Go go go…Motivation

We writers can get into tangles. At times you lose the plot. Or can’t find it. Here are some tips to motivate yourself.

Set a goal – Ten words a day. Twenty. Five hundred. Ten thousand. Just make sure it’s realistic.

Free write – write anything. Five minutes of scribbling can free the mind. It can also produce some interesting results.

Leave it – take a break, have a walk, drink coffee. Don’t let the pressure overwhelm you.

Avoid distractions – easier said than done with social media. Ban them for a short period during the day.

Get a scriptorium – a writing space, where your brain gets used to literary work, is part of the habit-forming necessity of writing.

Read read read – There’s no better way to kick your own butt than reading.

Share – talk your ideas (or your problems) over with friends, family or a fellow writer.

Motivation is sometimes about problems with INSPIRATION, so look for cues, tips, hints, and  Look at stories in the newspapers, on TV, in magazine, even on the radio. I once wrote a short story after hearing a man describe how he met his wife in a supermarket. Check out the obituaries, there is loads of great inspiring detail in the notable lives of others.

When you have produced something – no matter how good or bad – reward yourself, whether mentally or otherwise.

Keep going – it’s only writing, after all.

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Top 5: Writerly Mistakes (If You Want to be Ignored)

There are rules, we know that already. There are also crimes that writers commit in the pursuit of their craft. Here are some of the worst errors that we must be mindful of when editing work.

  • Cliché: Written elsewhere, a cardinal sin, punishable by excommunication from a writing group.
  • Adjectives/Adverbs: You may like them, but everyone will tell you they ‘slow down the prose’. This means that these words take the focus away from the action. Worse, when they are used indiscriminately, they result in some awful prose. Try this, ‘he said falteringly.’ Or, ‘she   Limit their use, your writing will be better for it. And everyone will be happy.
  • PoV Errors: ‘Head hopping’. Not to be confused with ‘bed-hopping’. The sudden and continuous switching between one character and another can lead to reader confusion and inauthenticity. Also, jumping from an external view right into your character’s head. This is disconcerting and will jolly the reader. PoV transitions like this need to be handled with care.
  • Speech tags: Keep them simple. ‘He said,’ and ‘she said.’ They work. Better still, they fade into the background. All you do when you make a conscious effort to mix them up is draw attention to the fact. When ‘(s)he responded,’ is followed by ‘he answered’, ‘he replied,’ and ‘he retorted,’ in a short space,  you will do two things. 1- make it obvious, and 2- distract the reader. Avoid this trap by the occasional variation instead of an apparent compulsion.
  • Bad dialogue: ‘Hello.’- ‘Hello’ – ‘Want a drink?’ – ‘Yes please. A whiskey.’ – ‘OK, here you are.’ – ‘Thanks.’ And so on. If you do nothing more than transcribe conversations they’ll be dull. There’s a skill to making dialogue interesting. I’ll talk about dialogue in a future post.

For now, steer clear of these five and your writing will be more dynamic.

Lastly, it’s true, ‘writerly’ is a thing.

Things I Know: #2 Editing

Never was there a more depressing summary of the process than the old quote by Hemingway: Write drunk, edit sober.

Editing: from where I’m standing, editing is only marginally more preferable to having your eyelids glued together and prized apart with two rusty nails.

Of course it improves your writing. You get to gasp in horror at the mistyped word or when you notice a plot hole. You get to remove all those unnecessary adverbs. You have the chance to avoid all that repetition.

And then there are those times when editing, times when we happen on a phrase/description/piece of clever dialogue and feel a sense of achievement. It’s even possible to surprise yourself, ‘Did I write that?’ Self-pride is allowed, it’s not vanity or delusional, those moments are ones you can cherish.

But those moments are the rare. Welcome, but rare.

 

 

 

Writings Routines – Any Good?

Routines help us organise things, which can be good. But they can become tedious and repetitive, which can be bad.

In the Guardian (31/12/16), Sebastian Barry (Days Without End) talked about ‘desk-hunger.’ This is the desire to get to writing. He also said that ‘having to do something other than writing is very good for writing.’ This is incisive perception. Taking your mind off having to write is probably sometimes the best thing to do.

Writers often discuss their routines. Some of them have a stack of pencils lined up, others start at the same time every day. Some set a word target and stop when they have reached it.

Such obsessing sounds all well and good, but tremendously boring. Routines are great for a while, but they get mechanical, and that strikes me as the last thing a writer would want.

Of course you want to get bashing away at the keyboard, but ideas don’t always fall in fat drops from the sky.

Leave it. Go and do something else, like Barry says is good for you.

