Mick Finlay: Six things I try to avoid when writing a novel

Today we publish the fourth book in Mick Finlay’s gripping Arrowood mystery series, Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders! To mark the occasion, we’ve asked Mick to tell us a little bit about his writing process. Here’s what Mick tries NOT to do when writing!

1. Telling people what I’m writing

I’m happy to give others a general idea of what I’m doing, but I absolutely avoid details about characters and plot development. I’d much rather present my ideas on the page, and do prefer to avoid other people’s ideas about what I could in my book, excellent though they often are.

2. Writing

No, not really. I’d never get anywhere with an attitude like that. But I do avoid trying to work out what’s going to happen in the story while I’m at the keyboard. I find that my best ideas for character points, plot developments, and relationship tensions come when I’m walking. So, I walk every day, notebook in my pocket, and let my imagination go free.

3. The early afternoon

I’m often overcome with weariness in the afternoon and the only thing I can do to avoid it is practical tasks like cleaning and shopping, or taking a walk. My brain is just no good for writing (and not much good for talking!) at these times, so I try and arrange my day with free space to write in the morning and early evening.

4. Work

I work part-time in a university and I find that even spending two hours on that on a writing day just makes me stressed and fills my head with little niggles. Working from home in lockdown, I found it much harder to separate this work from my writing. I took a week of annual leave earlier in the month and resolved not to check my work email. I felt so much happier with my writing, my enthusiasm returned, and the ideas flowed. So now I’m going to stop trying to mix my workdays with my writing days, which had become the norm for me since lockdown began.

5. Biscuits

I don’t have a biscuit until my afternoon cup of tea. In the morning I eat oatcakes.

6. Music with words

I like to have something on in the background when I write, something that creates an atmosphere for concentration, but I avoid anything with words. There is some research showing that this makes reading comprehension and working memory worse, and I assume it’s going to distract me from my own words. I put on classical, jazz, or electronic music. I’m still trying to work out what types of instrumental music gets me in the best flow for writing, but at the moment I’m most comfortable with slower and more ‘roomy’ pieces by Jon Hopkins, Steve Reich and Max Richter, and Mogwai. I’d really welcome any more recommendations for ‘flow’ music; get in touch @mickfinlay2.

We’re not quite sure we could go without biscuits, but we love this insight into Mick Finlay’s writing world! Discover his latest book and the rest of the Arrowood series here.

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