The Writing process

Mini directory of posts:

NEW IN: 1)Look, listen, observe— it’s about writing and observation

NEW IN: 2)Illusions— a post about how different short stories and novels really are…

3)Understanding Writer’s Block— If you don’t know what writer’s block is…I envy you. I also pity you. Read this post to know what you’ve got coming and how to ease it…

4)Get Typewriter Respect— It’s shameful that children are growing up not knowing how so many fantastic novels were written. This isn’t really about that — if it was I’d be in serious danger of ranting so much that my skin might actually flake itself off in an effort to get away from me as fast as possible — and it’s not that much to do with the writing process either, but it’s something that might be of interest.

5)The Why–Me ranting on about an elusive question we all face. This is either interesting reading, or a sure sign that I need to go to bed…

6)What is head-hopping?— head-hopping is a real problem for beginner writers and more experienced writers alike. In this post, I rant on about what it is, the various different ways it is done, and how to avoid it…and I wish I could say I know all this from a friend of a friend but…

7)Evolution of a book cover — a look at how my cover art for The Number 3 Mystery Book evolved from…complete crap to hopefully something good.

8)Thoughts on: The Ruins, by Scott Smith — a powerful novel and a masterclass in dialogue / how to interpret all kinds of human interaction on the page, this is a short review and a short essay on exactly those subjects.

9)25 things that WILL get you to the end of a first draft.

10)How Reading Different Stuff Can Boost Your Writing Skills.

11)5 questions with fiction-writing coach Kati Rynne.

12)Can you write a novel by hand using a pen or pencil?Of course you can. People have been doing it for hundreds of years…

13)How I go about writing a book(+ bad and good things that you can do along the way)

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1)Look, listen, observe

Several weeks ago I saw a comment on Facebook — I can’t remember who wrote it, but that’s beside the point — which said something along the lines of: does visiting the places in your novel help with writing it?

To begin with I thought Of course it does, but that’s obvious! Then I started to think more and more about it and came to another conclusion: actually, with fiction, you don’t always need to visit places. It isn’t absolutely essential, especially not if your plot is more about what’s being said than where it is happening. I’m also sure — or at least I very much hope — that a lot of writers have written about serial killers without acually going for a drink with them. That said, going to the location where your novel or short story is based is never a bad idea, especially if location is important and you want readers to connect with a more local setting. Because when you really think about it, you may think you can imagine a place using the power of your mind, but when you go there it’s always different: things reveal themselves — details, smells, sounds, subconscious things which feed you without your knowing — and these things, when combined, provide you with a picture that you could never have put together just by purely imagining.

If you think I’m overplaying this, ask yourself the following question: how well do you know the back of your hand?

(Answer: not very well unless you’re freakish. Even if you have an eidetic memory — what’s more commonly known as a ‘photographic’ memory’ — chances are that you’ve been using it for much better and more inventive things. I know I would.)

For example, think about how many veins are noticeable when you lie it flat, or where shadows are cast when the light is dim; what makes your back of your hand particularly unique?

It’s hard, isn’t it? When I try and think hard about it, all I get is a vague picture. In fact, it’s a trap: the more I think about it, the less sure I become.

Do you want your reader to have a vague picture of where you’re describing? Or do you want them to really feel and experience the environment you are creating? Whenever possible, if you can and are able, try and visit somewhere which can give you clues and insight — even if it’s somewhere you go every day and think you know like…

It doesn’t have to be the exact place — don’t worry about Westminster Abbey if you live miles away; the nearest Cathedral do. The more you do this, the more real your writing will become.

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2)Illusions

I’ve written a lot of short stories. I really like writing short stories; for me, it’s a way of exploring ideas which I know I’ll probably never get around to making novels of — a way of assigning ideas to paper so that they get recorded safely somehow, even if it’s not in the way that I would prefer.  I deliberately don’t write short stories about novel ideas I’m really passionate about, ones I know I’ll one day incorporate into a work of fiction, and the reason is simple: I don’t want to taint the idea — instead, I want to leave it to develop, so that when I come around to it again, I’ll be able to go in any direction and it’ll all be new and I’ll have never been there before.

Here’s the good news: if you want to be a novelist, you have it easier than most short story writers do. They have a very tough job. Everyone has a different opinion about this, of course, but my own is that short stories are much harder to make a good job of than novels. For the following reasons:

1) With a novel you have so much scope. Hundreds of pages in which to explore your ideas in great detail if you wish to — you can elaborate on anything and everything, knowing that there is always space. Although writing that many pages is daunting in the beginning, after a while it becomes second nature and it becomes easier than condensing it all into only a few. Once it becomes the norm, I’m telling you: you’ll find it almost impossible to write a decent short story. After a while it gets easier, but you never really shake it off. That’s why you find a lot of writers are either novelists or short story writers — few are both. People like Kazuo Ishiguro and Stephen King are actually rarer than you think. Amazingly, they’ve mastered both the forms. Which is really something.

2) As I’ve already pointed out, in a short story your scope is massively limited. Somehow — and I am still struggling with this factor, probably always will be — you have to break what is essentially a very low-fi novel down into just 10 or 15 pages…or less. This takes remarkable skill and accuracy of words. I’ve tried and failed to write many short stories. What usually happens is they end up growing and growing until they’re a 400 page novel…not that I’m complaining. It’d just be nice if, for once, I could set about writing a moderately sized short story and actually achieve it!

It’s funny that I say all this, and yet on this very blog is a rapidly-growing short story section which will soon be added to again. I don’t plan to stop writing short story’s any time soon, but one thing’s for sure: no matter how many I write, I think I’ll always think there’s something missing and that I can do better.

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3)Understanding Writer’s Block

I have a feeling that the one in the middle might be called Sky. Don't worry, the budgies will make sense soon.

Let’s start with this:

1) In my opinion, writer’s block is not one universal thing. It’s completely different and personal for every writer. Therefore, reading lots of posts on the subject, from lots of different opinions, may do you absolutely no good whatsoever. In fact, it may just confuse you and boggle your mind. The fact that it can be so many animals is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Understanding it as a wider problem – a problem with many potential symptoms – makes it easier to grapple with, in a way. Suddenly, you’re not dealing with just one gigantic issue, you’re dealing with a few smaller ones which, when they come together, are all powerful. Think of it like a medical condition: if you can analyse what the symptoms are you can treat them individually. That’s much better than facing something which feels like it could swallow you up and hoping for some miracle cure hat will never come.

2) Continuing the symptom thread, let’s look at the various things which can manifest as writer’s block:

a) Inability to write anything at all. Not even one sentence.

b) Can write stuff, but none of it is any good – or if it is I can’t see it.

c) Write? Don’t make me laugh. I can’t even sit and look at the computer or hold a pen…

Let’s be honest, whichever group you’re in it sucks.

Does it have to suck? No. Not if you can get your head around why all this is happening. Why all this might be happening.

It’s all in the why and the might.

Obviously I’m not a mind-reader, though; I’m sure there is much more that can be written about this part of the subject. And if I said I knew precisely why you were/are having trouble I’d be lying or very arrogant or both. But, if you ask me, there are a few things which you should look at when you get lumbered with this problem. That’s what I do, and it always seems to help me. Looking at these things one at a time will enable you to assess where you’re at, and that’s a crucial part of solvingwhat can be a debilitating problem.

