Write ’em lean, keep ’em keen

I don’t know how other authors chart their ideas, but I keep an ideas folder on my computer. Every time an idea pops up, I create a new folder, and then scribble some notes in a word file (probably writing a synopsis too) and store it away. I’ll maybe even highlight the file in yellow!

If I’m working on the idea, I’ll highlight it in purple, just because I’m crazy. (I’d love to show a screen grab of the open window with all the idea folders, but it would be like revealing all my state secrets, and I sadly can’t do that.)

If I’m feeling really excited by an idea, I may draw some of the characters and save them in the folder too. The African Grey Parrot illustration above is one of those, from an idea that I’ve been working on for the past few months. I drew it before I’d written the story, and it really flavoured how I wrote the character.

Having all these folders means just one thing: when you finish one book, there are ideas fully formed and waiting to happen just sitting there in your computer. I believe I’ve got enough ideas stockpiled to last me at least for the next five years.

Now the point of this post is to talk about book length.

The lovely thing about writing for children is that books can vary from 100 to 50,000 words. Any longer and you’ve generally got boredom in book form.

I don’t get writer’s block. I don’t really think it exists. After all, if you work in an office doing accounts, and you spend a day watching the internet go by rather than accounting, you don’t have accountant’s block do you?

So if I get tired by doing a few hours work on one story, I’ll jump onto another idea and feel rejuvenated. This means that the ideas in those folders gradually get more worked up, and sometimes even get finished.

It’s here that I can say I finished the first draft of the novel that this parrot features in this week. It’s a secret thing, that no-one really knows about. It was in one of those folders, and gradually, in my spare time, I wrote it alongside my contracted work. I guess I work pretty hard, but I feel that if you want something finished, stop messing around and get it done.

I like to follow Stephen King’s advice that if you write a page a day in your spare time (maybe 300 words), you’ll have a book in a year. And obviously, if you’re writing a children’s book, you can write a lot of books in a year if you keep that speed up.

So there you go. This novel is 20,000 words – nice and lean – and I started it February. I have others coming to fruition too. And I find having a few ideas tumbling around at once keeps a fire burning in my belly for writing. Not all of my books are going to be this short (or this long), but the sense of completion is overwhelmingly positive.

So if any writer is feeling tired by their idea, my advice would be to step away and write a 3000 word young reader book about a space alien eating all the human pies in the galaxy. Writing ’em lean can really keep you keen.

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