Switching careers with success

 1 February 2011

Armagh-based author Stuart Neville tried and failed to make it as a rock star, but has now launched a career as a novelist. He talks about the differences between a successful writer and a novice, and tools he uses for his own creativity.

Stuart Neville tried to make it as a rock star, but has now launched a career as a novelist. 'The Twelve'  was a successful debut novel.
Stuart Neville tried to make it as a rock star, but has now launched a career as a novelist. 'The Twelve' was a successful debut novel.

Stuart is both a failed artist and a successful one. He worked hard at music, but didn't get his big break and decided to focus on writing instead.

His debut novel, ‘The Twelve’, was about an IRA killer haunted by the ghosts of his victims. The book took off to good reviews and award nominations, and he recently published a follow-up, ‘Collusion’.

Does this make him a creative dabbler, or just lucky?

Starting out as a writer

Stuart says luck doesn’t help if you don’t put in the hard work.

“I was not getting any younger. I had written about 60,000 words of a novel and realised it wasn't very good, and that I had kind of lost my grip on it. I ditched it.

"Six months later I came back and then wrote another novel, a complete novel. I revised it a few times and again realised it wasn't very good and dropped it. It wasn't till the third attempt that I felt I had nailed it.”

Getting serious about writing

"Someone who can be a writer is able to learn from their mistakes and realise life is not going to change overnight."

“You see a lot of it on blogs, people who have written one book and won't revise it, won't edit it, won't move on with something else. They like the notion of being a writer but they won't accept the graft that goes along with it.”

Neville thinks he can tell the serious writers from the dabblers by the questions they ask him.

“Somebody will come and ask you for advice, and you give them the advice and then they argue with you. Then you know that that person is not looking at it seriously. Somebody who is more serious and has a more realistic prospect will come at you with different types of questions – very often about the business side of things rather than the process of writing.”

Learning from other writers

“It is disheartening and discouraging to realise that your work isn't very good. But I think the difference between someone who likes the idea of being a writer and someone who can be a writer is being able to learn from your mistakes and realising that you are not going to change your life overnight.”

His key advice is:

  • Work at your writing continuously and revise.
  • Recognise your duds and discard them.

Be prepared for opportunities

Stuart admits, sometimes luck will happen. But even then, it is up to you to make the most of it.

“I do believe that luck plays a big part in it because I have been lucky myself, certain paths aligned at just the right time.

"For instance, my agent picked me up on the back of a short story he had seen, but that short story was only submitted to a magazine on a whim on a Sunday afternoon, and I could just as easily have not bothered.”

Make time for creativity

With hard work and taking advantage of opportunities, Neville says one final trait can help you succeed a writer – reflectiveness.

“I kind of stare into space. My girlfriend looked up once and said, "How do you do that?" And I said, ‘What?’ and she said, ‘You just sit there for half an hour, doing nothing.’

“I just do what I have always done, sit and think about stories and plots and ideas. A writer requires a certain internal landscape that they are happy to sit quietly and explore.”

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