How I feel when I start
How I feel when I finish my first draft
How I feel when I read my first draft
How I feel when I start editing
How I feel when I finish editing
How I feel when I ask someone to read it
As the saying goes, stories don’t just write themselves, which means that you, the writer, need to put some effort into the process if you want those wonderful ideas to become a book.
Firstly, you need to start is by writing. Some people talk about world building, or scene setting. Some people talk about characters. Some people start with a plan.
I say, ditch all of the above and just jump straight into writing.
Because until you jump in you don’t really know where your idea is going to take you. Whether it is a single scene or an epic ending, it doesn’t matter just write it down.
Some people get very fixated on where to start, as if you cannot begin unless you have a firm container in which to place the story.
Writing doesn’t need a container. It just needs a writer and an idea.
When a writer begins writing, something magic happens. They start thinking about what happens before the seed idea, and what happens after…and what happens much later…and what happens much earlier. And before you know it, a rough timeline of events is established.
None of this happens until you begin to write so don’t feel you need a plan, or a character profile, or a fully fleshed out world before you can begin. You will need all of these things, but not right now. Now is for fun, and for playing and testing your idea.
Some of these new ideas will become backstory that may be discarded later on.
Some of the ideas may not fit in with the overall story as you fill in the gaps, and you may discard them too.
Once you have enough ideas, or scenes, you can plan, and flesh out character profiles, and worlds, or locations if need be…but not until you have enough ideas to at least hint at a story.
Ideas do not always become a full story, so don’t feel bad if you try and then find it goes nowhere.
Keep thinking, keep generating and testing ideas. The more you practice writing and using your ideas, the more ideas will come. Eventually one of them will become a story, a real story, a full story.
And that’s when the real writing begins 🙂
So it’s that time of year again where writers all over the world enrol for the National Novel Writing Month.
If you haven’t given it a go, it’s simply a month were you challenge yourself to write 50K of words. Whether it is a 50K novel or 50k towards a novel, doesn’t really matter. You sign up, you commit, and all you need to do at the end of the month is paste your 50k into the site to receive your certificate.
If you’re interested in learning more you can check out their site here.
If you are looking for a little help preparing, here is a great article I came across a few days ago. Some great tips on getting your draft out whether you are taking part in NaNoWriMo or not.
And if you are looking for a few tips on fast drafting…
If you want to get your novel DRAFT out FAST, here are my top six tips to help you on your way.
Deviating from said skeleton is all part of drafting; so don’t let yourself feel in anyway constrained just because you have a plan. There is no doubt about it though; planning works, and the upfront investment will make writers block and endless story syndrome a thing of the past.
2. Don’t Edit. And when I say don’t edit, I mean DON’T EDIT AT ALL. Sorry shouting and all that, and I am really shouting at myself because I am the world’s worst edit-as-I-go-er. It’s the perfectionist in me peeking out again, better get a whip and a chair to that little monster!
It’s soooo hard not to edit, because the moment you read it, it looks like crap, and you immediately think you are a terrible writer, and that chapter will never work. STOP. It will work just fine…when you edit, which is LATER. So, no peeking, not even a little peek, let it go and move on to the next chapter.
3. Don’t think just write. What? Ok, it’s maybe more…don’t think too much.
Even with a plan, and knowing what the chapter is going to be about, and having a house completely free of interruptions, and your favorite music on, and a coffee at your side…you sit there and your head is blank. The endless procrastination kicks in, you check Facebook, Twitter, you read the news, make a cup of coffee…again. You write a few words and then delete them, and then a few more…and delete them. Sound familiar?
That’s because you’re actually thinking too hard. Yep I know, that sounds like reverse logic because how can you think too hard. It’s not a myth; I do it all the time. It’s not writers block either; so don’t panic. It’s more like…temporary amnesia about what that keyboard thing is for. Either you can’t start writing at all or when you do write you have an overwhelming urge to hit delete.
