Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

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’re on your own.  Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

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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Filed under C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

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 😉 ‘, 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.  – One 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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Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing