The curse of WANTING to be a good writer

Good afternoon fellow writers, would be writers and just plain old readers.

Today I wanted to talk to you all about something that I feel plagues me, and that isn’t blank page syndrome…oh no. Though, coincidentally, I am supposed to be writing a short story right now and the thought was so scary I decided to do this instead. The matter at hand today is what I would call the desire to be good, always.

There are many exercises that people will suggest to help writers and one of the most popular is a variation of ‘stream of conscious’ writing. For the uninitiated this essentially means to write whatever comes into your mind without stopping to think.

In my time I have been asked to do many such exercises, some where you are given a word to write about, some an idea and others with no prompt at all. This is great for getting your creative juices flowing but I feel that I always stumble at the first hurdle, and I wonder if any of you share this problem.

The problem is, the aforementioned, desire to always be good. Stream of consciousness by its very nature should NOT be good writing. It should not be filled with pretty metaphors and fancy word play. It is an exercise in getting down the ideas from your head as quickly as possible and hoping that a train of thought emerges which takes you in a new direction.

So how does this problem manifest you may be asking? It manifests in TRYING to be a clever writer all the time. Never wanting to put something on the paper that isn’t smart, that won’t make people think, or isn’t going to raise a smirk. Stream of conscious should by its very nature be messy, but I cannot make it so.

Even when writing this blog, which is not prose at all, I strive to write in an engaging way.

I think to sum it up, the curse of wanting to be a good writer, is wanting to be a good writer, always.

What do you think? Is it a curse, or just a sign that you were born to be a wordsmith?

Answers on a postcard.

Ja Ne.

Writers who write different genres to you?

Good afternoon fellow internet consumers,

I thought I would write a blog today about something that has been on my mind for a few days. As many of you will know when I am not writing this blog, I am writing books for young people and almost always these books are fantasy, sci-fi or a mixture of the two.

I was recently introduced to two new writers and they both surprised me by saying they didn’t write fantasy at all. It isn’t what they read and it isn’t what the write and/or want to write. They like to write about the ‘real world’ about relationships between people in our reality. Things which would either be considered chic-lit (sorry to anyone that term frustrates…I didn’t make it up) or perhaps literary fiction.

Some of you who are far less judgemental than me may be asking yourselves why the fact they said this has been weighing on my mind? Well I shall embark upon the tail now and hopefully we can all learn something, myself included.

When I read and indeed when I write, I use that time as escapism. I exist in this world, which forgive me if you do not share my opinion, is just a little bit droll really. I do not own an Airship, a pirate ship or a spaceship. I am not a daring adventurer fighting with dragons and saving princesses. I am not nor can I be the great fabled hero of light who inherits a crystal that allows me to vanquish all monsters…I could go on but I think I have driven my point home.

I think what I am trying to say is that if I wanted to escape into a world where I can go to a coffee shop, meet a handsome stranger or have a trouble relationship with a family member. Well, I would just put my book down and experience my real life. So whenever I pick up a pen to write I escape off to a wonderful and far more exciting world than the one I live in and frankly I cannot understand people who don’t.

After I thought about this for a while I decided that this probably said more about me as a person and any chips I have ony my shoulders than it did about people who don’t write fantasy. In short should we judge people who don’t write the same things as us or indeed don’t see the world in the same way that we do? I think we probably shouldn’t, because the world would be a jolly borring place if we were all the same.

P.s. Even after this period of self reflection…I will probably always still find people who don’t like fantasy a little bit strange.
Ja Ne.

Writer self care, guide and importance.

Lets talk about you…and me. Not me and you personally, not like we are getting into a strange relationship with boundaries we haven’t quite defined yet because we haven’t had ‘the talk’. I mean lets talk about writers and what people like us can do to ensure we are being the best we can be.

Now for once I must point out that I am not talking about writing better either, I mean taking care of yourself in everything outside of writing so that your writing doesn’t suffer.

A lot of you might be saying things like ‘I’m a fully grown adult Elliot, I know how to look after myself’ or ‘Don’t preach to me MOM’ but this seems to be a hot topic among writers on the internet so who am I to shun the suggestion. As a self respecting writing blogger I think it is my duty, neigh, my responsibility to touch upon the subject of ‘writer self care’.

