writing a book

So, I’m writing a book

This week, I decided to start writing a book. Yes, again.

If you’ve been reading this blog for many, many years, you may recall that I’ve been failing to write books since the age of 11. Actually, that’s not quite fair: I DID finish one when I was 11 (‘Ponies Galore’, for the benefit of those of you who couldn’t be bothered clicking that link…), but I haven’t finished one since then, and, to be completely honest, I suspect that what my 11-year-old self considered to be a “novel length” piece of writing was probably what my current self would consider to be a reasonably short blog post.

A while back, however, it occurred to me that the reason I never manage to finish any of these novels of mine is because I’m just not good at writing fiction . For some reason, people always want to argue with me when I say this, and to tell me that why, OF COURSE I could write fiction. While I appreciate their confidence in me, though, I also know that if any of them had ever actually  read one of my many attempts at fiction, they’d quickly realise that every single story I’ve ever attempted involves the adventures (and I use that word in its loosest possible sense) of a redheaded Scottish girl, who grows up in a small town, starts a blog, and then nothing much really happens to her, except sometimes there are socks in the toilet, and how did that happen, huh?

They’re all about me, in other words. And I can write about ME, no problem. Sometimes I can knock out 10,000 words, all about my very own self, in a single sitting. If I try to write about people who are Not Me, however, or situations that have Not Actually Happened… that’s where I run into difficulties. I know: you’d think my vast experience with all those imaginary horses would have prepared me for this, and that creating imaginary worlds would be second-nature to me, but you’d be wrong.

Actually, any time I try to write fiction, I feel really awkward about it: like, I’ll even be sitting there TYPING in an awkward way, kind of glancing over my shoulder every few seconds, and laughing uncomfortably, as if to say, “God, I’m just totally MAKING THIS UP! Esmeralda Von Huntington-Smythe isn’t even a real person! And how would the Earl have bumped into her in the small Scottish village, anyway?”

I don’t really do “characters”, is what I’m saying. I’m also not too hot with the whole “plot” thing, because I’m basically limited to plots which involve people sitting at their computers every day, and occasionally committing random acts of stupidity. For years now, I’ve lived with the hope that something interesting would happen to me (Not TOO interesting, though: I like a lot of downtime, remember? I can’t be haring around the country, single-handedly solving centuries-old mysteries, or taking part in “fight to the death” reality TV shows, now, can I?), so I could finally write a thinly-veiled autobiography, and call it “fiction”, but left to my own devices, what’s my poor red-headed heroine to do?

It’s not like she’s going to one day get a letter informing her she’s been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or, against the backdrop of the civil war, learn the important lesson that tomorrow is another day, is she? So I normally get a few chapters of what I call “backstory”, and what you may recognise as “Amber talking about herself again”, and then I simply toss my fiery red hair and say, “Fiddle-dee-dee: I’ll just be a blogger!” (Sorry, I sometimes get myself and Esmeralda Von Huntington-Smythe mixed up…)

(I have never written about a character called Esmeralda Von Huntington-Smythe, by the way.)

(I HAVE, however, spent many a happy, but totally unproductive, hour wondering what to call my main character. Top tip: if you actually want to WRITE a book, try not to get lost down the rabbithole of “If I could choose my own name, what would that name be?” Trust me on this.)

Having accepted that I’m probably never going to write an ACTUAL novel, then, I was having a browse round Amazon’s ‘memoir’ section a few days ago, when I came across a few books which made me think. Not because I read them and they made me think, you understand: no, purely because they were memoirs written by non-famous people, who had simply written about their own lives – a bit like I like to do, actually. And, OK, most of those people had actually experienced something vaguely out-of-the-ordinary, which is WHY their memoirs were worth writing, but it still helped me realise that there’s really nothing stopping me writing about whatever I want. There’s no rule that states I HAVE to write fiction, after all, and if what I want to write is basically a memoir (albeit one in which nothing actually happens…), then why on earth not?

