Monday, 2 January 2017

Agonising for Authors - by Michelle Robinson

Has anyone else been indulging in a bit of Agatha Christie over Christmas? Crikey, that lady could plot. She wrote close to one hundred books and she made it look so easy. It's not. In her autobiography, Christie said, 

"There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off."

Tell it like it is, Aggie. Every word that makes it into a book has been carefully considered, handpicked and polished to perfection. Choosing the right words isn't the only part of writing that involves decision making. Here are just a few of the many things we writers will most likely be agonising over in 2017.


  1. Is my opening sentence strong enough?
  2. How is my story arc?
  3. What is a story arc?
  4. Is my latest idea even slightly original or have I inadvertently rehashed an episode of SpongeBob?
  5. Which publisher should I target?
  6. How many months until I get a rejection?
  7. What’s the elevator pitch?
  8. How many elevators do I need to take before I find myself riding with someone even remotely involved in publishing?
  9. Should I write my next book in the first or third person?
  10. Should I invent a completely new narrative form instead?
  11. If I do, will I win a prize?
  12. Did that last sentence really need a comma?
  13. Why are the voices in my head all telling each other to shut up?
  14. What are the rules of my new fictional world?
  15. Is my email even working? *refresh, refresh, refresh*
  16. Where does the action take place - do I need to draw a map?
  17. Why didn't I pay more attention in geography?
  18. Do I own an eraser?
  19. Do cats die if they swallow erasers?
  20. Am I showing or telling - and which is the good one, again?
  21. Surely there’s an app that writes bestselling novels?
  22. If I invent the app will I win a prize?
  23. Where did I leave my glasses/pen/notebook/laptop/valium?
  24. Does Googling my own name go toward my word count?
  25. Admin, research, reading or Netflix?
  26. Why does the doorbell only ring when I'm in my pyjamas?
  27. Why are my deliveries always for the neighbours?
  28. Which cardigan is my lucky cardigan? 
  29. Can I afford to go to my publisher’s summer party?
  30. Can I afford to put the heating on?
  31. Are Tesco’s recruiting?
  32. Tea or coffee?
  33. Toast or ice cream?
  34. Scrape the mould off the bread or walk to the shop?
  35. Are cardigans tax deductible?
  36. May I punch the next person who assumes I want to be ‘the next JK Rowling’?
  37. May I punch the next person who tells me they have a great idea for a children’s book?
  38. May I punch the next person who says must be nice, having a hobby that pays’?
  39. May I send a computer virus to the next person who emails me expecting a free professional critique?
  40. Which chat show do I most want to appear on when I win the Carnegie?
  41. When will I have my own dedicated shelf/department in WHSmith?
  42. If Blue Peter knew about me would they give me a badge?
  43. If I nominated myself for children’s laureate would my mum vote for me?
  44. Will my next book be the one?
  45. Which window is best for staring out of?
  46. Does JK Rowling still stare out of windows or does she pay someone to do it for her?
  47. If I bump into JK Rowling at my publisher’s summer party might we become pals?
  48. Is it too early to go back to bed?
  49. Are there prizes for that?
  50. Am I a figment of my own imagination?
Michelle Robinson has 13 picture books due for publication in 2017. Naturally she took a while deciding which one to tell you about. She eventually picked 'Monkey's Sandwich', illustrated by Emily Fox, publishing with HarperCollins in January 2017. Michelle wrote this in her pyjamas. 

Read more from Michelle at 

Quote: 1977, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, Part 9: Life with Max, Quote Page 458, Dodd, Mead, & Company, New York.


Anne Booth said...