So let’s look at the following:

a) at what stage are your ideas dying? Do they make it out of your mind and onto the screen in a long line of pathetic words, at least, or are they confused and jumbled and unable to escape to begin with? Either way, perhaps you don’t really know what you want to say, and maybe that’s the real problem. If that’s the case then take a break from stressing about not being able to write. Sit down and watch a movie instead; listen to music, do anything but write. But whatever you do, be sure to consider your ideas as and when they come to you. With me, if my ideas are coming out all mutated or half-formed, or when they refuse to come out of their cage at all, 1) it reminds me of my budgie Bluebell back from when I was very young, who was the most ferocious budgie in miles around and 2) I take that as a sign that I need to write an outline, or at least note down some ideas. That always helps, and it doesn’t matter where you are because you can always make notes on your mobile phone. If you’ve left your notes at home make an extra effort to find something to write on: ideas don’t last forever, and they’re not really ideas unless you do something about them and make them eternal.

b) do you know where your story is headed? Most of the time, when I struggle with writing it’s because something I know I’ll have to write about soon doesn’t quite make sense. This not-knowing makes it difficult for me to write anything at all, because all the time, in the back of my mind – whether I realise it at the time or not – I’m dreading coming up to that massive stumbling block.

c) are you having second thoughts about what you’ve written? Having second thoughts is a bummer, because it makes you feel so stationary. If this is the case, summarise each chapter you have written so far with just one sentence, and then read it back quickly. Write it in another font if you like — that’ll help it seem really alien and more new than it is. Does the story make sense now? Or is something missing along the way? If something is missing then you need to work out what, and doing so will get you out of your writer’s block. Hopefully.

All this is good and well, of course, but I’ve missed out one important thing…sometimes, as with anything, writer’s block is utterly unexplainable. It just appears for no reason and vanishes just as fast, and on those occasions it doesn’t matter if you’re a bestseller or just starting out. Or maybe, if you look back, you can explain it? Who knows. Maybe you were feeling a bit low, or you just weren’t in the mood. Just remember one thing: writing is an intense and emotional experience and that is unavoidable. It means thinking about a lot of powerful stuff, often unpleasant, while also mining your own experiences for ammo and reliving often nightmarish scenarios. Does that sound easy? No. And that’s why writer’s block exists at all – because writing is difficult. But the good thing is it doesn’t always have to be. You do have some control, you’re a writer after all.

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4)Get Typewriter Respect

Have you ever used an actual type-writer? I don’t mean had a casual-three-second-try-and-write-a-perfect-sentence dabble, I mean a serious sit-down-focus-and-attempt-to-write-an-entire-page-without-one-single-grammatical-mistake session.

If you haven’t, you probably should. Doing so will teach you many things about yourself, such as:

1) How long it takes before you explode with massive typo-rage.

2) How long it takes before you say the worst swear word you know.

3) How long it takes before you snatch and destroy a perfectly innocent piece of paper (if this is your first time being made to feel three inches tall by an unassuming machine, I give you about 20 seconds).

In other words, typewriters demand your respect. Enormous respect. And a willingness to learn unlike almost any other pursuit around (and you can include tiger-taming, swimming with sharks and searching out Yeti’s in that ‘almost’ list). And when I say typewriters, I mean the original typewriters, not the electric snazzy kind which allow you to easily delete a word. I mean, the kind where when you smash a word onto the page, it’s THERE FOR GOOD.

The other great attribute of the old-school original concept typewriter, of course, is there weight. As is demonstrated in the movie Misery starring a highly deranged woman played by Cathy Bates, should you be kidnapped by a psychopath, at least you’ll have something to smash over his or her head.

Now, try doing that with the latest Apple MacBook Air.

Next up, if you haven’t ever seen someone actually writing on a typewriter, I want you to open up a new tab and go to Youtube. And by writing we’re talking about full beginning-to-end-with-barely-a-typo-or-smudge-novels here. If you still think formatting your novel on Word is a little bit tricky, consider the immense challenges faced by writers in the age pre computer. Back then, all 100,000 words – or more, in some cases – had to be put onto paper by hand with the bare minimum of mistakes. To understand just how hard this is, open up a new document in Word and try and actually write something half decent without any errors. It’s enough of a nightmare when all you need to do is copy it off some pages you’ve written by hand on paper, but when you’re starting from scratch…it’s a whole different thing…

But I know, I know, “all the famous novelists had secretaries to do that,” you might say, “and they were experts, so it wasn’t that bad.”

Except that’s where you’re wrong. Sort of. Okay, yes, some of the more successful authors had secretaries, but even then the authors had to write their manuscripts by hand ready for transcription – a feat which required they write both a) perfectly legible novels and b) novels which were absolutely perfect in their grammar. And the fact is that many didn’t have secretaries. The indie authors of that day were like you and I, dear reader (unless you’re a talented big-name author, and somehow I think that unlikely, after all, I’m big competition, right? Cpink is the last place they’d ever want to be): they had to graft to get their work into shape.

And on that note you can feel good about yourself. If you’re writing a short story, an essay, a dissertation or a novel or anything, in fact, then that’s a fantastic thing. Keep going with it, try not to be disheartened, and, more than anything, feel fortunate that you arrived on the planet when you did. Personally, even though I’d never have known that the computer would one day be invented, I’m fairly sure that I’d have absolutely hated having to deal with the typewriter.

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5)The Why

Who knows why thoughts occur to us one day instead of the next, or why at one moment things seem profoundly clear when just seconds before they were a weave of complexities, answers nowhere in sight. I certainly don’t, although I think I’m glad it is like this. To me, it seems like these are the things which keep you alive and looking for better understanding. Enlightenment may not stay with you for very long sometimes, but while it’s there you’re changed. Evolved, even. Every day you go to sleep as one version of yourself, and every morning you awaken as the product of every mistake and experience you have ever made or encountered.

For no particular reason today I’ve been pondering one of the most elusive questions any person faces. It’s possibly a more pertinent question for the creative individual, but nevertheless it’s one that we all must face from time to time, just to check in with reality: why do we do what we do?

Maybe The Why isn’t important? Maybe The Why is just a long pointless road with nothing but a trap at the end of it? Even so, it’s a road we’re all forced down at some point, so we may as well try and make sense of it while we’re making the journey, right?

One of the most confusing aspects of The Why, for me, has been trying to make sense of how to think of myself as a writer & artist.

From an early age I, presumably like most human beings, was led to believe that I should think of myself as good at things. Have confidence, they drilled into me. Do your best and be proud of what you create and others will love it. Overall, the main message that got through to me, whether I liked it or not — if I can be so bold as to distill these complex themes into merely one — was: don’t listen to anyone if they don’t like what you do, you just do it.

And all that was fine until I started writing seriously. Once I did that, I got hit by pretty much the biggest bomb-shell of my entire life, split into three punishing parts:

YOU SHOULDN’T LOVE YOUR WORK TOO MUCH.

HAVE CONFIDENCE, BUT NOT TOO MUCH CONFIDENCE.

WRITE STUFF, BUT DON’T EVER EXPECT PEOPLE TO WANT TO READ IT.

In other words, everything I had known since I was a child was turned immediately on its head.

Now, I’m not believe. There were warnings of these impending bomb-shells in the years leading up to my becoming a writer. During my years working in an art gallery and exhibiting my paintings it occurred to me, for example, that too much confidence was a potentially destructive thing. And, as I started to write more seriously, more ferociously, it became clear that writing differed from many other pursuits. But nothing prepared me for the transition which took place as I started submitting my work to publishers and agents. It was only then, really, that I properly started to understand the numerous contradictions that existed in being a writer.

So it’s a balancing act, is the point. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. The writer is allowed to have confidence, but must always be willing to accept it as misplaced. The writer may think his or her work is good, as long as he or she understands that writing is a fluid thing. Something which must constantly be kept on top of. Overall, the writer can produce any work he or she sees fit, providing that he or she understands that tomorrow is a new day, and new judgement comes with it.

All this and we haven’t even started on the ego yet. Or maybe all that I wrote before is the ego. Maybe the ego is that thing which can’t be known or defined, that thing which is like something out of the corner of your eye that you never quite get to lay your eyes upon?

Honestly? None of it matters as long as you keep producing, keep creating. It’s only when you stop and think about it that you realise what a monster you are working with. At the same time, though, it’s a great monster to be riding on the back of, and when I come to the end of a first draft, and all the misery of procrastination and the pain, I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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6)Writing essentials: what is head-hopping?

Let’s start with a definition. Not a conclusive definition by any means, but it gives you a general idea of what we’re dealing with: head-hopping is when a writer jumps much too quickly from one character’s point of view to another character’s point of view during a novel.

Degrees of head-hopping: obviously, as with anything writing-related, there are various ways you can offend the reader by doing this, and, to add even more complexity, there are numerous levels of head-hopping – some obvious, some more deeply rooted.

In a word, head-hopping is anything from mildly confusing to a total nightmare! For the following reasons:

1. As stated, it can confuse the reader.

2. When done with real intrusive-accidental-unknowing might – one of the most dangerous kinds of writerly might that exists, as you’ve probably guessed by now – it will completely alter the reader’s understanding of the novel. This may lead to later confusion and, in severe cases, the reader putting the novel down and never picking it up again.

3. It gets the reader in the habit of expecting / anticipating change, so, when you suddenly stop head-hopping – accidentally or not – it might make the reader wonder what the hell is going on. This would be fine, except this will likely happen just as you are trying to build tension. As a result, the reader may completely miss an import aspect of the novel. This is bad news!

 DIFFERENT WAYS YOU CAN HEAD-HOP

Okay, so I lied. This won’t be a conclusive post on head-hopping. The reason being that to do this I would have to invent another 3 hours in today’s 24, take tomorrow off work, read every book which has ever been badly written, and then type it all up here. I’m no good at maths but even I can see myself needing help to get to the toilet and eat food before that day comes.

So instead we’ll just concentrate on the severest mistakes. I’m hoping that should cover it.

1. Jumping to the action descriptions of another character but staying in the POV of the original character : it’s only number 1 and we’re already in murky waters, you and me! I’ll do my best to make this easy.

This offence is usually committed by writers employing the third-person POV, whether it’s third-person-limited or omniscient (omniscient is the all-knowing kind where the writer has the power to describe things – sometimes whole chapters – which the characters know nothing about / could never know anything about).

The problem with this kind of head-hopping is that it isn’t actually wrong…per se. See, the whole point of third-person is that you can jump around. Instead, it’s more a case of knowing how much you can get away with it. In my opinion if you flick back and forth between two characters more than twice in a long paragraph then it’s too much, but there are exceptions – some skilled writers can hop around more and get away with it. If you’re a beginner or someone who had never heard of ‘head-hopping’ until you read this article, that should be clue enough that you need to be careful.

Example of bad head-hopping which needs correcting: Jason’s bum was really hurting and he had the cheese-grater effect. Damn that council and their rubbish road re-surfacing! He had fallen off his bike and skidded across the road and now he had the rawest bum in the entire county and Daisy felt the same. Her face was really hurting from where she had slapped herself hard across the face for not breaking up with Jason that morning. Life with Jason? It was unthinkable!

As you can see, on the surface it appears there’s nothing wrong with this paragraph. The action flows together nicely and there’s no discernible problem. And there in lies the issues…while it’s okay to do this just the once or twice every now and again, its NOT okay to keep repeatedly jumping back and forth. Conformity isn’t always a good thing, but when it comes to head-hopping you need to understand that you are the only person who knows your novel. Not everyone else knows it, hence why you need to make the information as clear and understandable as possible.

2. Jumping to the internal monologue, thoughts, feelings and emotions of another character: In many ways, this is the more confusing of the two. At least when a writer head-hops with action descriptions it’s fairly obvious. But when this happens with thoughts and feelings it can sometimes be hard to spot. This intensifies the confusion and leads to the reader thinking that one character thinks something when actually, it’s the other. One to avoid at all costs!

Example of bad head-hopping that needs correcting: In many ways, Josie thought This dress is not for me, it makes me look like an actual swede. But in other ways, Josie thought the swede look accentuated her hips and Danny agreed: the only problem, he thought, is that that dress costs about three months wages and if she buys it it will cripple me financially! What to do! What to do!

As you can see, it’s the same as the previous example. Once every so often doesn’t hurt, but keep doing this over and over again in every paragraph and you will frustrate your reader. A frustrated reader is as good as no reader, and remember that someone has chosen to read your book, so you want them to remain being your reader!

 IS DODGY HEAD-HOPPING JUST A BEGINNER MISTAKE?

Er…no, it’s not, unfortunately. Somehow, despite the ‘skilled’ editorial teams put together to specifically eradicate issues such as this, head-hopping crops up time and time again in traditionally published novels, as well as indie novels. In fact, even the best-selling authors are occasionally guilty of it! How can they get away with it when there are roughly a million web-sites telling the aspiring writer that it’s an awful idea? Simple: because they’re best sellers. Don’t waste time getting pissed off that they can get away with it and you can’t – just focus on learning how to avoid it. After all, no amount of success or money will buy you integrity…at least that’s what I keep telling myself…

 HOW TO AVOID HEAD-HOPPING

The best way to avoid head-hopping before you begin: if you’re writing a first-person novel, the chances are that you’ll easily avoid making a single mistake. After all, you’re only writing from the perspective of one character. If you’re writing in second or third person POV, however, you need to watch out. One way of guaranteeing that you don’t head-hop is to mark each chapter, as follows, and keep each chapter to that person’s POV.

Chapter 1: Mark’s POV.

Chapter 2: Linda’s POV.

Chapter 3: Dave’s POV.

Chapter 4: Mickey’s POV.

This constant chapter-to-chapter switching does, of course, have the potential to over-work the reader’s mind, so one way to avoid doing this is to create a pattern of POVs and repeat this throughout the novel.

I mean this: Mark, Linda, Dave, Mickey, Mark, Linda, Dave, Micky, Mark, Linda, Dave…

By using this technique you’ll create a subconscious effect in the reader: they might not know why it is happening, but they’ll ease into a comfortable reading routine – this means less surprises and allows the reader to concentrate better on enjoying your novel.

Now let me make one thing clear. It isn’t like I’ve never made these mistakes. Far from it. In fact, I’ve made all of them and probably invented some which no pen-holding human being has ever managed.

Feel better? You should. Basically, what I’m saying is that every writer has made these mistakes – the key is to learn why you are doing them. Once you do that you allow your writing skills to really show through, which is pretty good, don’t you think?

The best way to check if you’ve head-hopped after you’ve written a novel: it’s so easy. Read through the novel and mark places where you’ve done it. Do it on paper if at all possible, as highlighters are the key here. Then, to decide how to solve this problem, go through it again, a-new, and write down which perspective each chapter should be from.

Finally – and this is best done a couple of days later at the earliest – go through the novel and cut anything which distracts the reader. It’s a massive task, yes, but once you’re done you’ll be glad you did it. I should know, I’ve only had to do this about ten times…

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7)EVOLUTION OF A BOOK COVER: THE NUMBER 3 MYSTERY BOOK

Book covers are mysterious things. Like magazine covers and bill-board posters, they’re not strictly art or advertising. Instead, they have a much more difficult job than any of the former. 1) they have to be bold enough that they draw you in, but without that throw-away quality that some glossy magazines have. 2) they have to project an image, but it has to say much more than just “buy me”, and that message has to convey the essence of the book. 3) they have to do all of the above, but without alienating any particular social or minority group.

Oh, and they have to be different and original too, let’s not forget that.

So you could say that designing one is a challenge. For anyone, even those who do so for a living .

I’ll be honest, when it got to the stage where I had to start thinking about designing the cover for The Number 3 Mystery Book, I wasn’t exactly looking forward it. I didn’t expect that, actually. Ever since I’d finished the first-draft I’d thought of designing the front cover as some kind of a benchmark to look forward to reaching. Not a reward, exactly, but something to say It’s done now. It’s a book. It exists.

Why was I so retiscent to begin work on the cover? It certainly wasn’t because I’d lost the urge to draw and paint. In fact, at the time — this was around 4 months ago — I was looking forward to taking a break from writing more than ever. It had been at least a year since I’d painted anything too, so in theory I should have been anxious to get started.

For a few weeks there I experienced something I hadn’t ever felt, something I remember for a long time not being completely sure even existed: a total fear of where to begin. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, it was more the scale of the task that was getting to me. With painting — landscape, portrait, whatever — I rarely think that deeply about it. But with designing a cover I had no choice: this wasn’t just about the way it looked, this was about where the words would go, what the font would be, what the culmination of these factors would say to the reader.

And I’ll tell you something: looking at other print book covers for inspiration didn’t help at all. Apart from the fact that, in my opinion, about 30% of all book covers are terrible, the other 70% are made up of the kind of complex shapes and colours that don’t work well on the Kindle screen. If you hadn’t guessed, my next step wasn’t to look at other Kindle book covers for inspiration; while some of them are fairly good, there are way more terrible ones and even more which are a total rip-off of something we’ve all seen a hundred times before.

In the end I’m not exactly sure how I started. Like anything, it just sort of happened. One idea came, then another, and before long…

PHASE 1: Just get something on paper

No...this wasn't what I got when I handed my brief over to the 6 year old CEO of Crap Design Limited. It's actually my very first cover design! It didn't need to be fine art of anything, I just needed something. And it is certainly that, I'm sure you agree...

PHASE 2: refining

As you can see, in this stunning graphic representation I have lost the Thunderbird and changed the title to something threatening which almost dares the reader to wet his or her pants. An approach that few novelists are brave enough to try (and if you're thinking "who would win in a fight, Sasquatch or Mongolian Death Worm, I'd go with Sasquatch every time. I know it's hard to tell from the drawing but he or she is 8 feet tall, you know).

PHASE 3: Refining again (Re-de-re-defining?)

Ah, now we're talking! In this picture I thought it was all coming together. Sasquatch was looking good, Nessie was, even if I do say so myself, looking pretty formidable, and ah...there's our friend the Thunderbird back again! I was confident I had cracked it...until I woke up the next morning and realised that a) this cover would only appeal to a dozen 8 year old boys in the entire world, and b) oh dear that supposedly vicious Thunderbird looks a lot like a Seagull...Oh, and the quote by God himself reads "the best book you will never read if you don't read it". Obviously it would appear that God himself was a bit embarrassed about that, because when I went to scan it in the writing wouldn't come through...

Two weeks went by where I was sure I had nailed it. I was satisfied with the cover design, and was fairly certain that this would be well received. There was only one thing left to do: paint the finished picture! None of this simple drawing rubbish, oh no: as in the tradition of olden times, I would produce a miniature masterpiece and scan it in, making sure that the powerful message I had created would be entirely transmitted to the reader!

Then I woke up and knew, somehow, that this wasn’t right. I made it sound simple there, too simple. In reality, it took me about 2 weeks of procrastinating and staring at the drawings — and swearing at the drawings, and asking Sasquatch for his expert inanimate advice — to realise that something enormous was amiss, and even then I couldn’t pinpoint what that actually was…

And that? It was really frustrating. Talk about an impotent artist! In the past I’d had sell-out exhibitions, done countless commissions for people and painted enough to know all the pit-falls. So why was this bloody thing such a problem? I couldn’t tell. Suddenly, for the first time in years I felt like a clueless amateur.

After a week of thinking that if I waited long enough the idea would miraculously appear to me, I dragged my woeful artist’s soul out of its stupified gutter and said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Not literally out loud, but the emotions were all there, I can tell you, and I must have looked mean because the Blue Tit perched on the bush outside my window looked at me and I looked at him and there was…a moment.

So I started from scratch, again. No copying. No borrowing inspiration. No more putting it off. Certainly no more asking Sasquatch for advice because he was less than useless. Instead of treating it like art or advertising, I changed my strategy and thought of it like a copywriting job.  That helped a lot, because with a copywriting job you look at it as follows:

1) Who am I writing for?

2) What does the demographic I am writing for want?

3) What job does it have to do?

4) Most important of all: what don’t I want it to do?

And from this I garnered the following information:

1) The young adult market, but this is a cross-over novel so it needs to appeal to adults too. Oh, and it needs to be just as intriguing for males as it does females…

2) A fun cover, but not too fun. It can’t be childish. They want to know what the book is about, but without knowing what the book actually means

3) Why, it has to make them buy the book, of course!

4) I don’t want it to put people off.

Now, this was better. I wasn’t on my own now, and, although I didn’t have a fashion-conscious, extra-hip young London book marketing team behind me and a decent budget, I knew where I didn’t want to go. With that kind of can-do attitude I was certain that it was only a matter of time until I knew where it was I did want to go.

And I was right, sort of. Once I’d scrapped the previous cover ideas it got easier. Whatever it was I was going to design, I knew it was going to have to be something completely different.

This led me to thinking about my beggining-a-chapter technique.

Now, to my mind there are two ways you can begin a chapter. The first is to follow on directly from the last chapter, but with a twist. This is probably the most common technique used in novel writing now or ever. The second technique is a bit different, and in this one I start off at a completely different place. Instead of setting off where the last chapter ended and working away from it, into the future, I might work backwards towards the starting point (the end of the last chapter). Whatever I do I know it has to be compelling.

How does this have anything to do with creating a book cover? Simple: you take the answers from the previous questions, and cross-reference it with the following question:

What is the absolute core essence of the novel?

Very quickly after that, I started to get ideas again. Now my mind had completely wiped-out any design influence from the previous cover ideas, I was free to allow my imagination to run riot a bit: the best thing about that is that the more ground you cover, the more all-over-the-place you are, the more possibilities you are likely to uncover.

PHASE 4: Go wild!

Okay so I lied...I hadn't completely forgotten about the old covers, but at least this one had a new feel to it, even if it did retain a similar title and jokey-quote feel.

This cover idea lasted for three days. Then I scrapped it. I still really like it, but in the end decided that it wasn’t so much about what I liked as what people would be drawn to. I needed something else…something…

PHASE 5: Starting from scratch for what feels like the 100th time…

Sometimes I wish I lived in the future. Judging by how much The Human Race has progressed in the last 50 years -- or "destroyed stuff", if you prefer -- in 1000 years I suspect there is a high likelihood that all you will have to do is place your palm on the screen, and all the emotion and hard-work spent on something like a book-cover will be transmitted into your brain for you to experience. But we don't live in the future, or at least I don't, so you'll just have to take my word for it: it took me a while to come up with this, and even then I wasn't happy...

PHASE 6: Keep going, you’re almost there…

Actually you're not almost there, you are there. This is black acrylic on brilliant-white paper (which was then scanned in and optimized for the Kindle, which presently only supports shades of gray). I put the sea-horses in to give it give it an ambiguous feel, after all, you can't be much more ambiguous than a sea-horse. Are they even fish? I have no idea. If they aren't fish then what are they doing in the sea? Okay, I'm stopping thinking about that now, it's actually starting to freak me out...I'm going to bed soon...

Chris’s book cover tips:

1) Paint your cover. Call me old-fashioned, but anyone can scan in a photo. Painting it gives your cover an original edge. Plus it’s more fun by a mile, too.

2) Bear in mind that if you’re designing a cover for the ipad 2 as well then it will need to work well on a colour screen as well as a black and white Kindle. The other option is to paint two separate covers, one colour, one black and white.

3) Be bold. Remember that the cover will be scaled-down a great deal for thumbnail images — for this reason you want a striking image which is eye-catching and memorable. People worry about the font too much, in my opinion. Obviously you want a good font, but when the image is a thumbnail people will remember the general cover layout more than the actual words. Still with me?

4) Get the spelling right!

5) Avoid listening to other people who have not read your book. You know your book better than anyone. It doesn’t matter if you design it yourself or give the brief to someone else, the simple fact is that you MUST understand what the essence of your book is.

THE END OF CLASS, and the bell rings, you’re free to go!

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8)Thoughts on: The Ruins, by Scott Smith

Scott Smith looking the exact same colour as a Samosa. Either that or his own book scared him so much he turned yellow. Worrying stuff indeed.

You wake up from a nightmare, but in that split-second it takes your body to automatically lurch upright out of bed, it’s not a nightmare: it’s more than real. Wherever you are – wherever you were – is fading fast now…quickly, but the essence of the dread remains impossible to ignore. It stays with you all day, returning at fleeting moments, just when you thought you’d forgotten, just when you were thinking about something fun

That book was terrifying, you say to yourself.

This is the social / intellectual landscape that Scott Smith’s (2006) novel The Ruins inhabits. More than that, it builds a whole world around the idea of dread, combining it with questions which we come across every day: the simple things which, under the wrong circumstances, can mean life or death.

But wait, before you say “but I hate horror films and horror novels, there’s no way I’m going to read this,” hold on, because like many, this novel is so much more than just a series of cleverly-induced scares. More so, the plot is compelling and anything but skin-deep.

At the risk of sounding confusing, I’m not going to go into the story anymore than to say this: it’s about four American tourists who venture to Mexico in search of a good time. As is obvious from my into, what transpires is anything but, and the strange hill they end up on – situated in the middle of nowhere, men with rifles surrounding the group – turns out to be even more mysterious. It’s something to do with the thick vegetation growing all over it, but what?

In my opinion, what makes The Ruins especially effective is the set-up. Uncomplicated and simplistic from the start, no tangled plot-lines confuse the action, and in fact the book could be about any four characters. The point is that this simplicity is so easy to associate yourself with, and for these reasons it’s all too possible to imagine yourself stuck there on that hill, forced to make the tiniest of decisions but knowing very well that the result of those decisions will have an enormous impact on what will happen next.

As I mentioned before, although The Ruins is and should be considered very much a horror novel – a horror-thriller, if you want to get technical – it possesses much more gravity than you might at first expect. Made up of a number of realistic set-pieces which drive the characters into ever more desperate situations, the book is as much an examination of right and wrong as a comedy and a romance;. But mainly, most of all, it is simply a great read. Quite an accomplishment when you consider that this is by no means a short book, although at times it’s very fast-paced, despite the limited setting.

What strikes me as most impressive about The Ruins, though, is its author’s decision to write it in the first place. As the creator of A Simple Plan, you could say Scott Smith had, with that book’s success, created a formula – one followed, more or less, by many thriller writers looking to forge a career on what essentially amounts to a single premise. Yet rather than pursue the John-Grisham-inevitable – which is no bad thing, I might add – he made an active choice to switch genres and write something entirely new and out of his comfort-zone.

This is why The Ruins works so well and packs such a punch. Smith’s imagination, though vivid, operates in a similar way to many of our own – and as such, The Ruins is less a book about monsters in the dark, and more a discourse on what happens when normality is turned upside down..

…As well as one single question: if it came right down to it and everything was falling apart around you, would you help yourself or help others?

ON DIALOGUE

Singling out this one book as being particularly helpful might seem a bit unfair — after all there are many great books out there which combine quality dialogue with action / thriller writing. But what sets The Ruins apart from the others is how much there is going on. Four characters may not sound like too much to handle, but when you consider the situations they find themselves in, and the speed at which certain nightmarish aspects of the story unravel, it’s an impressive achievement. So, to summarise, read The Ruins if you would like to know / better understand the following:

1) How to combine action with intense character discussion (both internalised and in oral discussion with other characters).

2) How to combine action with the thoughts and insights of others (this being a multiple POV novel, there is a large amount of switching between different character’s perspectives, thoughts and opinions).

4) How to construct characters from scratch, first using description and then following this up with actions which demonstrate their character traits.

I say all these things because, as you may have guessed, this book struck a chord with the progress of my own writing. Before I read The Ruins, I honestly thought taht dialogue was secondary — something important to put in, but not crucial. Now, I think the opposite: for me, dialogue is more critical to get right that anything. Why? Because with dialogue you can do ANYTHING: thoughts, opinions, action, comedy, seriousness, ernestness, compassion etc. Can the same be said of descriptive text? Well…of course it can. But it’s much harder, in many ways. One of the most obvious being that it takes a lot of descriptive writing to achieve the same thing with some dialogue. As follows:

Description:

Jane was really fed-up with her dog, Charlie, who was always misbehaving and causing her to stress out. He had gone and done a great big whopping poo on the carpet again. And, like usual, Charlie had been smart. He had aimed his butt at the lightest part of the carpet. Oh, Charlie could be a real pain sometimes.

But Jane didn’t care as she then drank a lot of Vodka and suddenly the world was a much better place! For a while, at least.

Dialogue:

Jane walked into the room and gasped. “Charlie, why, you little (insert whatever word you want here)!” Jane ran to the kitchen, picked up her Vodka and her dust-pan and brush and ran back in. “If you ever, ever do that again Charlie,” she said, swigging the Vodka and staring at the light carpet which was now ruined forever. “I am going to turn you into an actual hand-bag.”

Now, you don’t have to agree with me, but hopefully you can see that with the Dialogue example, we’ve managed to get loads more info across: how annoyed Jane is, what will happen to Charlie — which is a good device for making the reader need to read on — and how much she loves her carpet. The best thing is that you can do this in-between dialogue / using dialogue, and the reader will barely notice.

If you ask me, the more dialogue the better: it creates character, drives a lot forward, and makes reading easier. That can never be a bad thing, can it?

THE END.

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9)25 things that WILL get you to the end of a first draft

  1. Stop looking at what you’ve written: what you have written won’t be good enough. Accept it and move on.
  2. Make notes as you go. Don’t say to yourself: “I’ll remember that, I don’t need to make a note.” EVERYONE needs to make a note. It is these crucial pieces of information – information that may only exist for a short time, while you’re in this head-space – that will form the basis of your second draft.
  3. Don’t stop writing at the end of a chapter. It’s a bad idea. Do stop writing mid-way through a chapter, even if you’re burning to continue. The next morning you’ll breeze it.
  4. Chocolate.
  5. Not looking in the Thesaurus every five minutes. Screw the Thesaurus, it’ll be there waiting for you once you’re done with the ending.
  6. Knowing the ending. You don’t need to know the specifics of the ending, or the events which lead up to it, or anything else, but it really does help if you know where you’re going. Once you know that you can write accordingly. Knowing the ending will halve your mental workload. Doesn’t that sound good to you?
  7. Keeping it to yourself. Don’t show anyone the book until you have the whole thing written. That includes publishers and agents. Why? Because if you write three chapters, as they usually ask to see first, and then ask to see the entire manuscript, you’ll have the weight of the world on your shoulders at precisely the WRONG TIME.
  8. Ideas for the second draft: write these as you go and by the time you’ve written the first draft, the entire second draft will be not only in your mind, but on paper too.
  9. Reading other books. You’ll learn, you’ll take in – most importantly you will INPUT.
  10. Understanding that 95% of people never write a book, and that by completing a first draft you have already achieved something extraordinary. Books are incredible, amazing, unbelievable things.
  11. Focus: don’t make excuses. Don’t go out. Don’t do anything but write the first draft. Yes it’ll be hard, but seriously, how much patience have you got? I haven’t got much, but if I commit to writing a first draft with a deadline then I know it’ll get done. Don’t say “I’ll write a first draft this year” when it’s January. Say “I’ll write a first draft this month”. If you don’t like the idea of that, or you’re busy – or you have a life, the biggest interruption of all! – write a treatment all the way through. Nobody ever said that a first draft need be 400 pages long, did they?
  12. Post-it notes. Marker pens. IDEAS. Keep them coming. If you can, devote a wall to them. No idea is worthless, even the worthless ones.
  13. Exercise. It keeps your mind active – it’s where things happen which go BOOM on the page.
  14. Not re-reading your work.
  15. Not re-editing your work constantly. It is pointless at this time, believe me, I know because I’ve made this mistake a hundred times.
  16. Not researching for months. Very little actual research ever appears in the final draft. Do it later when you have it written.
  17. Biscuits. I like Ginger Snaps.
  18. Being headstrong. Don’t listen to people who do not understand what writing is all about. They do not know and will never know what you are trying to do and how hard you are trying to achieve it.
  19. Writing the whole thing on paper, fast, with the kind of furious scribbling hunched-over-concentration that makes onlookers sit and stare.
  20. Not writing in very busy places. It does not work.
  21. Writing short, snappy chapters. Need to write a long descriptive chapter? Make a note of what to cover and move on. You can do it later.
  22. Writing dialogue. Dialogue drives novels. Read any novel and it will likely be 80% dialogue and 20% action. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule. Think about it: life is made up of a series of conversations, from a local to a global level. It’s words not description which matter, because words are the action. Everything else is an afterthought.
  23. Experiencing things. Writing down how you feel experiencing those things. Raw emotion is crucial to all creative thinking.
  24. Love and affection. It boosts you. Take as much as you can and let it power you on.
  25. Writing when you don’t want to write. There is a myth that you must be in a certain mood to write. It is just that: a myth. Write especially when you don’t want to. Write when it’s the very last thing you want to do. You are learning all the time. Every second counts and it’s just a matter of time until you stumble across a thought-process that might just change your life forever. You don’t know when that might be, and who knows, you might just be surprised.

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10)How Reading Different Stuff Can Boost Your Writing Skills


For no particular reason, five years passed between the first time I watched Fight Club and my reading of the novel by the now infamous Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve probably watched that film thirty or forty times and read the book at least three, so you could say I know it fairly well…

That said, I wouldn’t say I’m a Chuck Palahniuk obsessive. I thought Diary was good-but-not-great, and although I haven’t actually read Choke, after seeing the film – also good-but-not-great, in my opinion – I’m in no great rush to any-time soon. I’m not one of his many fans who will defend his writing against all criticism, nor am I someone who believes an author is truly any different than anybody else. But Fight Club will always have a special place in my thoughts, simply for what it personally represents.

I can remember what I was trying to write when I went through my Chuck Pahlaniuk phase: it was a darkly humorous novella which was never read by anyone. The other day I read it back and was actually reasonably happy with what I found. It’s by no means publishable just yet, but re-reading it has made me reconsider not only that, but the way I view and interpret all my past work.

I’ve gone through phases of emulation for years, from reading Chuck to being obsessed with Mark Twain – his non-fiction work more than his fiction – to the same thing with authors like Alex Garland, Zadie Smith and Kurt Vonnegut. I can vividly remember that during my Mark Twain period – if it is ever over, which part of me doubts – I felt an almost shameful feeling that I was copying this great man’s work. Back then, what I didn’t understand was that it’s perfectly OK to want to write like other people. In fact, it’s preferable, and as long as you strive to create your own unique style, whatever that may be, you can never go too far wrong.

From what I have said so far, you might think that my parents are serious readers. You’d be half-right. My dad’s always been a big reader; my mum has probably read less than 20 books in her life-time. Both my parents’ reading habits make perfect sense when you examine where they came from: my mum grew up with a dad who only ever read instruction manuals, and brothers who didn’t particularly care for books. My dad grew up with a dad who was absolutely fanatical about Wilbur Smith.

Or perhaps fanatical is too powerful a word. He never sent Wilbur letters proclaiming his love for Africa, or flew half-way across the world just to sit by his house, but he did read every single one of Wilbur’s books, from When The Lion Feeds right up to his recent works. As a result, my dad followed suit. He’s calmed down a lot recently, but dad will always have a thing for Wilbur’s intrepid story’s, the same way I’ll likely always champion Fight Club as much more than just a book.

