Tag Archives: first novel

Sex and Swearing!

Right … now that I’ve caught your eye ūüėČ

No, I promise that actually is the topic of today’s post. ¬†Recently I’ve read a lot of different blog posts about the portrayal of sex in teenage fiction. ¬†Admittedly, most of these blog posts seem to have been written from a very religious standpoint. ¬†From my experiences of searching WordPress for fellow author bloggers, there appear to be a LOT of very Christian writers who blog. ¬†When I say very Christian, what I mean is that their religious beliefs colour almost everything that appears on their blog posts. ¬†Now, there are lots of blogs that I read and subscribe to, of which I know nothing of the author’s religious persuasions, and from my opinion I prefer this, because in my opinion an author’s religious beliefs should be kept separate from their fiction. ¬†Now, I realise I may well be opening up a large can of worms with that comment, but unless you are specifically writing a religious story, or the characters in that story clearly adhere to certain beliefs, ¬†then in my opinion your own personal religious beliefs should not colour the fiction. ¬†Because it is just that – fiction.

To better express myself, I’ll use Twilight as an example. ¬†Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. ¬†And whilst none of the characters in the books are of that faith, the main criticism often hurled at the book is the unrealistic portrayal of teenage romance and sex, an aspect clearly affected by Meyer’s beliefs. ¬†In the books this attitude is explained away as a result of Edward having grown up in a very different era, however, as the high levels of criticism indicate, that explanation didn’t necessarily sit too well with the majority of readers.

This brings me on to an interesting issue of writing teenage fiction. ¬†And that issue is sex. ¬†Now, no matter what religion you adhere to. ¬†No matter what your personal views are on sex before marriage, the stark reality of today’s society is that the vast majority of teenagers ARE sexually active. ¬†Just to clarify – I’m from Britain, where the legal age of consent is 16, and where to my knowledge there is far less support from teenagers for chastity movements as there is in the United States. ¬†Now, that’s obviously not to say that everyone is doing it! ¬†But, from my experiences as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom (and just to clarify, I went to a selective all girls’ school and grew up in a nice area of affluent South East of England), probably 95% of the people I grew up with lost their virginity before the age of 20. ¬†Those who didn’t, abstained mainly for religious reasons, or because they were extremely shy around the opposite sex.

In my opinion, teenagers have sex! ¬†Something I’m sure teenage pregnancy figures the globe over will support!

Now, I realise that as an author, you have certain responsibilities to your readers, and that particularly as a children’s author, those responsibilities can be rather profound. ¬†You and your characters can act as role models to the people reading your books, and obviously the teenage age bracket is a particularly impressionable. ¬†However, I think as an author, you have to tread a fine line with issues like sex, and swearing.

I guess for a start you have to decide how you personally see your role as an author, and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your books.  Are you writing as a Christian for other Christians, are you trying to convert people to a religion, are you trying to be a teacher and teach moral values, or are you trying to be a realist?  Are you trying to be a fantasist?  And how far do you want to push the realism of your book?

They are all questions which you as a teenage bracket author need to decide where issues like sex and swearing are involved. ¬†Because lets be frank now – MOST teenagers are to some degree sexually active (and if they’re not, a fair few want to be!) and MOST teenagers swear.

So where do you draw the line, if you do want to include these things in your books?

Personally, I try to write realistically. ¬†And interestingly, when I first wrote ‘Flicker’, and a male friend of mine (who is 27, swears like a trooper and is not shy about sharing his sex life!) read it for the first time, one of his first comments was ‘do you think you should include a sex scene?’ and he also suggested I remove the swearing.

Now, just to clarify, when I admit to including sex and swearing in my books, I’m not writing porn, nor am I writing the script for Shameless! ¬†When characters get angry I might use the S or the F word, and if the plot requires someone to sleep with someone else, I might mention it happened, or if, as in Flicker, the reader needs to know a little bit more about the situation, expand it to a paragraph or two.

But even this can be seen by some to be overstepping a rather big line!

