How do you discipline yourself as an author? I approached my first novel like an SAS mission. I had a 95-page blueprint with a page for every scene listing characters, locations, action and snippets of dialogue. I was writing that book while working pretty much full time, so that blueprint was my lifeline. If a month went by without any writing time, I could pick up the story threads within a few hours. Second time out, I got carried away with planning and wrote 50,000 words of notes before I even got started. Never again! I’m working on my third novel now, and I’m using a simple but detailed outline. The book is a novel in episodes and the theme is flowers so I’m trying to let it grow like a garden. So far so good!
Do you have a routine? I intersperse bursts of writing with advertising work. When I’m writing ads, I have a brief and a deadline and someone else to bounce ideas off. I also have a great excuse to nip out and buy a bar of Galaxy. It’s definitely harder to structure my days when I’m writing. Right now, my day goes something like this. 7.20 Cup of coffee. 7.45 drive my husband to the Dart. 8.00 Walk Haggis on the beach 9.00, have breakfast and second cup of coffee and read a poem. Switch on ‘Concentrate’ – a piece of software that blocks social media sites while I write. Write 500 words. 1.00 Break for lunch. 2.30 Write another 500 words.
Is it hard to work on your own? Not when I am working on ideas. The actual writing part can be lonely sometimes though. I don’t even notice that I’m on my own when it’s going well but if I get stuck, I am very easily derailed. I’ll find myself getting distracted by the dog wanting an ear rub, the doorbell ringing, and the pigeons getting amorous outside my window. My friend, the writer Helen Seymour, has given me a great tip for getting unstuck though – watch other writers talking about writing on YouTube. It works!
What is the secret of work/life balance? I wish I knew. I am better at it now than I’ve ever been but I’m not there yet. I definitely wish I’d listened to all those experts who said that exercise is good for you. I’ve joined lots of gyms but I only started actually going two years ago. Now I know that, no matter how frazzled I am, an hour in the swimming pool will soothe me. I try to take weekend off and I’ve started playing ping-pong. An hour leaping around after a little white ball is a wonderful antidote to week spent sitting at a desk.
Best advice you were ever given? I love this advice that Maeve Binchy gave to her niece Sarah so much that I’ve borrowed it for myself. ‘Learn to type. Learn to drive. Have fun. Write postcards. (Letters take too long and you won’t do it, a postcard takes two minutes.) Be punctual. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. They are not thinking about you. Write quickly. (Taking longer doesn’t usually make it better.) Get up early. See the world. Call everybody by their first name, from doctors to presidents. Have parties. Don’t agonise. Don’t regret. Don’t fuss. Never brood. Move on. Don’t wait for permission to be happy. Don’t wait for permission to do anything. Make your own life.’
What advice would you give your 25 year old self? Be nicer to your mother, you won’t always have her. Don’t wait another ten years to get a dog. Don’t wait another fifteen to start writing. Oh, and do you remember that English guy who read your palm in the bar in Crete last year? The one who said you would meet the love of your life when you were forty? You should have asked him for the Lotto numbers, because he was right.
Ella Griffin is a bestselling novelist and award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Wicklow with her husband. Her second novel, ‘The Heart Whisperer’ (Orion) is out in paperback (€8.99)And her book of Kindle shorts ‘A Little Bit of Summer’ (Orion) is available on Amazon (99p)