A Day in the Life of an Author - with Paul Cornell

Having worked in publishing for so long I know that, from the outside looking in, it can seem a rather bewildering and daunting industry.  Most readers don't know how long it takes to put a book together, the process involved in getting a script from (a)uthor to (b)ookshelf. It takes a hell of a lot of work both from the author and publisher and all those in between including typesetters, printers and booksellers. It's usually between 12-18 months before a delivered script will see the inside of a bookshop. So what happens during that process?

Well I thought it would be useful to run a series of posts from professionals in the industry - all the way from the author through the publishing process and out the other side to booksellers and reviewers. 'A day in the life of . . .' - giving a brief insight into the people and roles that are involved in getting a book from a concept through to an actual physical product. 

To start us off - we begin with the author.


Paul Cornell is an award winning writer of novels, comics, short fiction and non-fiction, as well as a TV screenwriter for Doctor Who and many other series. Paul’s supernatural crime novels – the Shadow Police series – are set in a slantwise version of our reality. Book two, The Severed Streets, sequel to London Falling, is out now. He tells us how he spends a 'typical' day as a writer.  

My wife and I share equally the childcare of our two year old, Tom, when he's not at nursery, so I spend some of Tuesday afternoon, and all of Thursday afternoon, looking after him.  Apart from that, I try to be at my desk from around 7am every weekday to sometime in the late afternoon, when my brain is too tired and I'll either go for a run or fall over.  I'll take a half hour at lunch to listen to podcasts, still at my desk. 

I'm one of those writers who tries to do a set amount of work each day: 2000 words of prose, or five pages of comic or TV script.  Sometimes, under pressure, I have to double scoop, doing two of those units.

Unfortunately, a writer's life also involves plotting and pitching, which means some of that time I'll spend staring at a document.  That mental work continues always, so I have a notebook on my iPad to keep track of ideas that come when I'm away from my desk.  When I'm asleep it's beside my bed. 

I'm a great believer in just starting to write.  You'll keep editing it until it's okay, so why not start now?  But when I'm preparing a long work, first I need an in-depth plot.  That's for my eyes only.  There'll be one big document on screen and a notepad on my desk beside it, with everything on it that doesn't yet have a place in the document, like set pieces, bits of dialogue, character notes. 

Pitching is a different art, writing very sparsely for a specific audience.  I knock all my pitches back and forth with my agent until we're both happy. 

There's also promoting, blogging, social media, but if that doesn't feel like fun you're doing it wrong.  Talking to my audience on Twitter is a relief, not a task.  While working, I tend to write a bit, check Twitter for a moment, check Facebook for a moment, maybe play a game for a few moments, go back to writing.  I'm told that's come to be recognised as the most productive way to work, but everyone's different.  When I'm focussed on a book, in the final stages of a draft, I can look up and see the whole day has gone by. 

To my mind, there's no such as 'writer's block', but I do recognise a related problem, where one's unconscious knows one has made a mistake, and doesn't want one building on top of it.  That manifests in me in vast self-doubt and horrors.  All I have to do to cure them is look back a couple of pages and find what's wrong.  My wife has learned to recognise this condition and nudge me in the right direction.

I have a standard sentence for those wanting to be writers, and I think it holds true.  It's your job to seek out harsh criticism of your work and change as a result.  You don't get to be a boxer without getting hit.  

Thanks to Paul for sharing his day with us. Of course every author is different and they all have a varied approach to getting the words down onto paper. For most they are writing alongside a full-time job and having a life - trying to balance all three aspects is never going to be easy. But having spoken - and worked - alongside some fabulous authors for many years - I also know that the thought of not writing, isn't even a possibility for them.  Most going into the business will hope and aspire to giving up the day job at some stage and writing full-time, but this only happens for a very small minority. Despite the difficulties involved, the lack of time, money, the frustrations encountered in finding agents and publishers, they continue to plug away at it - determined to get their stories out there. And, like any book lover out there, I'm thrilled that they do. 

Next time: A Day in the Life of an Agent - with Juliet Mushens