Of course, I’m under absolutely no illusions that anyone will actually want to publish this book (or read it, even…), but I guess I could always self-publish if I really wanted to, and, if nothing else, at least I’d be able to say I’d fulfilled my life’s ambition, by writing a book. (I’m not counting Ponies Galore, here…)  It would make me a more interesting party guest, for one thing: well, anything has to be better than the conversation-stopping, “Me? Oh, I’m a blogger. And what do you do?”

So I am writing a book. I’ve written 425 words so far. I mean, this blog post is longer. I’m trying not to think about the fact that I’ve already written more words about my plans to write a book, than I’ve written for the actual book. I’m also not really expecting to write a whole lot more of it this month, because I WOULD decide to start writing a book right at a time when I have wall-to-wall social engagements, and every spare second NOT spent socialising is having to be spent writing blog posts so I can socialise some more, wouldn’t I? I will do my best, though, (“My best” probably being “nothing” in this case…) and hopefully once the busy season is over, I’ll still actually want to do it. Fingers crossed, anyway.

(This is another reason I’ve never finished a book, actually: I’m always reading about writers who work five jobs, and get up in the middle of the night to tap out a few extra chapters, but I just can’t do it. I’m guessing I must not care about it enough, because when I’ve spent the whole day at the computer, writing blog posts, the absolute LAST thing I want to do is spend even MORE time at the computer, writing books. I know that if I was a REAL writer, I would do it anyway, because I would be so driven to get that story down on paper that nothing would stop me, but… there’s a reason I’m a blogger, is all I’m saying.)

Aaaand that’s all the news from this week! Oh, and also the kitchen is finally finished. Now all I have to do is deep-clean the entire house a few dozen times (ideally before tomorrow), and we can declare this Christmas season open for business…

How was your week?

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I also write books
  • This is so exciting, Amber! Like you, I’ve been writing books for as long as I can remember (including, when I was 7, a book of poetry with the immortal blurb “If you don’t like this book, the author will hunt you down”) and always, ALWAYS meant to get round to writing Proper Fiction. Unfortunately, I tend to get 1000 words in and lose momentum. My problem is plot. I love developing characters, coming up with their names and appearance, developing a backstory and complex interwoven relationships. As soon as I put these characters into some form of story, it falls apart.

    So I’ve decided to steer clear of fiction (for now) and write an educational book. (I’m a teacher by day so this makes perfect sense). I’ve yet to actually, you know, START the book but I have all the ideas!

    Good luck with your book! I would read it!

    December 6, 2014
  • Myra


    You do make me laugh, and that is a gift. I’m so glad everything went well for Terry on his recent tests. Whenever you mention the transplant I think of your wedding day and “the hero” speech and toasts, which were so emotive there were few dry eyes.

    I completely get not being able to write fiction, I can’t either, especially having spent years deconstructing fiction with my pupils in writing lessons. Maybe you need to finish the one about the red haired girl and then you might be able to move on to other characters, but then again, maybe not. And that’s fine too 🙂
    Don’t work too hard and have a great family Christmas xx

    December 6, 2014
  • tanya


    This is like reading about myself, point by point agree with everything! I’d also been pondering the idea of a memoir for some time now, but hey! I can’t even get the blog post together (another unfulfilled ambition of mine), and you already have 2 books worth of blogging. Why don’t you just go through your posts, choose the best ones, edit them here and there and voilà! the book will be born! I’ve been following you since 2008 and I think there’s plenty of material there. I would buy it, anyway…

    December 6, 2014
  • Jaynie


    I have to admit, this is kind of what I thought you should when you declared the last book project over (er, I’ve been lurking a long time, can you tell?). You do write about yourself very well — you’re funny, and genuine, and you seem to have a good enough grasp of your strengths and your faults that it wouldn’t come across as phony. The whole story of you and Terry and the kidney and moving to self-employment in a new industry is an interesting thread for the narrative, too. Plus, if you write a book about all of the Random Acts of Stupidity and the incidents with The Others, and publish it, I’ll be able to buy a copy for my mum and say “see? It’s NOT just me!” 😛

    I do like writing fiction, but it’s a lot of work sometimes. I can’t do the “a few hours every night” thing either — I need to make it a full time job (on top of being a full time student) and work eight hour shifts, basically — plus all of the overtime involved in planning and research. I think society sometimes oversells the idea of a creative genius who just comes up with the entire plot of a bestselling novel on the fly — the reality is, I think, a lot less romantic for most. The minute your writing process involves a year debating on the potential implications of the demographic characteristics of your lead, or mountains of Google Scholar notes on something that barely even makes it into the story is the minute non-novelists lose interest in your work!