Obviously it depends on your target audience. ¬†Flicker and The Dream Navigator, are both written with 15+ year old readers in mind, and the central characters are 19 years old. ¬†19 year olds have sex and swear, so these were things which I figure should feature in the plot just like all the other things 19 year old characters might do. ¬†But only where necessary. ¬†For this reason, Ellody, the main character in TDN doesn’t actually have sex, because, as anyone who has read the start of TDN will realise, she’s not a normal 19 year-old. ¬†She’s lived a really socially-repressed life because of her abilities, and struggles with her relationships with other people. ¬†The most the reader might see her do is kiss another character, because for her that’s a really big step.

What I’m trying to say, is that sex and swearing ARE everyday things. ¬†Particularly for older teenagers. ¬†And it seems a shame to censor them from an artform, if you are trying to be realistic. ¬†But, like all other events, actions and devices, they should only be used when necessary. If the situation and the story don’t merit it, or if you are writing for a younger audience – say the 11-14 year-old bracket – then don’t introduce those two things. ¬†Tailor your story to your audience and your purpose! ¬† There’s no need to turn a book into a swearing dictionary or a porno mag just for the sake of it! ¬†But equally, don’t patronise your audience! ¬†Don’t have a nineteen year-old burst into a tirade of ‘Oh fudge! ¬†Golly gosh I’m so angry!’ because you then you will lose your target audience! ¬†Your readers aren’t looking to you to be their religious leader, or their teacher – they already have those things. ¬†They are looking to you as a writer to entertain them, and to tell them about the real world …. or not, in a responsible but realistic manner. ¬† Or at least that’s my opinion!

So I guess it’s down to you to decide exactly what role you want to play!

C-C xx

 

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Falling into the ‘Forced Writing Trap’

As I trawl through the offerings of other ‘writer bloggers’ on WordPress, I regularly come across two personal niggles.

The first is people blogging simply to tell the world EITHER that they are feeling totally uninspired, and can’t write a single word, OR to report exactly how inspired they are feeling, by telling us all EXACTLY how many words/pages they have written that day.

And that is ALL they write in a blog post!

Really? ¬†Is this the kind of stuff you want to waste your words on? ¬†There are only 24 hours in a day … both yours, and mine … please don’t waste them with blog posts like that! ¬†Even if I were your Mum I wouldn’t want to know this kind of stuff!

I’d rather read an opinion, a paragraph of pose, a poem … ¬†Think about it – your blog-post has a short shelf life on the WordPress ‘Recently Posted’ Writing Page. Don’t put off future readers by catching their eye with a mundane post like that! They won’t ever come back! ¬†Complaints about writer’s block, or self-congratulatory back-patting over a couple of paragraphs of writing should be reserved for the private sphere.

Either get a journal … or if you still insist on addressing the blogosphere, then turn it into something positive. Write about how you cure your personal writer’s block, or what helps inspire you on ‘good writing days’ … ¬†At least a reader can take something from those kinds of posts.

My second niggle is what I like to call the ¬†‘Forced Writing Trap’.

While I understand that every now and again writers may need a metaphorical kick up the bum to write, I’m really against setting a specific goal of words to write each day.

Like any author, I go through periods of hyper-creativity, and phases of zero-creativity. I have days where I stare at a page and am happy to complete a full sentence, and other days where I’m forced to stop simply because my lap-top battery has run out, or it’s 4am and I’m meant to be up again in three hours.

But rather than reprimand myself for not making a word quota, or seeing a super-creative day as meaning I don’t have to write for another three day, I prefer to simply roll with the punches, and treat each day as it comes.

Writing a novel shouldn’t be a series of daily battles, but one long war. ¬†Sometimes that means you don’t write for a week, and other times it means all you do for three days is hack away at your laptop.

I can understand that committing to a ‘5000 words per day’ regime may discipline you to write … I just think that where a novel is concerned, if you insist on writing 5000, or however many, words a day, every day, you are often going to produce 5000 words of crap!