The main difference between my dad and I, though, is that I like to read a lot of different writers. Dad will read a different author from time to time, but it’s always the same style of book. Me on the other hand, I like to read across the board, and that could mean a biography one week, followed by some historical fiction and children’s books the next.

I can remember, this was a few years ago, asking dad why he always had to read Wilbur Smith. “Dad,” I said, “why don’t you try a new writer? Someone who writes in a completely different way.” He laughed at me as though the concept was something that more than being strange, couldn’t actually be done in the reality we exist in. I’m still waiting for a conclusive answer on this one, but in truth I suspect there isn’t one. When it comes down to it, he just enjoys reading Wilbur Smith, so his rational may well be: what’s the point in reading anyone else?

And it’s a good question: why should you make an effort to read different authors if you’re perfectly happy with reading just the work of one?

It’s taken me a while to put this concisely into words, but I would say the following:

If you’re a reader with no interest in producing any writing, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you read just one author. After all, you’re reading for entertainment’s sake, not to accumulate knowledge on writing techniques and plot complexities. If you’re a reader who’s also a writer, on the other hand, then in my opinion, reading just one writer’s work and ignoring everything else out there is basically literary suicide. And I mean that in the most literal sense: read just one style of writing and you’ll embed that style of writing into your brain. You might not know it, but as a result, every time you try and write your own work you are emulating that writer’s ideas, thoughts and quite possibly opinions. That’s fine if you wish to mould your writing into the shadow of someone else’s, but ask yourself: is that what you want your readers to read?

My basic theory is this: read a lot of different books and you’ll take what you want from each different kind. You’ll borrow the humour of some, the seriousness of others, and the readability of a few. You may never be able to define how you do this in your writing, but you don’t need to. The fact is that it is there, somewhere. Now you’re equipped with enough information and problem-solving abilities that you can write your way out of any situation that could ever occur.

Read bad books too. Read books which got slated, books which are legendary failures, and books which scream of self-delusion. The best thing about reading bad books is that you won’t take it in. You may believe you have from time to time, but that’s only natural. Nobody writes anything of any value to begin with, and if anyone tells you different then if you ask me, they’re lying.

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May 16th 2011.

To read the introduction to Katie, click here.

11) 5 questions with fiction-writing coach Kati Rynne

In Kati’s own words…

Kati Rynne is a fiction writing coach. She helps writers to develop their novels and short stories. A former secondary school teacher and an experienced private tutor, Kati is passionate about trying to deliver high-quality learning experiences! Kati is Education Manager at a digital publishing company, so she’s good for thoughts on how the future of publishing will impact on creative writers. Read about Kati’s services, join her next workshop on how to plot a novel or story or check out her blog site

1: Using as few words as possible, what’s your background and how did you come to arrive at the position you are now in, working as a freelance fiction-writing coach?

10 steps:

I grew up in a family of teachers – Private tutor at age 17 – English degree – More tutoring – Trained to be a secondary school teacher – Spent 6 years working in digital publishing and started writing novels – Took novel-writing courses and researched approaches to teaching creative writing – My fellow students said I was good at giving feedback on their novels so… – Started coaching them on a voluntary basis – Gained experience – Started doing it for money.

2: Many amateur writers – and even a few who have enjoyed a degree of commercial success – are sceptical about paying for someone to review their work. In your opinion, what’s the number 1 benefit a writer can get from going through this process?

You can gain awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of your writing and how to improve.

3: Your rates are very reasonable, can you tell us what your ethos is for editing, and what aspects of your service you consider unique?

I aim to help the writer to help themselves. Rather than tweaking novels on a word-by-word basis, I provide feedback on the writer’s style, characters, plot etc. I suggest practical approaches the writer can use to troubleshoot any ‘problems’ they have with their writing. I encourage the writer to think about their target market: Whom is the novel targeted at? What do the target readers tend to want from a reading experience and is the writer providing that?

4: Numerous online novel-review companies have sprung up as digital publishing breaks new ground with big sales and stories of huge money. These companies invariably offer a less personal service than you strive to offer. How would you say your couching differs from these companies?

I want to help writers to write to the best of their abilities. I don’t like to review a novel until I’ve got a good sense of the writer’s aims, needs and concerns, so I’ll phone the writer at the start of the process to have a good old chat! It’s good to hear the writer’s voice and for him or her to hear mine! I offer a low-cost trial: I’ll review three chapters for £30 and give honest feedback, which I’ll follow up with another phone discussion. The writer can check they are happy with the feedback before entrusting me with the whole novel to review. I’ll only accept the job if I feel I’m the right person to help them. I really respect anyone who has managed to write a novel – it’s a major achievement and I want to honour that.

5: When you’re starting out, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all you have to do is hand an editor your manuscript and that’s it: they’ll make it perfect. Could you explain what a writer can do to make your job easier and the result more effective?

When you’ve finished your first draft, leave it for a month so that you can get some distance from it. On an index card, write a list of ten aims you have for your writing, e.g. ‘Concise narrative, arresting characters, comprehensive plot, short chapters, realistic dialogue…’ Edit your manuscript, cutting or adapting any sections which don’t fulfil your aims. Repeat the process until your aims have been met. Tidy up the manuscript (grammar, punctuation) before sending it to be reviewed. This will help the reviewer to read quickly and efficiently (and you’ll pay less!).

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April 28th 2011

12) Can you write a novel by hand using a pen or pencil? Of course you can. People have been doing it

for hundreds of years…

Every so often, people ask me how I write a novel. Not the technique, or even where the ideas come from — though they ask that as well, as anyone who writes or creates knows only too well — but the actual physical process which you don’t really hear about. It’s an interesting question actually, and one that can get quite complicated. It annoys me when I read writing advice articles, generally. Writers take it for granted that the expression “blood, sweat and tears” explains a lot. I don’t find it does. Mostly I just think this adds to the mystifying nature of writing, as if it’s some sacred skill which only the elite can learn.

I think that’s bullshit. It really is just one word, then another, then a sentence…

The good news is that yeah, you can write a novel with your hands, using a pen. There’s nothing mystical about it and there never has been.

The obvious advantages are:

1) Never going to lose it all when the computer crashes. House fires, freak accidents and winds snatching pages after you’ve just reminded yourself for the tenth time that you really need to number your pages, are, sadly, different…

2) You’ll be forced to keep going. And going, until your hand literally hurts and you get a blister on your thumb. Yeah, you can cross things out as you go, but after 50 pages or so that gets pretty tiresome and you just resign yourself to not bothering. This means that you push forward with your book or short story or whatever in a way that’s impossible when you’re at the computer.

3)  It’s easy to flick back and forth between pages.

The disadvantages?

1) It really does hurt your hands.

2) The act of writing a novel by hand takes a while to get used to. By a while I mean the time it takes to write a whole book. Which is counter-productive in a way, seeing as you never get to feel how comortable and conditioned you’ve become unless you write another draft. Which you probably won’t, as you’ll be heading straight to the computer to get it down on there.

The best thing about writing a novel by hand — the first draft, I mean — is that when you transcribe it, the words really jump out at you. Instead of just going through the 1st draft a second time, which is not particularly helpful if you’ve hardly been away from it for five minutes, the words seem new. In t that respect, the transcription becomes the 2nd draft.