This is where the stop-thinking bit is really important. Just start the scene, even if you know it’s crap, even if you know you are going to delete the whole first paragraph, because something amazing happens once you get past a few sentences without hitting delete…it all starts pouring out and you remember that there is a connection between the brain and the keyboard, its calling fingers, and wow, they work!
4. Killing the people who interrupt you. Yes, I know it’s not practical, and hiding a body is so hard, but hey sometimes it’s got to be done. Just kidding, you can’t really kill the people who interrupt you, but you can think about it in glorious detail!
Interruptions are a fact of life, and they only interrupt you because they love you so much…or they want to be fed, or they can’t find that . I find meditation, and practicing breathing techniques really works…yes I’m just kidding about that too…nothing works, either get a lock for your door and fit soundproofing so you can’t hear them screaming at you, or just build a bridge and move on.
5. You are going to chop out some the work you write. Gasp! No! Yep, it’s going to happen. Remember in point 2 where I said don’t worry if it looks like crap it will all work out fine in the end? I lied. Some sentences, paragraphs, and yes, even whole scenes will meet a fate worse than death, discarded for ever to your clipping folder where you retain them in the misguided hope they will be reused or reinserted later. They won’t be, but it’s Okay to keep them, I do.
Now, you may be wondering how knowing that a scene may later be chopped is going to help you write quickly because now you are feeling pretty depressed and not at all motivated to write quickly, but here’s the catch, would you rather spend ages over-editing a scene, or procrastinating writing it, and then delete it? Nope, I certainly wouldn’t.
I have lost count of the number of beautifully written sentences or scenes that simply had to go. Sometimes you just need to get the whole story done before you can be truly objective enough to see what needs to stay and what needs to go, and the less time you spend getting to this stage, the better.
6. Use word count targets. Love ’em or loath ’em, word count targets work, especially when you are drafting. Goal setting is written about, talked about, and well established as the single most important part of achieving ‘stuff’. If your goal is to write a book, you need to give yourself targets on the way to keep motivated.
Didn’t hit your target today? So what, there are plenty of days where you don’t make as much progress as you wanted too, and some days you make no progress at all. Celebrate the good days, and move on past the bad days, and remember that any words written at all is a step closer to completion! (Unless you end up deleting it as I mentioned in point 4…but we are not going to think about that during the draft)
I have been writing long enough to know roughly what I can write in a day, or an evening if it’s a work day, so I build my daily count around that. I LOVE seeing how I am progressing. Scrivener has this little happy ‘bong’ and a popup telling you well done when you hit your daily target. I LOVE that. I also love hitting book milestones like the quarter point, the half way, the three quarter, the finish, the editing…I break absolutely everything up into little micro targets, and this provides an amazing sense of movement and progress.
Writing a book takes FOREVER, so keeping the motivation up and sense of achievement high will get that draft finished in super fast time.
Many people aspire to write a book, and most have no idea where to start. There are many ways to become a writer, but they all come down to one important activity…
Tip 1: Write stuff…
I am a great believer in not trying to eat the whole elephant. If you want to be a writer, and to write a book, you have to start by writing stuff. Unconstrained, nonsense, and whatever pops into your head. Try different genres and styles. Try for something short, and then try for something long.
After about 20 years of doing this…just kidding! After doing this for a while, which will be different for every writer, you start to get the hang of writing, and something interesting starts to unfold…which is usually a story idea.
Tip 2: When you get a story idea…
Maybe you have spent a bit of time at Tip 1, playing about with ideas before you find something that might work out into an actual story.
Or maybe you are the sort of person who wants to jump straight in at Tip 2 because you already know a story and you are chomping-at-the-bit to get it down. Let’s PAUSE. If this is your first ever story idea treat it as a bit of fun, and don’t be too disheartened if it becomes nothing more than ‘Tip 1 -stuff’ that ultimately you discard.
However you find yourself at Tip 2, there is no point in holding back. Write it, or plan it then write it, whatever works for you. One of two things will happen at this point:
Tip 3: When you get an awesome story idea…
Usually you know when an idea for a story is something worthy of pursuit. Now you have to decide whether you need to plan or not. Planning is a matter of personal taste, some people swear by planning, some people loath it with the enthusiasm of a dental appointment.