On my zero-creativity days, if I were to force my novel forward 5000 words, what I’d most probably be doing would be setting my book back at least 2 days of re-writing.

Instead, on those days when I sit down at the computer, and can’t see a path through the metaphorical trees, I find other tasks. ¬†I might do administrative chores linked to my book – like numbering and heading pages, or keeping track of the developing stories or character profiles. ¬†Or if there’s a particular topic the book requires me to know about, I might do some research. ¬†Another positive thing I often do when I’m not feeling creative enough to write, is to edit. ¬†I look back over previous chapters, and sometimes simply re-reading a chapter or two will get me into the correct frame to continue with the story.

And if that still doesn’t work … I don’t push it. ¬†I read something else, or heaven forbid … DON’T DO ANYTHING! ¬†Writing shouldn’t be a chore. ¬†We do it because we love it. ¬†It’s the future career we’ve chosen for ourselves … and for the first couple of years at least, we’ve chosen it not for monetary recompense, but for a creative outlet. ¬†So why would you force that outlet? ¬†Shouldn’t it be fun? ¬†And shouldn’t you be proud of what you write?

If I read 5000 words I’ve written, I want to feel proud of them. ¬†I want them to be polished and perfect, and the best 5000 words I could have used to describe that particular scene. ¬†I don’t simply want them to be five thousand random words … because I NEEDED the word count reader to say ‘5000’.

Just to clarify, this isn’t me complaining about those of you blogging everyday. ¬†As I’ve explained before, in The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger I address fiction writing very differently to blog writing, and don’t have any problem with people resolving to write a blog post every day, because the blogs stand alone each day, and a bad day of blogging won’t wreck a whole story. ¬†However, saying that, I will obviously object if all your ‘blog every day’ does is tell me how many words you have or haven’t written that day ūüėČ

On a personal note – I signed up to Script Frenzy … which some might see as a ‘Forced Writing Trap’ – 100 words of a script in a month. ¬†But with Script Frenzy, I simply see it as a task you could give yourself a month to complete. ¬†An inspiration, rather than a set word count governing your day. ¬†And in that light, I have to admit to taking it rather liberally so far … In the absence of Final Draft, I’ve been struggling to form my words into an acceptable script format. ¬†As a result, this month, whenever I’ve felt the need to write, I’ve found myself turning to blog posts instead of the script. ¬†But rather than punishing myself for not fulfilling my ‘Script Frenzy’ commitment, I’m simply happy to be creating something legible.

Should I tell you how many words I wrote today now? ūüėČ

C-C xxx

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The Ladder to the Top

Following on from my post about The Author Brand, I thought it might be an inspiration to others to collate some information about some of the world’s most famous authors, and their paths to success. ¬† Today I’ve focussed on rejections by agents and publishers.

The ladder to the top can be a long and treacherous one, and it seems not even the most successful authors made it to the summit unscathed!

J.K. Rowling

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected by twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury finally took it on, and only then on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter!

John Grisham

Grisham penned his first novel, the iconic ‘A Time to Kill’ whilst legally representing a 12 year-old rape victim. ¬†After three years writing the famous tale, Grisham was rejected by over thirty publishing houses before Wynwood Press finally cut him a break.

Stephen King

Stephen King took the rejection of his first novel ‘The Long Walk’ so badly, even though he only submitted it to one publisher, that he gave up on the story all together.

Meg Cabot

The bestselling author of ‘The Princess Diaries’ faced rejection after rejection for three years before finding a publisher. ¬† She admits to having kept every single rejection letter in a giant U.S. postal bag which is so heavy she can’t even lift it! ¬† And editors didn’t hold back with their criticism… one particularly scathing review stated that ‘The Princess Diaries’ wasn’t suitable for children. ¬†Try telling that to the millions of children who have since bought the books and watched the movies!

William Golding

‘Lord of The Flies’ was rejected twenty times before being published. ¬†One editor actually described it as ‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull’! ¬†Oops!

(The Diary of )Anne Frank

One publisher rejected the iconic journal because ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the ‘curiosity’ level.’

Joseph Heller

Apparently Catch-22 was originally entitled ‘Catch-18’ but Heller increased the number with each rejection letter! One of the ‘best rejection’ it received said ‘Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level …’

George Orwell

Four publishers rejected the iconic ‘Animal Farm’, including famous poet T.S. Elliot. ¬†Elliot criticised Orwell’s ‘Trotskyite politics’, whilst another editor simply stated ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’!

Harper Lee

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, one of my favourite novels, was rejected by J.B. Lippincott Company because it ‘had too many short stories strung together, and needed to be rewritten’.

On a similar note, a few years ago the director of the Jane Austen Festival decided to find out what sort of reception Jane herself might get, had she been an author in this day and age. ¬†With only a few minor changes, David Lassman submitted the opening chapters and plot synopses to three of Austen’s most famous books – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – to publishers and agents. He submitted the books under early titles which Austen had once considered, and used the pen name ‘Alison Laydee’, a play on Austen’s nom de plume ‘ A Lady’.

Despite not even changing the opening line of Pride & Prejudice – one of the most famous lines in literature – only one editor noticed the plagiarism! ¬†And EVERYONE else rejected ALL of Austen’s work.

I realise that possibly says more about the lack of education of those we’re pinning our hopes to at the moment, than anything else … but it also shows that even literary genius can go unnoticed in today’s harsh market! ¬†So don’t get too disheartened by the rejection emails … we’ll get there in the end ūüėČ

As another of my favourite childhood authors, C.S. Lewis, once said … ‘Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement.’

C-C xx

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The Author Brand

One of the lovely comments on my Rebirth, Rebranding, Re-invention post mentioned ‘establishing your writer’s brand’ and it got me thinking… ¬†(Thanks¬†Jess for the inspiration!)

No matter what stage of your career you’re currently at, being an author is a very different profession thanks to the age of the internet.

Authors used to bask in the shadow of anonymity. ¬†Even without a pen-name, they were mere names … perhaps illustrated with a grainy black and white photo and an aloof bio on the back cover of their novels. ¬†‘C-C Lester lives with her cat Felix and her budgie Steve in Battersea, and enjoys strolls along the beach. ‘

(I don’t really… before you start Googling ūüėČ )

But the internet has changed all that. ¬†It’s not only added real-life faces to the grand names … but ¬†it’s also added real-life stories. ¬†Find one person who when you mention J.K. Rowling doesn’t remark on her rags to riches success, and the ‘writing on napkins in coffee shops’ story!

People spend a lot of time with books. ¬†They retreat to them, a private world they can slip in and out of, away from the hustle of a crowded train carriage, or the uncomfortable heat of a parental row. ¬†The characters become treasured friends, and it’s easy to attach similar affection and proximity to the person responsible for creating those characters. ¬†Readers want to know about their authors …

As a reader, I happily confess to reading author bios. ¬†I love the short paragraphs tucked inside book covers. ¬†I like to guess how much the writer has in common with her protagonist, muse over whether I’d like her in real life, and wonder if she’s using a pen name. ¬†I like to know if she’s young or old, pretty or ugly, married or single. I¬†want to be able to put the book in context, to frame the story in a world outside of its pages.

I fully admit it … I’m a nosy reader!

And then, as an aspiring writer, I wonder how hard her path to literary success was.  Did she find an agent as easily as I did?  Were her rejection letters from publishers more inspiring than mine?  How many rejections did she receive?  How old was she when she first got published?  How long did it all take?

Yes … I’m a nosy writer too!

The thing is, whilst some of the answers might be available in the book cover’s rigid biographical paragraph, the internet has provided an even better location to find answers to all those questions … and more!

Obviously there’s the Google-stalker factor, which is something I’ve discussed in previous posts – ¬†¬†see ‘Why Blogging is like Facebook …’ and ‘The Pen Name … a Shield to accompany the Literary Sword?’ . ¬†One carefully worded Google search, and a reader can know an awful lot about his favourite author … provided she doesn’t use a pen name.

