, feel the magic of the earth stirring beneath you. Await the muse. Write a beautiful sentence. Reread the sentence, wonder if it is maybe not entirely beautiful. Rewrite the sentence. Look at the sky. Delete the sentence.

No. Do not do this either.

Sparks of Bright MatterOn a day when you are going to progress towards the completion of an actual book you can sit or stand, you can put on a ballgown or you can stay in bed in your pyjamas. You can use a pen or a HB1 pencil, you can use a laptop or a vintage typewriter you bought on eBay, you can hide in the hot-press or you can sit in the local library. The thing you have to do, the only thing you absolutely must do is write one word after another. And the only way to do that – which I discovered at my lowest ebb of grief and despair – is to write one individual letter after another until they make a word and then leave a space and write another one. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

I’m not an advocate of this ruthless approach to writing all day every day – I like my life and I love my family and friends and cats and dogs, who do in fact need to be fed and walked.  I don’t want to always exclude them from my consciousness so that I can put letters down on a page one after another. Life is for living not just for writing.  Life feeds writing. And writing aside, life is precious and deserves to be fully lived.

But on the days, or half days, or quarter days when you have decided to be available to write then be available – be ruthless.

Don’t even look at the kitchen, close your eyes if you need to walk through it, don’t look down in case the floor needs to be swept, don’t look up in case there is a gutter leaking, don’t open any post, turn your phone off. Be ruthless, be selfish. Be selfish for your book. It needs your undivided attention. Sometimes I wear earplugs so I can’t hear anything apart from the letters and words forming in my head.  I’m wondering about trying to find blinkers of the sort racehorses wear for the my next book.

Don’t edit it (much) as you write – if it turns out to be and good and worth trying to get published then you will have to edit it about 17 million times again anyway, so try to keep moving forward.

Until they start to care, remember nobody else cares. It’s your job to make them care – to make them think this book is worth caring about, that there’s some kind of urgency in the story or in the characters that justifies taking their attention from the one million brilliant books already in existence.

There will be days or parts of days when the words flow, when you have a giddy stream of insights into your character or the plot. It will be marvellous and intoxicating. It might feel like the best thing in the whole, wide world. But on the days when even you don’t care, when writing seems boring and inert and not worth missing out on real life for – just put one letter down after another until it makes a word, leave a space and keep going until you have a sentence.

(c) Leeanne O’Donnell

Author photograph (c) Kevin Murphy

About Sparks of Bright Matter:

Sparks of Bright MatterWhen ambitious apprentice chemist and secret alchemist Peter Woulfe is tasked with caring for a mysterious illustrated book, the Mutus Liber, he quickly realises that the grimy underworld of Georgian London is even more dangerous than he first believed.

Soon the book is stolen by the light-fingered Sukie and Peter finds himself being pursued by threatening men who are willing to do anything to get the book back. Where in teeming London might Sukie be found? Why is Peter so enthralled by her? And what is it about the Mutus Liber that is so enticing? As the search for the book becomes an urgent game of cat and mouse, it seems that the key to Peter’s present dilemma might only be found in half-remembered events from his childhood, and then further back still, in the mists of Irish myth.

A spell-binding and unputdownable tale about spirit and matter, love and lust, and reality and magic.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Leeanne O’ Donnell started her storytelling career working in radio with RTE and BBC, and has made a number of award-winning radio documentaries. Sparks of Bright Matter is her first novel, which she wrote from her home on the foothills of a mountain in the remote south west of Ireland.

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