For planning: People who get the most out of planning are the people who suffer from writers block. If you are the kind of person who finds themselves hemmed in when writing, or not sure what should happen next, planning is GOOD for you. It lets you nut out all the problems upfront so you don’t waste time on something that will go nowhere. Better to tackle all the blocks now than write 30k of words and discover you just don’t have a solution to a key plot point.
Against planning: People who never run out of ideas, who are always chasing the next shiny notion…and could simply write forever! If this is you STOP, and go back to the planning. This may sound harsh, but people with too many ideas suffer from a completely different problem to those who suffer from writers block, and that is what I refer to as ‘Infinite Story Syndrome’ also known as the ’10 book saga’. There is nothing wrong with ten book sagas I love ’em myself. But each book needs a level of conclusion and a little bit of planning, even for the idea masters, goes a long way to getting a good first book.
PS. There is a happy medium..and yes planning will help them too.
Tip 4: Get feedback sooner rather than later…
A trusted friend or confidant is what every writer needs. Someone to sanity check your idea to make sure it’s not a complete dud. Once it is drafted look for beta readers. They will be delighted to pick holes in your plot and make it stronger in doing so.
Tip 5: There is nothing wrong with trying…
I must have a couple of hundred story ideas floating about in bits, scribbled dialog, plot points, and random chapters. All of which were great for my ‘Tip 1-Write Stuff’. I only finished 3 books completely to the draft stage. It was the 3rd one I decided I liked enough to edit, and I am now about to publish. The first 2 drafts—I am going to abandon—and I feel no guilt in that.
I have subsequently finished writing the next 3 books in the series. I spent a lot of time ‘writing stuff’, playing about with ‘story ideas’ and I even drafted a couple of ‘awesome story ideas’ into a full novel, before I found a book I felt worthy of publishing, and I don’t regret any of this time. It helped me to find my writers voice. I had fun. It gave me confidence.
Tip 6: Quality is never a waste of time…
I learnt a massive amount about quality by having my book professionally edited…grammar is definitely not my strong point! A writing course if you can afford it is worth while, but otherwise there is a ton of fantastic free information on the internet, and plenty of great books you can buy to improve your skills that way. No time spent on improving your writing quality is ever wasted time.
Tip 7: Simply read…
The last tip goes without saying…but just in case…when you settle on a genre, read it—a lot.
More more posts on writing…
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Letting go is hard. No matter how much time you spend revising, or how many rounds of editing, your book will never be good enough for your satisfaction. When you do publish, you will almost certainly receive new feedback that you wish you had known before. You will need to accept that your book can always be better, but that ultimately there needs to be a point where you do let it go. The struggle for perfection is what writing is all about.
You will receive support from unexpected places. The people who take the time to read the whole book and give you their feedback are little gems. The ones who tell you if they liked it, and even if they don’t. Surprisingly, you will learn most from the less than perfect reviews, will see how you can improve, and what to look for next time around. And the people who tell their friends they loved it, there is a special place in bookish heaven for them.
That first review on Amazon or Goodreads will change your world. The idea that anyone at all could think your book is worthy of reviewing is a bit of a revelation. That this person is a complete stranger who has taken the time to read your whole book will fill you with such motivation that you cannot wait to get back to your keyboard and write some more.
It’s different on the other side. Once you publish a book, you never feel quite the same. If you love writing, then publishing is the ultimate achievement. You can’t wait to publish some more, to write better, and to move onward. Not everyone will love your work, or even like it, and it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but those that do enjoy your story will make those thousands of hours you spent worthwhile.
Most people don’t get how much time you spend crafting your book. Many can guess that you spent a lot of time writing the book, but what they don’t realize is that writing a book is only the start. For every hour you spend writing, you spend ten more editing it through various iterations. And then you will edit it some more!
You’re never going to be rich. Your non-writer friends might have a strange notion that you will make some money when you publish a book. You won’t make any money, not even enough to cover your costs, not with the first one, or the second one, but you might start to turn the tide later down the track.