(A small aside – Bloggers with pen names BEWARE – I’ve noticed on a lot of comments that your REAL NAME comes up in the email address attached to your blog! )

But where authors are concerned, there’s a far easier way to find out the answers to all your nosey questions … and you’re staring right at it.

Authors blog!  We are creatures of habit, who love to write, and by definition, enjoy touching others with our words, whether fictional or not.  In the age of Twitter and blogging, what better way to reach others with our words, than with the immediacy of the internet?

By blogging, we are opening the fourth wall to our readers. ¬†We are showing them the workings behind the novel – whether it’s just generally the way our minds work, or more specific details about our lives and inspirations. ¬†Author blogs allow you to find the answers to all your nosey questions … how long DID it take her to find an agent? ¬†How many times DID she get rejected? ¬†What did those rejections REALLY say?

But the blogosphere isn’t a one-way street. ¬†It’s interactive. ¬†Not only is the author bearing (selective parts of) her soul to her readers, she’s also enabling them to challenge and question her. ¬†Finally readers are being given the thing they have never had with their favourite authors – dialogue. ¬†And an author’s willingness to partake in such a dialogue may well affect the way her readers see her.

This brings me back to Jess’s initial idea – a writer’s brand.

Think about the world we live in. ¬†Not only is it a world of Twitter and blogging … it’s also a world of PR and Marketing. ¬†And the savvy author needs to bear that in mind … particularly if she writes under a pen name. ¬†Those of us not protected by that particular shield (or like me, who have very brazenly stepped aside from their shield and revealed their true name) can only control to some degree the information available about them on the internet. ¬†But if you’ve created a person, you have full control of the data about that person on the internet. ¬†And even if you haven’t created a person, and are writing as yourself, then it’s wise to think about the things attached to your ‘writer persona’.

By creating this website, I have unwittingly created an author brand. ¬†If you type ‘C-C Lester, author’ into Google, the top four hits link to this blog, and the fifth to my Twitter (which is predominantly based on my blog). ¬†This blog has become C-C Lester, the author. ¬†And hopefully the brand I’ve unwittingly created is an honest and likable one!

I’ve said it before, in ‘Why Blogging is like Facebook …’ and I’ll say it again. ¬†Think about what you write. ¬†As far as we’re aware, the internet is here to stay, and the archives are endless. ¬†So make sure that everything you personally attach to your ‘author brand’ properly represents you as a writer. ¬†It’s also where posts like ‘Get It Write ūüėČ‘ (about grammar and spell-checking) and ‘To Journal … or Not To Journal’ (on making your blog too personal) come in. ¬†In ten years time, when you’re a famous author, do you really want the world to know how much you hate your ex-boyfriend? ¬†Or that you don’t really know where apostrophes go, and have to rely on an editor to tweak such mundane things as grammar?!

Personally, I think it’s exciting! ¬†I like the idea of being more than just an aloof name and a grainy picture on a bookshelf. ¬†The role of authors is changing, and I just hope that my career will enable me to properly experience those changes first-hand. ¬†I hope, in years to come, that my story will be a positive one, and one full of inspiration and interest to my readers. ¬†And that somewhere down the line, I’ll look back at this post and smile at the legacy I began to establish back when I was a ‘nobody’ who simply enjoyed to write ūüôā

C-C xxx

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The 7 Sins of Fiction Writing

Inspired by ¬†The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging – an intuitive article by Sonia Simone, Senior Editor of the Copyblogger – I’ve decided to come up with the 7 Sins of Fiction Writing

1. Impatience

Ok, so let’s start with the sin, which I for one am most guilty of. ¬†Impatience. ¬†Finishing a book, getting represented, getting published and getting recognised are all lengthy sections of an overall extremely slow process. ¬†I know it’s hard, when you’ve invested so much, both emotionally and temporally, into a manuscript, to not feel like the relevant cogs are turning to move that story forward, but sit tight. ¬†Believe in yourself, believe in your writing, believe in your agent. ¬†Whatever stage in the process you’re at … wait it out!

