David Guymer, best selling author for the Black Library, the Godfather of Gotrek and Felix has kindly written a guest blog for us. This is part one.
“Being a writer is like having homework every day”
This was Guy Haley’s characteristically brilliant answer to a question at Black Library Live a couple of years ago. It got a laugh, but it’s true. Difficult as it might be to imagine, being a writer is more difficult than becoming one ever could be. It means working at it every day. It means deadlines. It means that you’ll probably be earning less than whatever else you might be doing instead. It means that you won’t get out much.
I finished my latest novel, Slayer, with a blistering cold and working through the night while my baby daughter slept because I was a week past my deadline. Do you think there was a single moment where I didn’t wish I was in bed, dosed on Sudafed, and propped up with pillows while I caught up on Walking Dead? And yet I do it. And I keep on doing it, and but for a few days post-submission where I essentially close my eyes and go ‘aaahhhh’, when I’m not doing it I get twitchy. I should probably be worried that my mind’s become conditioned to that level of stress, but like so much in the life of a writer it’s best not to dwell on the negatives too much.
At the moment I’m between projects with a synopsis sitting with the editors, so you can imagine how pleased I was to be asked to write about what it’s like to write for Black Library and how, as a relative newcomer to the fold, I got started.
Anything to keep brain and fingers busy!
A gentle push
The question of how I got published is probably the one I get asked most often.
I like to think that the question crops up not out of a chronic sense of disbelief that a universe governed by physical laws could permit this to occur, but rather because there’s no true way to go about it. The internet seems to make it easier than ever to get published, with ever more outlets, advice and ways of getting your words into print. But like a supermarket with too much choice, the blizzard of options makes finding the one for you ever more bewildering. Perhaps one of the problems is that there’s no defined career ladder for a writer. No high school career advisor will tell you what you need to do to become one, there are no qualifications that will land you your first writing gig. The mystery lends itself a certain romanticism – the fact that I’ll never really know how Joe Abercrombie or Bernard Cornwell got started and became so successful makes the whole idea of trying to emulate them both a little heady and a little more than a little absurd.
But I’m still writing, as anyone with serious designs on this should. Every writer’s path to publication is going to be different, and mine is as much a tale of serendipitous timing and luck as it is about a gentle push and any kind of personal genius or hard work. That kind of ambiguity makes giving advice difficult, but damn it if I’m not going to give it a try!
I didn’t set out to be a writer. There was no burning passion for words firing me from a young age to pass up my free time and pursue this dream. The first ideas for a story stared to pepper me when I was 21, 22, and clearly not giving the PhD I was studying towards the attention it was due. But I didn’t do anything about it until much later on when my job, which I was finding pretty shitty in any case, moved me away from my girlfriend and I decided to pursue my writing because it was going to make me rich and famous enough that I would no longer have to live in my sad little shared house in Fenham.
More on riches and fame later…
For a long time I’d resisted taking a writing course on account of the fact that they cost money. In fact they cost what seemed like a lot of money. Luckily my girlfriend gave me the push I mentioned and I agreed to send off my money and sign up with the Writers’ Bureau. I know that some authors are sniffy about the merits of writing courses and I suspect they’re variable, but speaking solely for myself I doubt I’d be here today, asked to contribute to the Alternate Realities blog, if I hadn’t. There were so many little flaws and niggles in my writing that I rather stupidly already knew were wrong but having them pointed out to me for the first time forced me to actually address them.
Simple stuff really – too many adjectives, floating points of view, inconsistent tone, but stuff that’s equally simple to put right!
The lessons I took away weren’t complicated but they’re invaluable and I still fall back on them now. Well worth £200, even in old money.
So go do that.
A writing group would be another alternative, anything that’s going to get you useful feedback is something you want to grab whoever you are.
For part two, click here.