    December 6, 2014
  • Nellie


    I agree with Jayne, I was hoping you would write a memoir type book. Most of us didn’t grow up as a cute red headed girl in Scotland who has a vivid imagination, and would love to read about what that was like. You most certainly are a “real” writer. One of my favorite aspects of your writing is your insight. I’m glad you have a life’s dream and that you are pursuing it. I think sometimes the everyday adventures are the best. Glad Terry is doing well 🙂

    December 6, 2014
  • Amber – so I don’t know if you know of Chuck Wendig, but I just read a great ebook of his called “30 Days In the Word Mines” which I think might help you, if you decide you do want to try making a go at fiction. One thing to keep in mind is that ALL your characters will be, to some extent, you, because they’re coming out of your brain. Sometimes it helps to pick one trait or quality about yourself and build a character around that. Best of luck! ^_^

    December 6, 2014
  • Ellesworth


    Good news about Terry’s check up! God yes, I’m well acquainted with the ‘fear’. My boyfriend has regular check ups for a different condition, and it always terrifies me.

    “I’ve spent the whole day at the computer, writing blog posts, the absolute LAST thing I want to do is spend even MORE time at the computer, writing books. ”

    What about writing it by hand, Amber? You could splash out on a really beautiful notepad, and then it would be time away from the computer as well as the visceral pleasure of using something pretty. 🙂

    December 6, 2014
  • So funny! Your post reminded me of the Cabbage Patch Kids, Musical adaptation I wrote when I was 11. Sadly it was never picked up for production, however I did go on to get a degree in screenwriting. Glad to hear Terry is healthy!

    December 6, 2014
  • This is such an entertaining post! I love you’re writing style and I would happily read a full length novel of it! I think having the dedication to continuing trying to write books from the age of 11 makes you a REAL writer 🙂 hope you enjoy your busy festive weeks to come.

    Heather x

    December 7, 2014
  • Oh, this is all so familiar. I always expected to “be a novelist” but all of my main characters are basically me with slightly different hair and I can’t bring myself to put her/me through anything too traumatic. I finally accepted I was unlikely to write a novel when I finally got a job in a press office – as you say, when you spend all day being paid to sit at a computer and write, the last thing I wanted to do was go home and write some more. Blogging currently fills that gap well enough.

    (but I hope you DO write a book sometime; I’d definitely buy it)

    December 8, 2014
  • Fiona


    I came back to find this post and comment because I wanted to say that if you wrote and published (or self-published) a book, I’d definitely buy it. I love your writing and as other commenters have said, you have great insight and humour. Do it!

    December 9, 2014
  • Emma


    I think this is my second comment ever, but I’ve been reading your blog for about four years now and I think you’d write an amazing memoir! You’d have people rolling about in stitches and getting emotional about goodie bowls…. So exciting! Go Amber!

    December 12, 2014
  • This is very exciting for you, I do hope you do it as it would be such an achievement!

    January 11, 2015
  • The first and only book I finished was Pod the Pea when I was 7, which I carefully illustrated and “bound” in a piece of folded over cardboard out of a packet of tights. I still have it somewhere… To this day, everyone around me frequently mentions the book “inside” me and asks when I’m going to stop this work malarkey and start writing my international bestseller. But, like you, my attempts at fiction embarrass me horribly! Every time I find one of my old attempts at writing a novel I cringe. I just can’t write make believe!

    As for your memoir… I’d read it! I’ve been away a while now, but jumping straight back into your blog you still engage me, and make me Laugh Out Loud. It will be awesome!

    February 18, 2015