Also check out my articles Getting Represented and The Secrets to Finishing a Novel

2. Self- Focus

Fiction writing requires fiction. ¬†There’s no point writing a personal memoir, and simply changing the names of your characters. ¬†If you want to write a memoir, then go ahead and write one. ¬†Fiction is about exploring your imagination, and personally I find, the more I push the boundaries of that imagination, the better the results. ¬†Like I’ve mentioned before, everything needs some grounding in experience so that you can write knowledgeably on a subject, however the best fiction comes from using that knowledge to expand your imagination.

Check out my articles Writing from the Heart and The Life/Writing Balance

3.  Sloth

Writer’s Block is too easy an excuse. ¬†Don’t be lazy – if you really want to be taken seriously as a writer, then take yourself seriously. ¬†Writing needs to become a second (unpaid) job, so devote the hours to it, and you’ll reap the rewards. ¬†And hours ‘on the clock’ aren’t just writing hours. ¬†They might include blogging, or reading similar works, and editing or doing more administrative tasks related to your writing, like numbering pages. ¬†Commit 100% to your craft.

See The Ten Rules of Fiction Writing and Some Cures for Writer’s Block.

4. Negativity

Now this is mainly the ‘sin’ of unsigned writers, however it still resonates with long-successful authors, as evidenced by the quote by Margaret Atwood that I referenced in The Ten Rules of Fiction Writing. ¬†‘Essentially you‚Äôre on your own. ¬†Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don‚Äôt whine.‚Äô

Linford Christie’s career may not have ended how he hoped, but the Olympic Gold medallist had it right when he said success comes from a Positive Mental Attitude. ¬†Negativity doesn’t get you anywhere in any field, especially an art as lonely and subjective as writing.

Check out my posts¬†Inspired …. and The Year Ahead to see my attempts to stay positive.

5. Lack of Imagination

This ties in with Sin number 2 – Self Focus – but also applies to general themes and settings. ¬†I’ve discussed how reading widely in your target genre can help widen your imagination, and get you into the right frame of mind to write … however that doesn’t mean you ought to plagiarise! ¬†There’s a big wide world out there, with countless stories to be told … why try to retell someone else’s story? ¬†Take a look down the young adult fantasy aisle in the bookshop … does the world really need another vampire love story?!

See The Travel(ling) Writer

6. Lack of Conviction

This sin can be seen to follow on from negativity, and sloth, but it’s more than just believing in your ability, and capitalising on it … It’s also a question of believing in your subject matter. ¬†Write about something you know and love … (but don’t fall to Self-Focus!). ¬†300 pages later, you’re gonna need that desire and passion to carry you through the harder scenes, and make sure that novel is finished. ¬†And even once it’s finished … how can you expect an agent to believe in your work, if you don’t believe in it too. ¬†Fight for the right for someone to read your work!

Check out So Am I an Author Yet?!

7. Narcissism

And here’s the knife-edge … the careful balance between believing in your work, and being so blinded by your own efforts that you can’t tell the wheat from the chaff. ¬†Not everything you write is going to be amazing. ¬†Fact! ¬†So make sure you retain the objectivity to re-read your own work, and edit it accordingly. ¬†As we’ve been discussing before, the joy of the digital age means that removing something doesn’t mean it has to be lost forever to the cutting room floor. ¬†The more objectively you can edit your own work, the less work you leave for an agent and publisher, and the more likely you are to secure those two people.

See also – Getting Represented

C-C xx

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The 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

My blog-trawling the other day alighted upon a rather inspiring blog – 101 Books. ¬†In it, as well as reading his way though Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels, Robert Bruce discusses various lists of ‘rules’ for writing.

He starts off with George Orwell’s list of Rules for Writing, and then moves on to Jonathan Franzen’s list of 10 Rules. His inspiration comes from the recent Guardian article where a group of famous authors wrote personal lists.

Check out the lists of rules, and decide which ten things you think are most important to you.  Or have you got some other rules that no one else has mentioned yet?