Beta readers make a book. Those amazing people who are prepared to tackle your novel in its less-than-perfect state will help you find that final 10%. They can spot plot holes, anomalies, and the little gremlins that sneak in. And they will also tell you if they enjoy parts, or even when something made them smile 🙂 There is no better motivation than a beta reader giving you the thumbs up!
Some writers (A) are very open about putting people they know in their book, whether it is revenge (never be mean to a writer), or for less nefarious reasons (I admire you, I love you, I like you, you are fun, you are interesting).
Some writers (B) deny all, even vague, linkage between real people and the fictional characters in their book.
I’m going to let you into a secret. If you know a writer . . . you are almost certainly, okay definitely, in their book!
So, are these writers (B) lying? Are they seeking to mislead you?
No, not really, it’s more of a—subconscious inclusion—that a writer cannot possibly help.
The thing is, that a writer crafts their story out of their imagination, which is made up of everything they have ever seen, everything they have ever heard, and everything they have ever read. And while much of this input is from other works of fiction, a large percentage of it comes from everyday life, and that’s right—the writer’s friends, family, and colleagues . . . and even their pets!
I collect names. I love names, especially quirky, or interesting names. Whenever I hear a name that I like, I jot it down. I might not have a character for it yet, or maybe I will rename an old character because I like it better. Either way, names are something we often consciously, or subconsciously use (and even avoid).
Yep, I collect personalities too. Now, you may be FREAKING OUT if your writer friend has put a character with your name in their book who is a complete buffoon! Is that how the writer sees you?
Not quite. Writers have a tendency to mash things together. A friends name (who is not a buffoon), may be merged with another person they know who is really clumsy, and the random guy from the petrol station who couldn’t work out how to use the pump, and their pet dog who is adorably loopy! Yep, all this really does go into a single character. And then they give it YOUR name! And they are not all even human, or the same sex! That’s just wrong!
That’s writers for you.
By now, you are probably getting a bit of an idea of how this works. And let me tell you that appearance is the worst one of all. It’s like a manic identikit has been let lose on the fictional world. Hair from this person, eyes from that person, body build from that person, a little magic dust, and voila, you have a complete abomination—just kidding, they turn out fine, mostly.
So, in answer to the above question ‘do writers really put you in their book’, the answer is still, yes, they most certainly do. 🙂
January 1st 2014 was a bit different to all my previous new years. I decided it was long overdue that I did something about my parked and buried writing dreams. I bought a journal, and I wrote stuff in it. I wrote down exactly what I wanted to achieve.
And what I wanted to achieve was publishing a book.
So, here I am, three years later . . .
The road to publishing a book is a long one, but for all that, an enjoyable one. With hindsight, publishing a book was both the hardest and the simplest thing I have ever done. Simple, because basically, a book is just a bunch of words written down. But hard because you drag those words out of your imagination and then go over those words many, many times before you feel anywhere near ready to share them, and after you do, you realize you were still not quite ready!
I will liken my experience publishing a book, to my experience emigrating from the UK to Australia. It took me a couple of years to make it happen, nine months to get the residency visa, another nine months to sell our house, cars, and most of our furniture, buy a plane ticket and leave. But once I did emigrate, I realized that it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I originally expected. Sure, it required planning, and effort, and there were a huge number of steps along the way, but it wasn’t impossible.
I didn’t know what I would find on the other side, I had no job, no home, and I knew no one besides my husband. Moving country, and especially to the other side of the world, requires a certain leap of faith, and so too with publishing a book.
I published my science fiction novel, Divided Serenity, on 8th December 2016, ten years and five months after I arrived in Australia.
There is no connection between the two events, other than they both happened to me, and that in some ways they were life-changing, and in some ways they were not.
I still get up every morning, go to work, enjoy my cappuccino, and the rewarding aspects of my day job, and then I come home and write. None of that changed because I am in a different country or because I published a book.
The difference is all on the inside.
