David Quantick on how to write everything

David Quantick has spent 25 years writing everything. Poems, novels, scripts, best man’s speeches, top TV comedies like Veep, The Thick of It and The Day Today and of course, slogans for underpants. All of this means that he’s well qualified to have written a book called How to Write Everything a highly entertaining romp through David’s writing life and a book that’s full of tips for the aspiring writer. So, how does he write everything himself?

David Quantick

David Quanitick courtesy of Kiran Ridley

Q: In your book you talk about the importance of being given deadlines, but lots of the writing you have done must have involved setting deadlines for yourself. How do you do this?

DAVID: Sometimes you say to yourself, “I’ll keep doing this until it’s ready” or “I’ll do this in my spare time.” But generally I will set a deadline. I wrote The Mule – my novel which may come out on Unbound if you kindly pledge enough for that to happen – on the train and gave myself a three month deadline. It took more like four but it was an effective device.

“Deadlines matter because otherwise you’ve just got your fingers in alphabet soup, pushing soggy words around with no purpose. – David Quantick”

Deadlines matter because otherwise you’ve just got your fingers in alphabet soup, pushing soggy words around with no purpose. Just do the work. Otherwise why?

Q. You said that you have three and half unpublished novels which you are determined to finish at some point – how do you prioritise unpaid writing work with the paid-for kind?

DAVID: You do the paid work first when you get up and then you have a break and you do the unpaid work. Also it’s great because you can say to people who haven’t paid you, “Sorry this is going to be late, I was doing some paid work.”

Read on: How Armando Iannucci writes – an exclusive interview >>

Q. How do you balance multiple writing projects you work on during a day? Do you have a process for managing the work, do you reserve certain times of the day for different types of writing?

DAVID: It’s different shufflings. It’s like eating a meal. Sometimes you do the nasty stuff first to get it out of the way – you eat the swede and the turnip first and then the peas and save the steak ‘til last. Sometimes you just let it all hang out and have the steak first and then do the swede later. Sometimes you transcribe the long article first and write the short jokes later.

I can’t reserve different times because my life isn’t regular – it involves trains, meetings, childcare, drinking, fighting and sudden deadlines.

Q. You’ve written alone, with writing partners and in writing rooms. Which do you prefer and what types of writing lend themselves to each?

DAVID: Writing on my own, or with people swapping emails. I’m very fast, which means I am also very impatient. Imagine you’re always waiting for people to finish their starter. It looks to them like they’re enjoying each mouthful, savouring each moment and maybe smelling the spicy goodness.  To me it looks like someone staring at their soup.

Writing on Veep, where we constantly swap scripts and rewrite each other’s sections is great, though. It’s like working in a grenade factory where there’s no conveyor belt and you have to catch the grenades as they come at you.

“I’m very fast, which means I am also very impatient. Imagine you’re always waiting for people to finish their starter. – David Quantick”

Writing rooms are all about who can shout the loudest.

Read on: How to be a writer with David Quantick >>

Q. Now you’ve written everything and written a book about writing everything, what one thing would you change about how you approach your writing?

DAVID: I would write more novels so that by now I’d be better at it and get one published. I would get someone else to transcribe interviews. And that’s it.

Next year I plan to write a sequel to How To Write Everything, called How To Be A Writer*. It’s going to be about being a writer, not becoming a writer.

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*How to be a Writer is now out in paperback. Read David’s blog How to be a Writer.

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.