Anxiety is the enemy: If you are worried about what will come out when you write, you probably won’t write. If you are worried about failing, you probably won’t write. At least not fluently. If you are concerned about criticism, don’t write. This is part of the game and if you cower when people start to talk about your work, you need to learn to develop a protective shell. (This works for rejection as well.)

If in doubt, just write. Anything. You can always chuck it in the bin when something better comes along.

Find your way: Strengths and weaknesses: Find out what type of writer you are. For instance, you might enjoy mapping. That is, planning the novel. Me, I get a buzz from the energy of new writing. Others (sick types) like editing and rewriting. Once you know where your strengths lie, you can exercise them. It also makes facing the not-so-enjoyable-but-necessary parts a little easier.

How I ever managed to finish Plexus is a mystery to me. Nothing but domestic troubles, financial worries, bad quarters to work in – room too hot, too small, too cold, and so on. Henry Miller, proving that you have to start somewhere and then keep going.

 

‘First Drafts Are Shit’

‘First drafts are shit – that’s not me, that’s Hemingway. With some works, it might be suggested that second third fourth drafts are also shit.

In some cases, even the final draft is shit.

I was reminded of this when I took a look at an early draft of one of my novels. Since then, this book has undergone major restructuring, cutting, adding, character strengthening and all the other stuff. Including heavy sighs and swear words.

Here’s another quote, this time from E.B White – ‘Writing is rewriting‘ which can be understood as an extension of the Hemingway quote.

The point is, that unless you are that brilliant (apocryphal) writer, for whom words spill fully formed onto the page, you will have to spend time messing with the monster you’ve already created.

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Don’t want to lose your creation? 

Understandably, nobody likes to cut words, sentences, phrases, paragraphs, scenes, chapters even, that have been painstakingly written or typed. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that a piece that has been broken up then worked and reworked will almost certainly be a better read.

Bottom line

There is a principle that you write first for yourself, then for your agent, and then for your reader. Whether this is true depends on how you approach your work, but whatever the journey, you should want the end product to be something of which you are rightly proud and that the reader can enjoy.

Rewriting will add energy and sparkle but cutting laborious passages that you originally thought were great. Connections that you didn’t expect will emerge. Characters will reveal about themselves that you hadn’t known previously.

Pushing the creative process is hard work, it’s frustrating and you spend a lot of time in metaphorical rabbit holes, but the result is (almost) always worth the effort.

Hooks

An angling metaphor is useful here. As writers, we are fishing for readers. We have to bait our line and hook them, reel them in and maintain their interest. (Okay, not quite the same as keeping them captive in a net – let’s just say we don’t want them floundering like a fish out of water.)

The first and most important of these steps, because thats the one that gets them to our stories in the first place, is the hook.

 

Hooks are the interesting nugget that readers get attracted to. Whether it is a short story, where hooks are arguably more important, or a novel, the potential reader will quickly disappear if the hook is not strong enough.

Here are some ideas that may help:

Make the reader ask questions – show them something has happened, or is about to happen. If you can pique their interest, they will read on. If you read the simple line, ‘Today I lost my way’ you want to know what the character has been involved in.

Start with a quote – Often done by a character, this can be a powerful introduction. If I read: ‘”Good things happen to bad people”,they say.’ I’m thinking, what’s up with this person?

Begin the opening scene with action – ‘Max jumped from one carriage to another, barely maintaining a foothold on the narrow ledge.’ Whatever this guy Max is up to, it sound exciting.

Use setting – if you show the reader a dark forest with moonlight barely creeping through the finger-like branches of the trees, you are scene-setting. It’s a good way to create a mood before you introduce your characters.

Whatever you do, make sure the opening is powerful. If you can have your reader say ‘wow’ before the ned of the first page, preferably the end of the first paragraph, you have their interest. Now maintaining that interest is another matter…

 

 

Scribberly? That’s Not a Word.

neolo|gism

Pronunciation: /nɪˈɒlədʒɪz(ə)m/

Definition of neologism in English:

noun

newly coined word or expression.

1.1 [MASS NOUN] The coining or use of new words.
So, there you go…it’s a new word.
Anyway, Shakespeare did it all the time and we’re still using stuff he made up.

The Art of the Short Story

Short stories are just long stories but shorter right? Well, yes and no.

Short stories are shorter, as the name suggests, but there is far more to it than that. Short stories don’t have the luxury of length into which the writer can expand the narrative. They must be punchy and precise.

Writers seem to like rules, so here are some basic rules for short story writing.

