Why Your Brain Is Like A Battery

One of the most commonly asked questions that writers are asked is “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

Cover for Damage Time by Chris Moore

Before I answer that, I’m going to digress:

Ideas are the easy part, a lot of the time.  Writing stories is harder. A story requires a narrative arc -that’s the fancy term for beginning, middle and end- adequate characterization, and a plot (the resolution of the conflict you’ve created in your story), as well as your idea.

That’s why I always tell budding writers they should write a lot, and write every day. You should write a lot, because that’s how one learns any skill. Musicians, sportsmen, writers – anyone who wants to get better at something, needs to practice. You think a concert pianist just plonks themselves down in front of the piano on the big day? Really?

It’s dangerous of course to be too prescriptive, but I really don’t know anyone who -on a long-term basis- works in a different way.

So write 30 minutes every day than to write nothing for six days and splurge out with three or four hours of intensive writing once a week. Imagine that your brain is a car battery (you wondered when that was coming, didn’t you?). If you park your car in the garage every day for weeks on end, it drains it, so that the car  won’t run. Writing for a while is like running the car – it does it good to get out and about.

But like a battery, your brain needs constant recharging as well, in this case through reading other writers -as well as maybe going to the cinema or the theatre, travelling, or just having a change of scene — anything that provides fresh stimuli, but especially other writers. Read beyond your genre wherever possible, because when you absorb other people’s ideas and styles, as inevitably you will, the wider the source you have, the less limited you will appear.


And that, dear reader, in a very roundabout fashion, is where I get my ideas from – from reading a lot of books and internet posts, from walking a lot, and from constant, constant practice.


I’ll be coming back to this at some point in the future.

• July 27th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

This Last Week

On Saturday, I indulged a little home-assembled time travel. I managed to blag a spare ticket from a friend to the 2011 Graduation Day, and a foretaste of what I may be doing in one year’s time – assuming that I pass my exams. I suspect that I won’t be too observant next year, that the  day will fly by. But unless the uni make wholesale changes, I’ll have had a useful dress rehearsal.

That was about the only relief last week from a punishing schedule – I’ve now delivered a sample chapter and synopsis for the new book, but getting it done that every spare second was eaten up – I even ate at times staring at the laptop.

This week should be a little easier, starting with the monthly meeting of the Bristol SF and Fantasy Society.  A few drinks, some good company….

• July 25th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

More On Workshopping & AltFiction

Only three days now until I take my first workshop at AltFiction. If you’re interested to see who else is teaching what subjects at the event, read on. And full details are here.

Saturday the 25th


Rod Rees – The All-Important First Page


Tony Ballantyne – How to Make Your Writing Boring


Kim Lakin-Smith – Fleshing the Bones – Dark Fantasy and Characterisation


MD Lachlan – Start Your Fantasy Novel – Six Principles for Success


Colin Harvey – Creating a Science Fictional Setting


Graham Joyce – Writing Sharp Dialogue


Graham McNeill?

 SUNDAY the 26th


Paul Finch – Prose to Screenplay


Juliet McKenna – Every Word Must Count


Dan Abnett – Shooty Death Kill in Space 101


Jonathan L Howard


Paul Kane/Marie O’Regan – Setting and Location in Genre Fiction

My workshop’s topic slightly overlaps with Paul and Marie, except they’re taking a broader approach, since setting a location in SF can differ slightly from other genres; nonetheless, it’s good to know that if people miss one workshop, there will be others covering similar themes; in fact, there are five different panels covering the start of a novel from different angles.

Perhaps I should have picked closing a story as my topic?

• June 22nd, 2011 • Posted in Appearances • Comments: 0

Workshopping at Alt.Fiction

As I posted about three weeks ago, I’ll be one of about a dozen or so writers conducting one hour workshops at Alt.Fiction on the 25th and 26th of June.

Others include Dan Abnett, Tony Ballantyne, Paul Finch, Graham Joyce, Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan, Kim Lakin-Smith and Juliet E. McKenna.

It’s going to be left to the individual tutor what subject they cover, and what methods they use.

At the moment workshops are predominantly fantasy or at least cross-genre oriented, so I’ll be focusing on SF. The workshop will be titled ‘Creating A Science Fictional Setting’ and (subject to change)  will run between 3 and 4 p.m. on Saturday 25th.

I’ll be happy to workshop previously written pieces, specifically from the perspective of how the setting is worked out and explained (although time permitting, we’ll look holistically at the entire story), but if you’re attending and you don’t have any previously written work, I’m quite prepared to collectively workshop settings from scratch.

You decide. If you want to go, here’s the link to the membership page. I hope you come – the more brains we bring to this the better!