So let me just get one thing straight before I jump into the meat of this issue. I do not personally think that writers are particularly delicate or in any other way different to any other type of person that might make us bad at looking after ourselves. With that being said I believe where a lot of the concern over a lack of self care comes from is the work involved in writing a novel. Writing a novel means sitting down at a desk, or in your car with a laptop or even in bed with your laptop for hours and hours each day. It also means spending a lot of time plotting and planning and trying to think of ways your hero can kill the impossibly tough bad guy without it being a massive cop out like ‘love’ being the secret *cringes*. Couple with that the fact that most first time novelists also have a full time job which may involve sitting down that adds up to one thing. A hell of a lot of time spent sat down not moving, maybe eating cakes and almost certainly not sleeping enough. Once all the work is done you are probably so tired you just want to sit down in front of the TV, not go to the gym or cook your five a day. So following are my top tips for staying healthy and happy when writing your novel.

1: EXERCISE, writers are just like all other people. Though we might be pale and indoorsy that is no reason not to exercise at least semi regularly. There are enough YouTube aerobic videos to keep you pumping and grooving until the day you die if you start now so the chances are you will find at least one or two you can manage to do. If you find my previous stereotype offensive and you are not at all pale or indoorsy then I suggest a good hearty run.

I know you’re stressed and you don’t think there are enough hours in the day for everything you need to get done but there are…and if there aren’t there is always tomorrow right? Realistically there are almost certainly points of your day when you are ‘working on your book’ that are actually just sitting in front of the screen not writing or even really thinking. This is the perfect time to bang in a few sets of squats or laps around the room. Sometimes getting your heart pumping will actually help you feel better and clear your head making the writing come more naturally.

2: READ. A lot of people have a tendency to stop reading when they are writing but that is really one of the worst things you can do. Reading is much more relaxing than watching TV even if it is a little more difficult. It has the added benefit that if you read physical books and write on a computer that you are actually letting your eyes get some much needed rest from looking at a screen.

You will remind yourself why you are writing, you want to write something as good as whatever you are reading and if you stick to it you really can.

I truly believe that you cannot be a writer if you have never read and the more you read the better you will get. People worry too much about ‘unconscious plagiarism’. Plagiarism is never unconscious, you will always know if you are stealing an idea and the chances are you won’t be doing it from the thing you are currently reading but some beloved childhood tale. 

3: HEALTHY SNACKS. This is a big one in my opinion, when you are sat down at a desk for hours writing you can easily fall into habits like having a cup of tea next to you, maybe that tea has some biscuits with it. Before you know it you have added several hundred or even thousand calories to your daily intake and if you can no longer fit into your desk chair you are probably guilty of this.

The only way in my opinion to combat this is to just not have junk food in your house. If you must snack buy carrot sticks or get some low GI berries, do not turn to the chocolate and the biscuits.

If they are there you will eat them when you are stressed so best to just not buy them in the first place.

Well that’s it for this week kids, if you have any subjects you want me to talk about let me know.

Looking forward to talking with you all again the same time next week.

Ja,Ne.

On the importance of setting daily goals

The human mind is a wonderful thing, give it a goal and achieve that goal and it will make you feel on top of the world.

Do you ever find yourself sat at home at the end of a day feeling depressed or down? You feel lethargic and as though you have achieved nothing even if you have been to work and cleaned the house. What if I told you there is a tiny little thing that you can do that will change that? One little thing you can do each day which will make you feel great? Well I am guessing you said something like ‘please yes oh wise one, help us to be happy’ thus I must indulge you.

As a writer my life’s goal ultimately is to write things of outstanding quality that others will enjoy and in some small way my writing will improve the readers life. To that end it is very important that I do one thing consistently, if you guess that is writing, well you guessed correctly.

I have spoken before about the importance of making writing a daily habit but today I will be talking more about WHY it is important from a psychological standpoint.

I read an article about Stephen King a few days ago that discussed the fact that he writes 2000 words a day, some days it may take him an hour or two and others it might take him all day, but he does it every day. That reminded me of a time when I felt great, when I felt like everyday I was taking small and achievable steps towards my goal of becoming a published writer.