Here are my favourite 10 …

  1. Elmore Leonard’s advice to ‘Keep your exclamation points under control’ … I often write like I talk, and I’m quite an animated person. ¬†I have to admit to still not being sure if ?! is now acceptable punctuation in this day and age, particularly in speech.
  2. I also like his rule that you ought to ‘leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ because I know as a reader I often skip long, dull paragraphs, and so need to be aware of this in my own writing when I come to editing
  3. Diana Athill’s (and Helen Dunmore’s) advice to ‘Read it aloud’ is something I always try to do when I’m editing, particularly if I’m unsure whether a section works or not.
  4. I also like Athill’s rule to ONLY use essential words … it can be hard sometimes to be that militant, but it’s very good advice when you’ve been told to reduce a manuscript substantially – like when I was told to turn Flicker’s 180,000 words in to 90,000
  5. Margaret Atwood recommends backing up computers, and always having something physical to write on – which ties nicely into my last blog post about Writer’s Block, where I suggested creativity doesn’t always come during designated writing hours
  6. ‘You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality,’ says Atwood. ¬†The second item is a given for me, following on from ‘Get it Write ūüėČ ‘, and I LOVE her description of writing as a gamble. ¬†‘Essentially you’re on your own. ¬†Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’ ¬†If I didn’t love her already for her amazing fiction, that sentence does it for me! ¬†Especially considering it’s obviously been a very long time since Atwood herself was in a situation where writing didn’t pay!
  7. Roddy Doyle echoes one of Margaret Atwood’s points when he suggests you ‘change your mind’ at times. ¬†It can be painful erasing sections, or changing names across an entire novel, or simply accepting that something you thought was wonderful doesn’t actually work, but try to think of your writing as a work in progress, and therefore treat editing a ‘refining process for the better’.
  8. Helen Dunmore suggests you ‘reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite’ … as I’ve mentioned before, most of my first drafts are really fifth drafts.
  9. I appreciate Geoff Dyer’s advice to ‘never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project’ … apparently having a female protagonist is something Sales and Marketing departments at publishers frown upon …. I’m afraid I am very unlikely to ever write from the perspective of a male protagonist, because I simply don’t feel equipped or able to do such a position justice.
  10. Anne Enright says the ‘first 12 years are the worst’ … hmmm that means I have another 10 years to go until I start worrying!

There are lots more I agree with … and there are also quite a few I disagree with … including

  1. Avoid prologues.  РOne of the best parts of the Twilight series is definitely the carefully chosen prologues (no matter what you think of Twilight)
  2. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ …. really??? To me that’s rather boring and repetitive
  3. ‘If it sounds like writing, rewrite it…’ Surely this means get rid of all imagery and metaphors?
  4. Learn poems by heart… Um, what relevance does this have to fiction writing?
  5. Don’t write in public places … Some of my best words have been ‘penned’ on very crowded chicken buses. ¬†As long as I have a decent pair of headphones, and Glee music available, I can shut out the world and concentrate on my writing.
  6. Keep a diary – See this is a difficult one, because I was the most dedicated journal keeper for over 10 years. ¬†I kept one almost every day from the age of 14, however, since I’ve started writing regularly, I’ve noticed my journal time slowly diminish to virtually never, and I think the reason for this is because I have a different outlet for my words. ¬†If I start writing a diary regularly again, I don’t think I’ll have the same discipline for my fiction work.

Have a read of the Guardian article, and Robert’s blog, and let me know which points you strongly agree or disagree with, and whether you have anything of your own to contribute to what is really far more than 10 simple rules!

One final thought …

Because I love this recommendation so much I feel it ought to stand alone.

‘Only bad writers think that their work is really good.’ (Anne Enright)

This definitely made me feel better about my own writing and my awful perfectionism!

C-C xx

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Some Cures for Writer’s Block

I recently asked for suggestions for blog topics, and one which resonated particularly with me was ‘writer’s block’.