• June 15th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Events, Writing • Comments: 0

Final Stats on Hours Worked

The final stats for the academic year 2010-11…

Awaaaaay back at the beginning of December, I blogged about keeping a track of how many hours I worked each day and on each subject; the four modules that I was taking , plus general reading, blogging, networking and most importantly, writing. And ‘others,’ which I think is pretty much self-explanatory.

I worked a grand total of sixteen hundred and fifty hours a week; over the thirty weeks of the academic year (inluding holidays) I’ve worked fifty-five hours a week. February was my busiest month, working sixty-one hours a week. But tiredness is as much a cumulative result of working long hours and sleep debt….

In terms of work split, I did about one hundred and sixty hours each on Writers Workshop and Feature Journalism, and about one hundred eighty on Film and Genre. But Genre has yielded three short stories and two novel outlines, so it was worth it.

 I spent just over two hundred hours writing fiction that wasn’t involved with uni, and two hundred and five reading (but not for class). Another one hundred and eighty on networking – going to cons, and on social networks, and about one hundred and ninety hours each on blogging and reviewing, and on Others.

On the positive side, it meant that nothing ended up being neglected. On the downside, I’ve found it hard not to note the time this morning, despite it only ever being an eight-month experiment…

So that was my year (well, eight months of it, anyway) – what did you do in yours?

• June 1st, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0

Film Evening

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’ve been taking as one of my electives the Planning & Making A Film module, which includes a separate film blog.

Last night came the big emotional pay-off, as the eleven short films made by the students were shown at Bath’s Little Cinema. It was almost a red carpet evening- outfits verged from student-chic to dinner jackets- with host Mike Johnston donning a wholly appropriate tuxedo (He’s on the left of this shot with the winning team).

Our film, Heads or Tails was first up which meant that we got to relax after that and just enjoy the show. Sadly, we didn’t win; See What I Say deservedly won both the audience and the critic’s awards, but it was enjoyable just to see it up on the big screen.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the module, and also to one of the crew, as Jaeeun flies home to Japan at the end of June. I have one more tutorial and then the academic year 2010-11 is officially over, but it felt very much like the end of term last night.

I never thought I’d say it, but I’m almost sad it’s over.

• May 20th, 2011 • Posted in Events • Comments: 0

Blackbird Update

It’s going to be a relatively short blog today. I’ve finally finished the last assignment for uni; I spent 45 hours last week –out of a 64 hour total– working on that damned essay, but now I’ve finished it, I’m finding it hard to start anything else.

So I’m going to keep the rest of today’s blog to the now weekly update on our feathered lodgers. Last week the kids left the nest, to take their chances in next door’s garden. Yesterday we saw one of them for the first time since they left, sitting in our apple tree (so he’s learned to fly, even if it’s only short distances).

It’s good to see him. Hopefully, we’ll see more of them.

• May 15th, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0


I’m onto the last section of the first draft of my Text Analysis  for Genre – just crime left to do now. The downside is that I’m already 400 words over target, despite cutting the SF section down to the bone (I cut it from 1300 to 900 words, barely enough to cover all the points, one of Anthony’s priorities). I’ve spent close to 30 hours on this damned paper…

But I had a nice surprise this morning; by a lovely piece of synchronicity, as I was working on the horror section, the postman came. Kate put a parcel on the table, which I opened…to reveal…(drum roll)

A new horror anthology.

And I’m in it. I write very little horror, but I do like to keep my hand in. And I’m second on the Table of Contents, with ‘Dark, which is rather nice.’ You can obtain copies from here.

• May 13th, 2011 • Posted in Books • Comments: 0

Books, Books, Everywhere…

At the last count, I have eleven of them scattered across my dining room table. Jestse de Vries’ Shine, The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gothic Romanced by Fred Botting, Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder.

They’re all of them staring at me, silently urging me to pick them up. That I can only read one at a time is academic.

It’s Genre Textual Analysis time…so blogs are on hold (this one’s been frantically typed in five minutes prised from Moorcock and Roberts’ cold, still hands.

Back later.

• May 11th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Breathlessly Back to Acadamie

The alarm rang at 5.30 this morning – yes, it’s Summer term. Having done a 58-hour week last week (some holiday) it’s hard to notice any difference.

I left the house at 7.30, and caught the train into Bath, where a charming gentleman at the station refused to sell me the Plusbus part of the ticket I caught for uni, on the principle that I should have bought it in Keynsham. My argument that the station can’t actually issue PlusBus tickets cut little ice with him. Finally, he relented after consulting his supervisor– and I just about caught the orange bus into campus in time for the lecture. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, since missing this one might have affected my mark…

After much more rushing around I managed to get home at about 2.30, and even now I’m still catching my breath…

I shall return -hopefully less out of breath than today- tomorrow!

• May 9th, 2011 • Posted in Interviews • Comments: 0