So already, yep, you’ve halved the time it takes to write 2 drafts.

Which is great. Really, really great.

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APRIL 23RD 2011

13) How I go about writing a book (+ bad and good things that you can do along the way)

OK, I’m bound to offend someone during this article, there’s no getting away from that. On the off-chance that I don’t manage to offend anyone, I’m sure someone will think I’m being arrogant. Be assured that I’m not…at least I don’t think I am — this is just stuff that I’ve learnt, and it’s all only my personal opinion.

Before I go any further, I’ll just give you a brief idea of what I do:

I’m a freelance copywriter / creative writer. You’ve probably heard the term “copywriter” before, and, if you didn’t know, it basically means writing all kinds of things, from marketing stuff to ads to press releases to articles of all descriptions. I’m freelance, so I write off and on for a London publishing company who are very cool and have always been good to me.

How difficult is it to freelance? Pretty bloody difficult sometimes. To be honest I probably spend at least 50% of my time sending and replying to emails, and the writing side of it gest done in long stretches in between. Also there’s a lot of self-discipline required. But that should be obvious. Anything with “free” in the title tends to have a catch somewhere.

Aside from that I write for a number of clients, from web-site owners to blogs to anything and everything. It’s not glamorous but it’s good. I’ve always thought that providing you can actually write and you’re able to adapt to the business side of things, you can freelance and make a go of it.

When it comes to novel writing, I’m still right at the beginning…and I say that as someone who has been writing novels seriously for about 6 years now. 6 years might not sound like a lot, but I suppose it just depends on how much work you turn out. I’ve written a lot in the last 6 years, but reading is also obviously very important. Know your tools and it’s a lot easier to build stuff and break the rules.

That went on much longer than I wanted it to. Now, here we go then…

1) Starting off the book

Everyone does it differently. There’s no truly right or wrong way about it, is there? There are literally thousands of articles out there, just be careful not to believe it all, because many articles are written by bitter writers who have grown…well…bitter with not having been published.

My ideas usually sit for a while on my desktop, or next to my bed. By “a while” I mean months. It takes about 3 months for me, usually, to know that an idea is completely solid. If I start writing before the idea — the concept — is fully formed, then I’m basically dropping myself in the shit from a great height. If I start writing when it’s solid, or semi-solid, then I know I have a much better idea of seeing it through to the end. It doesn’t work every time, not by any means. Like most writers I have about 6 unfinished works on my computer. I have another 3 or 4 which almost made it. I have only 4 actually written 100% — and even they need a fair bit of editing, which I am presently in the midst of.

So what I’m saying is don’t be too hard on yourself about giving up. We all do it. It’s the way you learn, you know.

2) It’s hard, but only you can do it.

That might sound really obvious, but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an ad on Gumtree along the lines of “I’m looking to start my novel but I need to write it with someone”. I have nothing against anyone who wants to ask for help, but I do think it’s a waste of time getting someone else involved when you’re in the initial stages. Writing is, by its very nature, a lonely and somewhat abstract thing — there’s no way to change this. In my opinion, getting someone else involved is asking for trouble. Unless they are your actual clone and share the same brain as you — I feel sorry for you — then it’s never going to create anything but havoc.

The same goes for writing on your girlfriend’s / boyfriend’s computer. Bad idea. On the off-chance that you end up splitting up, do you really want to lose all your work when they leave?

3) It’s OK to write about vampires, werewolves or wardrobe’s the size of whole countries. Just put your own spin on it.

I’m starting to get really sick of writers posting articles telling aspiring writers not to write about things like this. Yes, there is a saturation point, and certain things have most definitely reached it, but if you can put a unique angle on it, why not write about it? The problem — If I can be so bold as to call it a problem — is that there are too many people writing and putting work out which is highly derivative. Not bad, necessarily, but very similar.

It’s tricky: be too different and you’ll be considered “weird”. Be too similar and you’ll never stand out from the crowd. A crowd which is only growing in size and gravity with every new day.

4) Even if you feel like giving up, don’t

Now, I feel like a hypocrite. I’ve just said before that you should have a license to give up…and yeah, now I’m saying don’t give up.

The point, I suppose, is to be able to recognize the difference between a book which isn’t going to work, and a book which is going to be what you set out to produce. After a while this becomes easier to deal with. For example, a few weeks ago I wrote 100 pages of a novel to see how it’d work out. It worked out well, but I put it to one side to let it rest. After I’ve sorted out my other books I’ll possibly go back to that book, but I’m not stressing about it, and you shouldn’t either.

5) Most of the first draft won’t survive. Or, more to the point, it shouldn’t

God, what a horrible, horrible sentence that was to write! I wish it wasn’t true, but it is, and that’s why first drafts are harder than editing in a way. Basically, it’s like the first time you have sex: get through it as best you can, and hope that next time you have to go through it you’ve made some improvements…

That’s it. I mean, that’s not it, but I’m tired, and I think I’ve covered the basics. It’s goodbye from me, thanks for reading.

C

11 comments on “The Writing process

  1. Athena E. Stone says:

    OMG, where do I begin? You are so spot on with your take on the writing process. What caught my eye the most was something that I can definately identify with, “head-hopping”. When I first began writing and then editing, I noticed that the flow of my stories sometimes sounded disjointed and jumbled, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why. I had an outside person edit my work and I found that the reason for the kinkyness–if you will–of my writing was the fact that I switched POv too often and without separating it into different sections or chapters. When I went back to edit and change this common but critical mistake, I found my story to be more fluid and easy to read and follow.

    Anyway, I can really appreciate this post. It is very informative and well writen. Keep it up. 🙂

    –Athena E.

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    • chrispink says:

      Thanks Athena, glad it helped you out! More coming soon once I shake off my massive headache…

      Chris

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  2. Athena E. Stone says:

    :/
    Now I have writer’s block. 😦
    It sucks so badly!! Ughh, this hasn’t happened to me before.
    It’s a rather debilitating feeling.

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  3. Eric Brue says:

    I just added this feed to my bookmarks. I have to say, I very much enjoy reading your blogs. Keep it up!

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  4. Chel says:

    Hi Chris! That is really liberating. I thought I am a bit sicko and weirdo for being so ambitious to write my 1st ever novel in English Language. I delved into the vastness of my imagination already and got amazing results what I could come up with. I am currently into my chapter 7 of my YA fantasy and I am stuck somewhere. I scribble notes once in a while but I also research a lot to make my novel successful in pleasing my readers. Plenty of works and complicated plots might have delivered this.
    But knowing how’d you begin with yours, somehow freed me to go on. I aim that my novel will be published but first I really have to finish it first. Be published or not, I really have to move on and write some more. This is really what I love and procrastinated for so long.
    Thanks a lot.

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    • chrispink says:

      Hello Chel!
      Thankyou for dropping by and commenting. I’m so pleased my blog helped you out. I don’t think you’re a sicko or a weirdo, I think it’s great you’re tackling that 🙂

      I remember when I started…it was all so HARD. And, while the process of writing itself does not become “easy”, it does become easier to deal with. You just need to make a few mistakes first, so never be scared of that because that’s how you’ll gain new insights.

      Wishing you good luck with your novel Chel, C

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  5. […] The Writing process […]

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