It’s quite a dramatised area of writing. ¬†The romantic image of the creatively-stifled author, tying himself in mentally draining knots, until along comes his muse and frees him from his own personal misery.

But from my experience at least, writer’s block doesn’t work like that.

I’ve never really been plagued by ‘the block’ … and I think there are some key reasons for that.

Firstly, I know and understand the way I write.

I have three different stages of writing.  The framework phrase, then the more specific ideas phase, and then finally the most precise phase.  Like cutting a piece of wood into chunks, then carving it, and then finally whittling away the finer details.

The first part is the brainstorm phrase. ¬†Everything and anything is potentially of use. ¬†And so I store it all. ¬†I don’t worry about the finer points, or being neat about it. And it’s not a problem if I don’t use half of the stuff I come up with … I just … for want of a better word … spill! ¬†And I carry on ‘spilling’ (such an awful phrase!) until I feel like I have enough material to work with.

During the second phase, I begin to shape those ideas into chapters and a more rigid framework. ¬†As I explained in ‘Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘, I try to work my ideas into a useable framework, so that chapters begin to form, and I have specific parts of a book in which the initial ideas are then filed. ¬†Because I’m still working on the book as a whole, and not individual chronological sections, it means that if there’s a particular section I’m interested in, or more inspired by, I can focus on my ideas for that part, and then go back to other trickier sections when I understand them more.

At this point I should probably interject with my second piece of advice for avoiding ‘writer’s block’. ¬†I don’t set myself any strict deadlines. ¬†Obviously I have a rough timescale in mind … but because I’m essentially writing for myself at this point, I am the one calling the shots on my time, and how I use it. ¬†And with this relaxed approach, I find I never feel specifically ‘blocked’. ¬†If I’m not feeling overly creative one evening, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere – doing more mundane, less creative tasks like numbering pages, or writing synopses of each chapter so that I can track character development etc. ¬†That way, even in my less creative moments, I still feel like I’m doing something productive.

Going back to the phases of my writing, the third phase, where I fill out the frameworks of each chapter with the actual story, is obviously the phase where I’m most susceptible to blocks. ¬†To get myself into the ‘writing mood’, I find it helps to start each session by reading the chapter beforehand. ¬†This gets me into the right tone, and just reminds me of exactly where I am. ¬†I also try to focus on the story outside of my writing time. ¬†Over time I’ve worked out what works best for me, creatively. ¬†Particularly with dialogue between characters, which is, I think, one of my strong points, I find the best way for me to work out the conversations, is to play them out in my head. ¬†In order for that to happen, I need focussed solace. ¬†And that’s where exercise comes in. ¬†Whether I’m running, or hiking, or just working out in the gym, the focussed alone time is the perfect setting for dialogue to take shape. ¬†And then I just need to make sure I can write down what I’ve come up with, as soon as possible.

When I was in Peru, I hiked the Inca Trail.  Whilst I was in a group, and it was quite sociable, there were also long stretches of tough hiking when no one talked.  And these were the times I found most productive as a writer.  At the end of each day, as we sat around waiting for dinnertime, I would madly scribble out page after page of notes.

Finally, I have one last tip for writer’s block … and that’s to read!

The best way to think like a writer, is to surround yourself with writing. ¬†Now, I’m not suggesting plagiarism! ¬†I just think the way to be most creative, is to get yourself into a creative frame of mind. ¬†And that means immersing yourself in stories, because they will stretch your own imagination. ¬†I find, if I want to think in the first person, I need to read stories written in the first person, so that my internal voice is playing out accordingly. ¬†Likewise, I’m about to start writing a book for younger children than I normally write for, and so, I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite children’s books, so that I can achieve the best tone, and think from a children’s book perspective.

So those are my ‘cures’ for writer’s block –

  1. Know and understand your writing style
  2. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
  3. Find other productive things to do when you’re not feeling creative
  4. Creativity doesn’t only have a place when you’re sitting down in front of your laptop
  5. Surround yourself with creativity – particularly your current genre of writing

C-C xx

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