Saturday, 14 May 2011

Writing a Novel (Part Three): Good Days and Full Bin Days

Since handing over 15 Days without a Head to my publisher, I've been sitting down each day to write what I hope will become my next book. Some days the writing flows and I get lost in the story, sailing through a thousand words and barely noticing the time passing. Others are more difficult. When I'm not sure where the story goes, or when the words on the screen feel wrong.
Having a Full Bin Day
I call these Full Bin Days – when each page is metaphorically torn from the typewriter, screwed up and tossed in the bin. These are the days when writing anything feels like an act of faith, continuing to type even though your brain and every cell in your body is telling you it's a waste of time. 

On these occasions, I find it sometimes helps to remind myself that I'm not alone – that better writers than me have suffered days like these. Over the years I've amassed a collection of quotes to help me through such dark hours of doubt. I thought I might share a few, just in case anybody out there might be having a Full Bin Day too …

"Most days feel useless. I don't seem to accomplish anything – just a few pages, most of which don't seem very good. Yet, when I put all those wasted days together, I somehow end up with a book of which I'm very proud. Somehow I've now written eighteen books." Louis Sachar

"If you're going to make a living at this business … you have to realise that a lot of the time, you're going to be writing without inspiration. The trick is to write just as well without it as with. Of course, you write less readily and fluently without it; but the interesting thing is to look at the private journals and letters of great writers and see how much of the time they just had to do without inspiration. Conrad, for example, groaned at the desperate emptiness of the pages he faced; and yet he managed to cover them. Amateurs think that if they were inspired all the time, they could be professionals. Professional know that if they relied on inspiration, they'd be amateurs." Philip Pullman

"There's a lot of hard graft along the way. It feels precarious. I suppose it's like sculpting. You keep working away at a formless blob until some kind of form emerges. What keeps you working is the certainty that there is something in there." Julie Bertagna

"No topic is perfect. You just have to shut up and write." Natalie Goldberg

"She said, 'The way to say something is just to start saying the start of it, then everything will come out.'" From Clay, by David Almond

"It's important to write regularly. Discipline is as important as talent, perhaps even more important – a lot of books don't get written simply because talented people never sit down and actually write." Robert Cormier

"I've listened for years to the reasons why the book is not being published … he wants it to be perfect, so it will never happen. If you look at the first copy of The Big Issue, it is rubbish compared to what it has become. It was done very quickly. I didn't want it to be the best magazine in the world. If I had, I would still be waiting to launch it." John Bird, founder of The Big Issue.

And finally, my favourite, from The King himself:

"Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position." Stephen King


  1. Like the Pullman quote.

  2. Fantastic post, Dave. Particularly helpful is I'm coming off of an entire month of shit-shovelling days. Thanks.

  3. I definitely recognise these full bin days, Dave. I find I just have to write through those periods of 'stuckness' to become unstuck, as it were.

  4. This is all good advice, and I am especially guilty at not sitting down and getting on with it. Which of course, I should be right now! But there's also the aspect of not forcing yourself to sit at the keyboard on those days when you're feeling bad for other reasons. Those are the days when you need to get outside in the sunshine, eat an ice cream and tell yourself that writing isn't the most important thing in the world. That's also usually when the most brilliant idea drops into your head.

  5. It's the words that Dave rejects...

  6. Very fun post. I love reading quotes about writing even though I'm not a writer myself :)

  7. hi fin here, i'm looking forward to reading YOUR book!

  8. Thanks, Fin. Not too long to wait now. Only 108 Days Without a Book to go!