The time it reminded me of was NanoWriMo, for those of you not in the know that is National Novel Writing Month and it is a month in which writers everywhere attempt to write at least 50,000 words of a first draft. In my efforts to reach this goal I wrote between 1500 and 4000 words a day consistently for those thirty days and there was not once that I felt like I had wasted a day. I could lie on the sofa and watch old 80’s movies for the rest of the day and I would still feel accomplished, that was all down to one thing.

The goal, the goal to write at least 1130 words a day. Every time I did this I told myself I had done what I set out to do that day. My brain thanked me for my hard work with a dopamine hit and I felt like I could do anything. Further to that hormonal release of happiness it reinforced a feeling of a ‘yes I can’ attitude. I set out on a goal that many called ridiculously hard or downright impossible and I did it anyway. Everyday I was showing my mind that all the naysayers of my past were wrong, I could do whatever I set my mind to and I kept on doing it.

Since then my writing has been fairly consistent but I certainly won’t lie and say that there haven’t been days or even sometimes a couple of days where I haven’t written anything. How did I feel on those days? Well I felt awful and I have resolved never to fall back into the ways of not writing, a writer writes and write I shall.

I am a regular reader of Writing Magazine and in the most recent issue they provided a wall callendar to track all of the writing expos and events around the country this year. I have begun using this wall planner to track my word count for the day and I will write a minimum of 1000 words a day 7 days a week. For the sake of complete transparency I shall share with you: 20th – 4118, 21st – 1102 and today 646 and counting. This blog post is the first thing I have written today as I have just returned from work but this afternoon is reserved for continuing efforts on my Werewolf novel so I shall expect to at least breach 2000 words by the time I am done for the day.

I know not all of you are writers but if you are, set a daily goal to write, and if you are not then set a daily goal that means something to you and do it DAILY, in the long run you will thank yourself for your small yet consistent efforts.

Until next time, I shall leave you with this: The half life within it faded away when we went to sector 17, probably because it had stopped writing.

Ja,Ne.

Writers are arrogant?

Hello one and all, is it Wednesday already? The keen eyed observers amongst you will notice that it is in fact not. That being said I have a busy day tomorrow and I am not technically minded enough to figure out how to delay the posting of this until tomorrow, so here we are.

Lately I have been trying to read far more than I have in the past, finishing a book a week or thereabouts and as such…I have read quite a lot.

The problem with reading a lot is that sometimes you read something and you think, god that wasn’t very good. You notice large gaping holes in the story, you find prose that you think is horrible and you are left thinking, how did this get published? Aren’t I better than this? Why am I not published!

And in there my friends lies the dark side, you might be right in some instances as there have certainly been books published that were not very good at all, but in other instances you will be very wrong.

Regardless of if you think your writing is  better than this writing or that writing you must  remember this. You are not a publisher, you are not a marketer and you will probably never know as much as those people do about selling books. If you are not published and the author of this book you think isn’t as good as yours is there is one of two possible things going on.

  1. You really are the next best thing, you just haven’t been discovered yet. (This one is unlikely mind you.)
  2. You have not written a publishable book. (much more likely).

Maybe your writing is better than this other author and maybe it isn’t but that isn’t really the point. The point is that for whatever reason a publisher and an agent and bookshops have seen fit to sell this authors book, but they haven’t seen that with yours.

Never let your arrogance turn you to the dark side of believing the publishing world is out to get you and you will never be accepted as an author. Believe in what you write but LEARN from what you read. Let the reading you do inform your craft and in time, with persistence and skill you will reach your goal.

So I shall leave you with this, never look down on another authors work, especially if you are only doing so out of jealously. Learn what you can from it, learn what the publishing world is looking for, apply that where possible and reap the rewards.

Ja Ne.

On finishing your first draft, what next?

Today is a rather momentus day if I do say so myself. Today I completed the first draft of the manuscript I have been working on since the first of november. To some that may seem quick, starting on the 01/11/16 and writing the wonderful words ‘The End’ on the 25/01/17, to others it may sound slow and for me? Well now looking at those two dates it seems rather quick, but throughout the process it has felt very long indeed.

Today it feels appropriate to discuss what happens when you finish the first draft and luckily, this not being my first book I feel I am in a reasonable position to do just that. When you are writing it can feel like an endless process and as discussed in one of my earlier posts you will undoubtedly hit the wall at some point. That point where it feels like you cannot go on, where every few hundred words feels like a trial but once you do pass that and finish…it can in all honesty get a whole lot worse.

