One writer’s rules. What are yours?

IMG_0474.PNGSome of mine off the top of my head include:

  • Write even when you don’t feel like it. Often you can turn that around
  • Write regularly
  • Trust YOUR writing process, no one else’s
  • Sometimes down time is writing too e.g. problem solving, fermenting characters, problem solving
  • Writer’s block means something is wrong. Listen, learn and overcome
  • Constantly challenge yourself to improve
  • Get feedback for your work from supportive people, experts perhaps or a writers’ group
  • Read, read, read good writers inside and outside your genre as well as writing books. INVALUABLE!
  • Write for you, not for anyone else or fame or money and so on
  • That said, your drafts should move from writing to get things out of your system out to considering your reader
  • Enjoy writing. Again, if you’re not, look for what’s going wrong and change that.

Writing multiple books at the same time

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Should you write multiple books at the same time? Perhaps you have ideas and characters bursting out of you. Or you have two or more stories of equal importance.

I believe it’s possible under some circumstances to write two manuscripts at the same time, but with some clear boundaries.

That said, there are circumstances where your writing energy would be better spent getting one project to a certain finished point first. How do you know?

If you can’t stop yourself from writing more than one book at a time, here are some guidelines:

  1. Your manuscripts must be very different. Perhaps one could be non-fiction and one fiction. Perhaps one could be crime and the other literary fiction. This way it will be easier not to diffuse your writing energy.
  2. Your manuscripts must also be at different stages. For example, you could be having a break from a first draft manuscript while your beta readers are looking at it or you’ve put in the drawer to get some distance. Alternatively, one could be at the plotting or first draft stage with one and on your third rewrite with the other.
  3. Make sure you have the energy for each story. If not, then go back to your priority story and let the other sit for a while. Trust that it will be developing in your head as you work on your priority manuscript.
  4. Your stories are part of a series. In this situation, you might find it natural to work on more than one part in the series, as long as you have a clear idea where they’re going and one doesn’t constrain the other.

But if like many people working on two manuscripts means you’re diffusing your energy, there are ways you can keep your non-priority project alive.

  1. Keep an ideas book and jot down your ideas so you don’t lose them. Keeping them on the back burner doesn’t mean you can’t develop them. Often they are stronger for this.
  2. You can even develop your plot and characters so that when it’s time to write this story you have a lot of preliminary work completed.
  3. You could also do research while you’re working on your priority manuscript. Again, more work will be done so you hoe straight in to the next book when the time is right.

Good luck fellow writers. Remember, never never never give in. Keep on learning and improving.

Writing Book Review – Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

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This how-to writing book was first published in 1995 but it’s my latest writing book read. Stein is a successful author and respected editor. While it’s a little outdated on the state of the book market, it’s a standout in its genre because it’s practical, technical as well as strategic, well written and inspiring. Stein also covers fiction and non-fiction, while many books do one or the other.

The topics he covers include the technical essentials such as character, point of view, opening,  dialogue and how to stand out, albeit in a more strategic way than I’ve seen before (by that I mean he writes about these issues as part of the whole rather than as distinct aspects).

He also offers some different and more strategic approaches such as how to use all of the six senses in your writing, particularity, resonance, love scenes, tapping into your originality, ‘guts’ ad how to revise fiction. His great writing, frequent use of examples, and strategic point of view, and all done in an encouraging way, are memorable. I’ll always find his lessons useful. 

 

Key take outs:

  • In the chapter ‘Triage: A Better Way of Revising Fiction’, Stein offers a prioritised approach to rewriting manuscripts. Rather than going sequentially from beginning to end, he offers up a list of issues to resolve beginning with the main character, antagonist, minor characters, conflict, memorability of scenes, motivation etc.. I found this approach very helpful. Even if you don’t use it, it provides a thorough checklist. 
  • Practice is essential. Practice is good. Practice is normal. “By practice one learns to use what one has understood. Only writers, it seems, expect to achieve a level of mastery without practice.” So don’t feel bad if you’re not there yet. Just keep working at it. Be open to learning, search for constructive criticism, attend workshops and read read read books like this.
  • I yawn at those lists to of questions to ask your character to get to know them better. He has a much deeper set of exercises that I found interesting and much more useful, including listening to your character complain bitterly, having a heated argument with them, picturing them old/young or in an unusual situation, and having a conversation to have with them before sleeping in the hope you’ll wake up with a solution to any story issues. 

Score: 10/10 Instructive

Writing to music

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I had an amazing writing day the other day. Words flowed out of me in a way I’d been working towards for a while.

What did I do differently that day? I asked myself. It took me a while to work out what it was, but I’d spent the morning doing physical work and listening to music  – my Best Songs Eva playlist. I’ve been experimenting since then with listening to music before and during writing. This is what I found:

  1. Music inspires
    Art feeds art, and music can inspire you to write in a new way.  Choose the right playlist to arouse, impel, exalt, animate, fill  you (you get the idea) with feeling,  openness and receptivity and let it flow out of you onto the page.
  2. Music enhances mood and creativity
    There’s something about listening to the right kind of music to get your neurons and synapses firing. I had to write about something based in personal pain, which I hadn’t been looking forward to. But it flowed out of me with an honesty I was flawed by, and surprisingly it was less painful than I’d expected. My word combinations were also new and exciting. I came up with language I didn’t know I had in me. Some of it needed paring back, but it was a great start. Music seemed to be my muse.
  3. Great lyrics help language
    Music with great lyrics – by that I mean words combined in a new way to create meaning and impact greater than their sum – can make you think about language in a new way, just like reading a classic book by a great author. It’s about looking at language through someone else’s eyes to spark new ways of using it yourself. It’s also about absorbing compelling language in an unconscious way that will hopefully show up on the page.
  4. Music can block distractions and create focus
    Some people use music to block out other distractions. I didn’t find this myself, but it definitely gave me greater focus and single-mindedness.
  5. Write while listening to music?
    This is OK for me, but not ideal. I found it interfered with the music of my words, sentences and paragraphs. That said many people swear by it so experiment to work out what’s best for you.
  6. Or listen to music before you write?
    This works best for me and it’s how I plan to go on using music. I’m working on creating playlists for certain moods I want to create in my writing. But really, anything that moves me seems to inspire. What works best for you?