I was going to say how brilliant that post was (it is!) and how funny and comforting (it is)- and then, THEN, I read 'Michelle Robinson has 13 picture books due for publication in 2017'. 13!!! 13??? 13!!! I was really pleased with my two this year. 13???? You are a human dynamo. I have decided, however, not to make it my own personal 51st agony (13? THIRTEEN you say?) and be very mature and say that was a brilliant post (it was) and congratulations on 13 (13???) picture books this year (let's face it, you definitely deserve it - 13? 13!!) and turn agony into inspiration. Blimey Michelle. Seriously. How did you do it? Not just writing 13 picture books but getting 13 picture books published. That is truly amazing and writers everywhere will worry about their agents reading that and sighing... AND you did it whilst not always being as well as everyone else last year. Gosh. I'd better up my game. And write enough to go to lots of publishers' summer parties!! So thanks for a kick up the proverbial and Happy Easter (I genuinely wrote that - see how shocked I am?) Happy New Year and many more picture books to come!!

Michelle Robinson said...

You are very kind, Anne. Two of them are paperback editions of hardbacks that published last year, so it's really eleven (I was just showing off). And a couple of them should have come out YEARS ago, but for one reason or another they've been delayed. A couple were commissioned, so no persuading publishers was necessary for those. And funnily enough illness helped - I think, in part, I write to escape reality, so I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Plus I have a very high output and just as many of my stories have ended up in the bin. I think it's just as amazing to have one (or TWO! TWO?!) books published, ever, let alone in a year. All of us who manage to make it into print should start this year giving ourselves a big pat on the back. I'll enjoy this year, but will doubtless panic next year when I have far fewer on the go. Still, the sun is shining on me at the minute so I shall had better go and make hay!

Unknown said...

Oh god oh god oh god. What the hell IS an elevator pitch? And seventeen? Seventeen? I used to work with a lovely editor at RH who decided what I needed was SennaPlot ; for unblocking one's constipated plot-pipes. And that was back when I could come up with one novel and two picture books a year. Now, I can just about manage one or two picture books in a good year. You are a marvel; long may your imagination flower.

Michelle Robinson said...

Constipated plot pipes sound dangerous. They also sound sadly familiar... How are you doing? Happy New Year, by the way! I do hope our paths cross again in 2017.

malachy doyle said...


Michelle Robinson said...

And a teensy bit of joy, occasionally.

malachy doyle said...

absolument. joy is the word, michel-een. just having a teensy freak-out, here in my netherland.

Michelle Robinson said...

Go for it, freaking out is one of the more exciting parts of the process! I've just had a right old palaver forgetting today was Tuesday and not sending the kids to school with packed lunches. Only a masochist could devise a three week rolling lunch schedule that doesn't start afresh from week one after a two-week break. Meanwhile, I am writing a really STUPID picture book text that can only end in the bin. Oh well.

Teresa Heapy said...

Ahh, this was so comforting, so funny. A fab way to start the year. Thank you Michelle - next time I want to punch someone (re 36-38, and 39 too...) I'll think of you (to join in the punching, not be punched, you understand!!)

Michelle Robinson said...

Haaa! Yes, please don't punch me (unless I do something equally annoying).

Michelle Robinson said...

Oh, and 17 refers to 16. My latest picture book has a map. A map! So glad I didn't have to draw it.

Lucy Rowland said...

Happy New Year Michelle! and congratulations on your upcoming releases...I'll look forward to reading them. Good to know it's not just me who agonises over such things!!..I particularly like number 15. Is this thing even working?!

Michelle Robinson said...

Happy New Year, Lucy! I think perhaps a spot of daft agonising comes with the job.

Enid Richemont said...

36, 37, 38 and 39 resonated with me. I also loved: "Am I a figment of my own imagination?" There's a whole philosophical tome in that. And to Debi Gliori - do you ever come to London? If you do,we might share our problems over a glass (bottle???) or two.

Ann Turnbull said...

Yes, I recognise all of those! And the only one I feel confident about is No.12 - yes, the sentence in No.11 does need that comma.

Michelle Robinson said...

I seem to spend a fair amount of time wanting to punch people. Glad to know I'm not alone, Enid.

Michelle Robinson said...

The amount of commas I put in, take out, put in again, etc. is bonkers.