Tag Archives: tips

Groundhog Day

31 Jan

Groundhog DaySo here I am once more, back on the final chapter of the Ferret Files, nineteen months after the last time I was here.  Things have moved on – in a good direction, the whole novel feels much better and my characters are much happier with their lot.  How do I know? They’ve stopped bitching to me about unfulfilled desires and hanging plot lines.

So what have I learned during the second revision?

1) If you have a novel inside you that’s demanding to see the light of day, write it.  Perseverance is key.  Set to and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished.  No excuses.  Really want it.  Focus on how great it will feel once you’ve reached that final chapter.  Make pictures of the day you write ‘The End’.  Chances are you’ll have to reorganize your life and miss out on things you’d otherwise do.  Sacrifice is no bad thing.  It hardens your resolve.

2) There will be days when you want to tear your hair out, days when you think you’re a dillweed for ever imagining you can write and days when you don’t get started until 8 hours after you planned.  On the flip side, there will be days when you feel amazing inside.  You’ll have a smile for everyone, especially yourself, over some delicious one-liner, a clever plot twist or a paragraph of narrative that’s good enough for Jehovah.  Those are the days that make it all worthwhile.  People will think you’re on drugs.  Let them.

3) Listen to your characters.  They know what they want better than you do.  If you push them about, they will fight back.  Take heed of what they say, take a deep breath and go with it.  You’ll learn things about your characters that you didn’t know and that’ll make you feel on top of the world.  See (2).  Any good story is the story of characters and how they change over time when faced with issues they didn’t expect to encounter.  If you’re ever in doubt about who your characters are, imagine them all at a dinner party.  Who forgets to wear a bow tie?  Who takes two, just in case?  Now lob a grenade in the room and watch them react.  This is a metaphor for something unexpected BTW, it doesn’t have to be a real grenade.  The point is to take your characters out of the novel, put them in a situation that doesn’t exist in the novel, add some chaos, watch and learn.

4) Not every brilliant idea you have has to be used immediately.  If it doesn’t fit, don’t try and cram it in.  Some ideas are so good, they’re novels on their own, they need space to develop and breathe.  So keep a notebook, jot them down and then leave well alone.  Rabbit holes will derail you. and once you’re down one, it’s easy to forget how you got there.  Think Alice in Wonderland.

5) If you’re stuck, blog it.  Social media is your window to the world.  If you have something that’s bothering you in the way of the plot, characters or even technique, write about it, put it down for a day and then think about pressing the publish button before you re-read it.  That should get the juices flowing.  Now you can re-read.  Saying something out aloud is very different to saying it in your head.  Often the shock will provide the answer.  If not, bash the problem around.  I tend to use other writers rather than my friends, just because they’ve not been up to their elbows in words and don’t fully understand what’s going through your head.

6) Write about stuff that interests you.  You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on brain surgery to have an interest in it.  Research is all part of the writing experience, whether you do it before you start, or while you’re going along.  If you find brain surgery to be as dull as ditch water, then leave it well alone.  Ultimately, you’re no different to anybody else out there.  If you choose to write about something that you have no interest in whatsoever, it will show.  Excuses will abound and you’ll find it difficult to finish.  Overall, you won’t enjoy the writing experience and readers will enjoy the reading experience even less.  Being happy is the key to being productive.  Writing about things that interest me while listening to music I love – there’s no better feeling.  See (2).

7) Read often.  The more you read good fiction, the more you learn unconsciously about the writing process and the art of story telling.  If you have difficulty with a particular plot point, see how your favorite author deals with it.  Ultimately, every story has already been told, but not every combination of words has ever been used to reach the conclusion.  Writing and music have a lot in common.  There’s only so may notes, yet new songs come out all the time and they still manage to be original.  Musicians have their influences, authors too.  Read.  Digest.  Be inspired.  Dare to reach for Heaven.

That’s it for today.  Now I’m back in the flow, I can’t seem to shut up…


My Top Six Writing Tips

25 Jul

I don’t normally do reposts, but this is so spot on it deserves a mention.

My Top Six Writing Tips.

Those Duvet Moments

16 Jan

In the last three months of 2012 I pulled together the plot for the Ferret Files, working it out end to end, including Bios for all the main characters, their drivers and story arcs. I patted myself on the back for a job well done and then sat down to write the damn thing.

Let me tell you, ‘sit down and write’ is not as easy as it sounds.

coffeeI didn’t know it was going to be so difficult when I started. Having followed #amwriting and #amediting on Tw@tter for some months now, I’m certainly not alone in my aspirations and frustrations. Some days I just need to stay under the duvet; even the smell of freshly brewed coffee on the stove, wafting up the stairs can’t drag me to the keyboard.

I started out full of it, word count was everything. The higher, the better. Then I decided I’d rather write 1,000 good words than 10,000 bad ones and slowed down. What’s a good word? Shedopsycodelaphia is a good word (I made that one up, BTW). However, if I write it 1,000 times, it doesn’t make my work any better. Eventually I concluded that a good word is a word in the right place, which looks right, feels rights and sounds right when you read your work aloud, in character. Similarly, bad words abound when nothing reads right, feels right or sounds right when you read your work out. If you, the author become bored and start looking out the window, counting sheep, before you get to the end, it’s time for some serious editing.

How do you start?

Those are where my duvet moments come in. The first time I refused to get up to the sweet smell of brewing Bourbon (my blend of the moment) the missus thought I was stricken with the lurgy. The truth is, I was buried beneath the duvet, deconstructing the work of others, to figure out how they’d done something smart with their plot or revealed a certain character trait.

I started out life as a programmer, back in the days when 4K was a lot of memory. In order to become better at my job, I spent weeks hacking away at other people’s code, deconstructing what they’d done, in order to sharpen my own skills. I found I work best this way. Having someone tell me what to do, then repeating the exercise doesn’t make stuff stick in my brain, not in the same way that taking something to pieces and then putting it back together does.

DSC00347Those duvet moments are important to me. I don’t tend to read books anew, I choose something I’ve read before and I like. Then I put my analysis head on and read it in a different way, almost as an observer rather than a reader. How did they disguise that twist? How did they first make me dislike that character? When the plot took a turn of speed, how did they stop it from flying off the road?

I find that when I’m reading in this manner, my unconscious mind starts to shift my work around. This bit belongs here; that bit goes there. It’s like a gigantic mental jigsaw puzzle, as the pieces rearrange themselves in my head. It’s enjoyable, it’s work, but it doesn’t necessarily look like it to an outside observer.

There are many ways of getting better and this is one of mine. Once you’ve done the best job you can, then comes the really scary bit: showing your work to others. That’s a whole new blog entry.

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