On Writing was pleased to be able to interview Andrew Henley, author of "Black Hole Heartbeat"
Do you take criticism hard or do you have a thick skin? Have you ever received criticisms that you felt were unjustified or too harsh? Are you your worst critic?
Writers need to be their own worst critic, but also their own biggest fan. You need to be a cheerleader in a first draft, to allow yourself to get excited about a witty one-liner, a fun action sequence or whimsical flourish. But when you read it back, you also need to be brutal enough to chuck it in the trash.
In general though, I think it depends on who the criticism is from on how hard I take it. Whether a stranger on the street tells me the book is better than Jesus or worse than Hitler, I just smile and nod. I’ve never met this person before, so good or bad I can’t take their opinion to heart. I have a pretty thick skin but it’s often easier to read the harsh ones. Someone tells you it stinks then it just isn’t for them. Someone tells you they like it but…, then you’ve done something wrong. I think that helps build a thick skin because you listen to that person, decide if you agree, and if you do, change it. If you don’t, don’t.
What does your writing process look like? Did it take you a while to develop?
I don’t like to over plan before I start, and I’m a big believer in letting your writing lead you down its own path. Once I hit a brick wall, I sit down and plan out the next few chapters then go back to the more free-writing style.
I always set small goals for each writing session, usually to write 500 words (give or take), but occasionally it’ll be 750 or 1000. Very rarely it’s 250, but it happens. I prefer this style because it’s a motivator, and it allows you to write freely. I find myself sometimes adding in passages that I expect to cut later, and usually they do indeed get cut. Occasionally though, the writing surprises you. A lot of my writing features small moments or non-plot conversations where the characters’ personality shines through. I think my writing style has helped developed this. I teach creative writing, and I can always tell which of my students set themselves goals of ‘I’m gonna write this chapter today’, because the writing is rushed and too focussed on the plot. Writing in chunks might have taken them longer, might have made them cut more, but it would have fixed their pacing.
What does you editing process look like? Do you allow others to read your writing?
Editing can be monotonous and it can feel like you’re not making much progress, so I think you have to create a system of ‘easy wins’. I print the whole novel out, stable every ten or so pages together then go through each little booklet with a biro pen. First couple of times I just look to take out, but if I know something needs to be added, retconned or developed, I just throw in some asterisks. Then I type up my notes, mainly deleting for the first few, and go again. Once everything is out that needs to leave, I do the same, but this time I’m looking to add in the gaps where the asterisks are. This type of edit usually takes a lot longer. After I do this a couple of times, I let a few trusted people read it. While they’re doing that, I do a punctuation edit. Once I get their notes back, it comes back to what I said on the thick skin question. If I agree, I change it. If I don’t, I don’t.
Have you ever felt like quitting writing? If so how did you overcome those feelings?
I think I actually overcame them with Black Hole Heartbeat, and I’m not just saying that to promote the book! I did my degree in Creative Writing, but when the course finished I felt a bit aimless. I never wrote a screenplay at university, but a month after I left, I sat and wrote three in a week. They were mostly garbage, with maybe a few bits here and there to salvage. Anyway, it was pretty unhealthy and I kept putting pressure on myself to just keep writing, because I didn’t know what to do when I wasn’t writing. I wanted to write but without the stress of projects, so I started playing around with Mass Effect fan fiction. About 10 chapters in, I was getting a lot of compliments from people for my writing style, with a lot of criticism for not sticking to canon and killing off characters. But I was feeling better about writing in general, so I used the fan fiction ideas to inform the first draft of Black Hole Heartbeat.
What would be your advice for aspiring authors?
Write for yourself, don’t edit until you’re done and go for a walk. The first one should be pretty self explanatory; writing can be damn hard and if it doesn’t make you smile, why are you doing it? Don’t worry about whether anyone else will buy it, like it or even read it. The second one taps into the whole brutal cheerleader thing. Editing requires you to admit that most of your first draft isn’t good enough yet, and that can be soul destroying when you’re still finishing it. Once the last word is written, it’s so much easier to go back and tweak, because you don’t need to motivate yourself to keep going. Your mindset is fixed on editing, so you’re happy to change. The third one is a bit of a metaphor. I walk everywhere, and because it’s such a solitary activity, I find it great for getting ideas. You get to overhear conversations, meet weird and wonderful people and make up little headcanon stories for them. Combined with my style of letting the writing lead me, a lot of this overheard dialogue and mini headcanon episodes end up making it into my writing in one way or another. But not everyone will literally go for ‘a walk’. I think it’s more about finding an activity that you enjoy that can give you ideas for writing, but isn’t something you deliberately do to get ideas.
For more information about the author, click here.
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