Sure the first draft was hard, maybe it was even torture but what now? Where before you had the constant forward momentum of knowing tomorrow you had to write the next chapter of the book. Now that is gone, now you are left with the question of….what do I do now? So the first thing is to think of what you are NOT going to do.

1) You are not going to send it to anyone, no really, I mean that. DO NOT SEND YOUR MANUSCRIPT TO ANYONE. If you just finished your first draft no matter how good it felt when you wrote it, it is not finished and it is in no way ready to send to an agent or publisher. To do so would be a waste, you will usually only get one chance to make a first impression with a book and if it isn’t the best it can be…well then you just wasted that opportunity. Further you shouldn’t send it to your friends, family or beta readers. The initial edit will be yours and you really don’t want anyone else to read your book before you have had a first crack at fixing the probably numerous problems it has.

2) You are not going to write a new book, I mean why would you? This book is not finished, writing a first draft (though it is more than many would be writers will ever do) is not finishing a book. You wouldn’t stop half way through the first draft to write a different first draft would you? So why stop half way through writing the book. Repeat this to yourself, for this will be your mantra WRITING A FIRST DRAFT IS NOT WRITING A BOOK.

Well now we have that out of the way, maybe we should move on to what you actually SHOULD do. The fact of the matter is you need to get to editing. If you look at how to books or websites you will see lots of different names for specific types of edits and processes and while that is great I would caution against getting stuck in terminology. Like writing itself, editing too will be different for everyone, and indeed for every project.

With my first book I added no scenes and I only took away one, with my current manuscript I already know that there are several scenes I need to add and others I need to change.So where with my first manuscript I went straight to line edits with this one there is far more work to be done. There may be something to be said about that with regards to me having grown as a writer but largely it is just a matter of each book being different.

With that said here is my advice to you. First of all read the whole book with the intention of changing nothing, read it from cover to cover and take it in as a reader rather than as a writer. Then read it again making notes of everything you don’t like or want to change and any scenes you think need to be added (for example, if in one scene you refer to the old bank heist but you realise that you never actually wrote that bank heist, now would be the time to fix that). Once you have written all the things you need to do, read it a third time and make these changes. Once complete read it through again and repeat the process.

Once you are completely happy with the general shape and form of the story then it is time for line edits, by that I mean removing typos, correcting spelling mistakes and making messy sentences much prettier. As before read the book, make the changes and repeat time and time again. There is no magic number of times but I would say this; repeat until you either are 100% happy and feel you cannot possibly improve it, or until you are so sick of reading it that you never want to see the book again.

Once this is done, and only once this is done it is time to consider agents or publishers but that is a matter for another time.

I shall leave you with this: we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive.

Ja Ne.

Do you need to write first thing in the morning?

I attended a writing workshop at a literature festival last year and I had a discussion with a gentleman there who held what I felt was a rather silly view. It soon turned out however that he was not the only one who held this view, as such I feel it would be quite reasonable to speak about it here.

As you may have guessed this particular point of view was as follows: you must get up early in the morning and write first thing. Before you watch the TV, listen to the radio or indeed read anything. His thought process was that if you did consume media, for lack of a better description, before you write then your own personal style and writing will be tainted or in some way changed by what you have consumed.

At first consideration this may seem reasonable, until you think about it, at which point. If you are like me (and of course that is a big if) you will see that it is truly rather silly. After all what are we if not the collected things we have seen, done and heard in our lifetime?

It is my opinion that while there may be very good reasons to write first thing in the morning the above is not one of them.

To anyone who thinks they are at danger of being poluted by what they experience in the day prior to writing I would say this. Do you write in English? Oh you do….did you learn English today? No…you didn’t? Well then you are openly admiting that something that happened to you PRIOR to you waking this morning is informing the way you write. A language is obviously a big thing but it serves to get the point across. You will be informed by the books you have read, the films you have seen and indeed the languages you have learnt. I say jolly good work, for what boring things would we write if we had no inspiration.

The point of this post would be this, there is no right way to write and there is no wrong way. If it works for you, if it helps you, then do it (provided it is legal and morally just of course.) Do not let anyone else tell you how and when you should write, just write.

I shall leave you with this, let us think the unthinkable, let us write the unwriteable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

Ja Ne.