Brighton-based author SJ Watson is best known for his bestselling debut novel Before I Go to Sleep. In 2014, the book (which is a mystery psychological thriller) was turned into a film starring Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, and Anne-Marie Duff. The book won multiple awards and has sold in over 42 countries. Now, Steve is conducting a fascinating new writing experiment … and you can take part in it.
What is the experiment?
Steve is writing a book. But the experiment is that he is inviting the public to suggest what direction the plot and characters take. He writes each chapter and then publishes what he calls Draft Zero (the first and unedited draft) on the platform Substack. Then he invites readers to let him know what they think and more importantly, how they’d like to see the story develop. Any ideas Steve uses will be credited.
Anyone who has ever written any sort of unedited first draft of anything will appreciate how daunting the idea of letting anyone else see it is, so we caught up with Steve, to find out more about why he is doing this experiment, how it’s going and how to take part.
Why are you doing this?
There’s a David Bowie quote about how one of the most exciting places to be creative is when you’re out of your depth. And I’m at a place in my career where this really resonates and I want to try new things.
What’s it been like sharing Draft Zero? Liberating? Terrifying?
So far, it’s been a really interesting experience. I often encourage others to interrogate themselves about their writing process or what they think their process is and to try new things. And by doing this experiment, I’m doing just that. I have already reset some of the things I believed about how I write. Trying new approaches is very freeing as is not knowing where the book is going. Normally I do a fair amount of planning and plotting so this is very different and I’m trying not to worry about anything beyond the next chapter.
Why is this experiment important – for you? For others?
I think it’s an inspirational tool for other aspiring writers or those who feel disheartened. It exposes the hard work that goes on behind the scenes before you get the final, polished draft. I’m trying not to write with publication in mind because as I see it, as an experiment it can’t fail. If I give up or the book doesn’t get published then it has demonstrated that even published authors struggle sometimes, and that’s OK.
How much of the book is dictated by your readers?
Well, I had no preconceptions about what I was going to write about and they came up with the first nugget of an idea for the opening line “She tasted blood.” That was too compelling to resist. On the whole, they have the ideas and then my imagination has to give them shape.
How would you describe its genre so far?
Well, it feels a bit dystopian and a bit like it is set in America which is new for me.
You’re a Brighton resident. So what do you love about Brighton? And has it inspired or influenced the book at all?
I’ve always wanted to live by the sea and I find Brighton a really friendly city and very welcoming. I found it easy to become part of the community and I love how compact it is and that you can walk from one end to the other relatively quickly. I know it’s scruffy in places, but that is part of its charm, and being on the coast has opened up a new vein in my creativity, I feel more comfortable surrounded by space and it’s easier to write. But no, I don’t think it has influenced the writing of this book – so far.
Can anyone take part in the experiment and how long is it running for?
Yes, anyone can and the easiest place to access it is via the SJ Watson Substack page. I’m not sure how long it will run for but probably four or five more months.
If you’ve enjoyed this post about Brighton author, SJ Watson, you may also like: