Joe Abercrombie On Writing

Today we’re delighted to welcome Joe Abercrombie back to the Gollancz blog, to talk about writing!


You’d think this would be the bit a writer would enjoy, but I have to say I find producing the first draft pretty hard, if not to say occasionally soul-destroying work. On occasion you’re visited by the muse, and the words pour forth like sweet wine from a heavenly amphora. But generally, it’s a bit of a slog. This is especially true early on, when starting a new book, and finding your way with new characters. Sometimes a character will just work right away, you quickly get a sense of what the person is like, what their concerns and their tone should be, they spill out fully formed. Other times, you might know their background, their role in the story, their physical appearance, but they feel like a total stranger. Writing from their point of view is like typing on a keyboard on which someone has moved around all the letters – confusing, effortful, dispiriting.

Morale can often slump in this phase – should I bin this character all together? Should I radically rethink them? Should I give up writing and become a hermit on the Shetland Isles? Don’t answer that. I find eyes fixed on the far horizon to be the best policy. Don’t think about what you’re treading in. You can always revise later and often find that even the most horrible, flabby and directionless-feeling chapter has plenty in it that can be salvaged. Aiming at a word count – insane though it is in one sense since 100 good words are gold dust and 1,500 crap words are worthless – is generally pretty helpful. I try for 1,500 a day, though output is hugely variable. There are good days where I might turn out 3,000 words I’m really happy with, then there are rubbish days where I might produce 1,000 that make me squirm.

When I finish a part I give it a look over, revise, cut and simplify, get a sense of where I stand now, and usually send it off to my editor and family so they can have a look and tell me I’m heading somewhere worthwhile. Or not. But I don’t really make changes at that stage, it’s more about looking forward, thinking about how I might do things differently from here on. Now it’s time to plan the next part in detail and get writing it. Generally speaking, each part gets a little easier than the last, as I become more familiar with the characters and their relationships, I work out in more detail where I want them to go and therefore what I need them to be. By the time I reach the end of my first draft, in spite of earlier hair-tearing, wailing at the skies and crises of confidence, I generally find things are moving pretty smoothly.

I am now feeling good about my book, and therefore about myself, and keen to go back to the start of my creation and smash it up a bit . . .

Check back tomorrow for more!

Joe Abercrombie is a full time writer and occasional freelance film editor who lives in Bath with his wife and three children. You can visit his website for more information, check out the cover for Red Country here, or follow the link to watch the teaser trailer for Red Country. You can pre-order your copy here .