I love that I was brave enough to move to another country and that I was able to start again, to reinvent myself, and to be someone new. Moving to another country is invigorating, and it instills a sense of self-belief. I still miss my friends and family in the UK, and I know I always will. I miss the funny, quaint little villages and the British sense of humor. I swapped my umbrella for sunglasses and factor 50 sunscreen, and if I ever leave Australia, I know the new list of things I miss will be just as long.
I love that I was brave enough to publish my book, even though I had no idea how it would work out or whether people would like it—I still don’t. Publishing a book is an amazing feeling, but what’s more amazing is the support I have had from my family and friends, and the encouragement from the writing community.
The funny thing about being brave is that it’s all kinds of addictive, and you realize that you can do this, whatever this may be. And you realize too, that whatever happens on the other side you will get through it.
I have learned something about the other side of life changing events, and that is, they don’t really change you, or your ideals, or who you are, at least not in my case. You still get up and do the same things, say the same things, laugh and love the same things, but inside there is this little happy glow that knows—I did it—and nothing can take that away.
So if I had one wish for 2017, it would be for all the people who have a dream or wish or hope that they have been sitting on, to be brave and make it happen.
Wishing you all happy writing in 2017
There is something magical about a craft that can take us on a journey, and can blur the lines between the real and the unreal. Writing is such a craft. It can pick us up from our mundane lives, and take us to a place where all things are possible.
The real world, where we live, is a place filled with beauty and terror, and so too is the imaginary world where dragons exist.
All stories have a purpose, a reason for existing, and a vastly diverse reason it may be. Do we write to entertain? To change our reader? To provoke thought? Good books may entertain us, or change us, or even leave us with a lingering thought. A great book will do all three.
There is no greater aspiration for a writer than to take our reader to a place where dragons—metaphorical or otherwise—exist, and better yet, to show us that those dragons can be beaten.
When we pop our precious characters onto the stage of our book, one thing we need to be wary of is not to over animate them.
I did a surreptitious survey while going about my business today. I like to do these things occasionally, you know, people watching. It is worth approaching such writerly duties with a touch of caution though.
Today I tried to focus on everyone’s body language, and to be precise, how much nodding they did.
I found that the people I interacted with didn’t do very much nodding or shaking of the head at all, in fact they were rather boring and lacking in animation. Were these people a poor sample set? Or do people just not use their head to ‘speak’ as often as they can do in a book?
One of the things my editor pointed out to me was that I do a lot of head shaking in my book, I then went through and hacked out as many of them as I could, and it is now part of my self-edit process as something to look out for in any new work.
I wondered if everyone had some sort of animation vice. Is it a raised eyebrow a time too many? Eye rolling? Frowns or scowls? Or perhaps you have a favourite phrase you slip into your prose subconsciously that reaches out after the 20th time to smack your reader between the eyes?
So, I will leave you with my opening question–do your characters nod too much?
Throughout the process of publishing a book I have had to navigate numerous stumbling blocks: the dreaded analysis paralysis, indecisiveness, and a great deal of procrastination.
First there was the character names, and I have excelled at indecisiveness in this area. I am about to publish and I am still changing character names! I am even—at this late stage—contemplating changing the sex of one of my main supporting characters! I am the living embodiment of a Tom Gauld cartoon.
Then there was the book name, and many an amusing conversation between myself and my father (and other people) has taken place about what to call the book.
And now there is the book cover…
I honestly thought the cover would be easy (what a fool I was!), but no, yet again, I have discovered new degrees of procrastination due to the choice available to me. My book is sci-fi fiction, which typically can have:
My book, while sci-fi, also has elements that would appeal to fantasy fans. So you can probably throw a sword in there because hey-ho, there are some swords.
And let me tell you that is way too much choice for my brain to cope with.
Let’s layer over the top of this some angst from all the articles I have read talking about the vital importance of getting your book cover right to attract the right audience.
I fear many more days, weeks (hopefully not more than weeks) of procrastination about my cover design, after which I will probably pick something incredibly mainstream out of sheer desperation.
Ah the joys of writing 🙂
…And if only I could pick a cover so I could get back on with the writing part.