  • Have a strong narrative arc – Just like their longer cousins, short stories need a beginning, middle and end. This guides the reader through their journey and provides them with a (hopefully) satisfactory conclusion.
  • Keep characters to a minimum – Don’t clutter the story with lots of people. Keep your reader focussed with two or three compelling central characters who stand out and sparkle. If you characters are strong and well worked out, they will help to create strength in the story.
  • Starts – Get to the point straight away. You don’t have time to waste, and not does your reader, so introduce the message as soon as possible, preferably in the first sentence. Also, make that start dynamic. The best way to do this is with a statement or, perhaps even better, with dialogue.
  • Hooks – Your theme needs to ‘hook’ the reader. If you suggest that there is something worth finding out, your reader will read on. We want to engender an inquisitiveness about what is going to happen in the story. If readers don’t care, they’ll give up.
  • Purpose – What does you character want? What is the thrust of the story? You need to remember that the story must have a purpose and be more than a simple scene description. The reader needs to be asking themselves questions about what is going on.
  • Be economical – Don’t waste time giving backstory, you don’t have space for that. Instead, assume that your reader can work things out with a few well-placed hints. The plot should generally be simple.
  • Dialogue – This is crucial. Dialogue helps provide information, it moves a story along, it is dynamic and versatile and helps to communicate things more quickly than simple description can ever do.
  • Endings – the best endings don’t have to have a twist, but if you can get a good one to fit, it can be a great way to finish a story. What you want most of all with an ending is to create emotion. If you make your reader cry, or laugh, or feel empathy with your character, you will have achieved something. The last thing we want when the reader finished reading is for them to think ‘So what?’ Emotional release in the reader is a good target for the short story writer.
  • Resolution – Similar to endings, but subtly different. If you have asked a question in the story, or set a challenge for a character, make sure that these things are squared off at the end. If not, you will annoy your reader, who has invested their time in the reading of your story. Which brings us to the last point…
  • Always remember the reader – We all enjoy writing, but it is the reader who we are trying to please.

When is a Writer a Real Writer?

Here’s a topic that is lifted from a conversation I had with a writer friend called Ed.

I asked him what qualified a person to say they were a writer.

There are many types of writer, fiction/non-fiction, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, journos, copy writers, bloggers…Okay, because that involves me, let’s start with the last one.

Bloggers: You may say to me, ‘you’re a writer, you’re writing a blog’. Well, let’s think about that statement. Technically, you would be right, because I am putting words onto a page (okay, screen). But if I’m not a writer by profession, rather perhaps a psychotherapist, then that would be my chosen career path, the area of work that defines my job role.

The problem is not that simple, though. Let’s limit the discussion. Here we are interested in the fiction writing.

Hobby-writers: Consider a person who has written a work of fiction, a novel, novella, short story, they are a writer, non? Well, yes and no. From the point of view of a  profession, if that is all they have done, the achievement is little more than a hobby. (A creative one, yes, but still a hobby.)

Perhaps it would be easier to talk in terms of success?

Published Writers: Ah, the raison d-être of many writers. You have a published piece of work, so now you are a writer, yes?. Still the response must be, yes and no.  You see, as Ed pointed out, success is historical. You have a work published, then you start working on the next piece. Illi forever feels a potential failure despite his published novels. (But we work on that, my sweetness.) But wait, I might tell him…Do we say that Salinger is not a real writer because he faded away after Catcher in the Rye?

So we could be talking about commercial or literary success, or both. For example, you might not like 50 Shades, (poorly written, reliant on repetitive imagery, transparent plotting etc.), but in terms of money, it’s a clear success.

The moment seems to come down to interpretation. If you want to call yourself a writer, that’s okay with me. If you want to say you are a writer who earns your living through writing, a ‘professional’, then, to purists that’s being a real writer.

The others:

Pretend writers:

Ghostwriting: A skill in itself, but what about ghostwritten celebrity books? Well, when I see a ‘celeb’ on the TV promoting ‘their’ latest novel, I try and switch channels. Why? Because they’re not real writers.  After all, the celeb in question often provides little more than their name and perhaps a couple of contributing ‘ideas’. They’re pretend writers, not real ones. They haven’t served their time, toiled in the mill, paid their dues (got to love a cliché). In short, they don’t offer the creative genius of a real writer, shaping phrases, evoking images, culling unnecessary words like discarding a favourite pair of trainers.

Self-Publishing: Common, popular and easy to do. Write a piece, format, upload to Amazon. Et voilà, you are a writer. Well, yes and no. If we apply the definitions I have already outlined, you are a writer for producing the work, you are a writer for publishing your work, you may even be a writer for earning money from that work. And, you may have simply posted a file, much like when we put the latest picture brought back from playgroup by your four-year-old child on the fridge. You have bypassed the normal agonies of the publishing industry, and that means unless you have been scrupulous in your preparation and editing, you might not have produced a work of quality, and that’s where the problems might arise.